Wed, 01 Feb 2023

Spadaro: Red zone success a key to Eagles' 10-1 start

Philadelphia Eagles
29 Nov 2022, 18:12 GMT+10

Dave Spadaro

It is a topic not heavily discussed when Head Coach Nick Sirianni meets the media, but it sure should be: The Eagles are lethal in the red zone when they have the football, scoring touchdowns on 72.5 percent of their possessions inside opponents' 20-yard lines. In Sunday night's 40-33 win over Green Bay, the Eagles scored four touchdowns and a field goal in the red zone, a key to the victory.

"That's our money zone," said running back Miles Sanders, who scored two of the three ground touchdowns inside the 20-yard line. "We've got that big offensive line making it happen and when they're winning, we're winning."

Said wide receiver A.J. Brown, who scored on a 6-yard pass from quarterback Jalen Hurts: "Things get tighter down there and we have a lot of different ways to score. The goal is always to get the football in the end zone. That's the difference between wins and losses."

The Eagles last season were good in the red zone, scoring on 62.9 percent of their possessions. Raising that nearly 10 full points is a tribute to the red zone game plan the coaching staff puts together each week and, of course, the players for executing it. Having a multidimensional quarterback like Jalen Hurts obviously helps, but everything starts with the offensive line, and those big guys love the tight quarters of the red zone and of go-to-goal (from the 10-yard line and in) situations, on which the Eagles scored three touchdowns on three opportunities.

"We've got some size and strength and when we're called on to win down there, heck, let's do it," left tackle Jordan Mailata said. "It's on us to create a push. That is our job. That's what we are here to do. That's what we are coached to do."

It sure has helped in this 10-1 start to the 2022 season, even if not a whole lot of people out there are talking about it.

In other news and notes, with one eye on cleaning up after the Green Bay game and one eye on Tennessee, Sunday's opponent at Lincoln Financial Field ...

1. The Injury Update

Nothing new to report, really. The Eagles are monitoring safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who left Sunday's win with a rib injury. Defensive tackle Jordan Davis is eligible to come off Injured Reserve and practice, but there has been no decision made - publicly, at least - so we will learn more Wednesday when the players return to the NovaCare Complex for practice.

2. The Derrick Henry Factor

"King Henry" has 1,048 rushing yards this season and there is no question that every bit of preparation for the Titans' offense starts with figuring out a way to contain their superstar running back. Henry has five 100-yard games this season, including a 216-yard effort to beat the Texans, yet his numbers the last three games haven't been up to his All-Pro standards - 19 carries for 53 yards against Denver, 28-87-1 TD at Green Bay, and 17-38 in Sunday's home loss to Cincinnati. Defenses are stacking the box and ganging up on Henry because that is the only way to control a man who is 6-feet-3 and 247 pounds and who runs a 4.54 40-yard dash. The Bengals did an excellent job on Sunday of reaching Henry in the backfield and stopping him before he starts. Henry is a beast and there is no doubt about that, so it's going to take the entire defense to slow him down.

3. Tennessee's failures vs. Bengals in the red zone

For whatever reason, Tennessee's offense has struggled the last three games in the red zone, converting possessions into touchdowns just 45.4 percent of the time. Three games ago, in a narrow win over Denver, Tennessee scored one touchdown in two red-zone trips. They were 4 for 6 in a Thursday night win at Green Bay. And then in Sunday's loss to the Bengals, Tennessee went 0 for 3 in the red zone, kicking two field goals. Additionally, a late-game drive ended at the Cincinnati 20-yard line, resulting in a third field goal. If you hold the Titans to field goals instead of touchdowns, you are going to have a significant advantage. Titans center Ben Jones is in concussion protocol and didn't play against Cincinnati, so having him back this week is critical for the Titans.

4. A Key on Sunday: Handling Tennessee's front seven

Want a great matchup? How about this: Tennessee has allowed just 3 rushing touchdowns this season, fewest in the NFL. The Eagles lead the NFL with 21 scores on the ground, so something has to give. Tennessee is very, very good up front - candidly, this is one of the best defenses from front to back in the league - and has players like tackles Jeffery Simmons and Teair Tart and Bud Dupree off the edge. Tennessee's defense is the best in the league on third downs, has depth, and plays a downhill 3-4 front that will pose challenges from start to finish in this game. The Eagles must be patient and understand that the running game is going to be difficult to get started and that Hurts will have to navigate some pressure in the passing game against the NFL's most physical defense.

5. Reed Blankenship: Catching Up With Mom and Dad

After the big interception off the arm of Aaron Rodgers and a career-high 35 snaps in place of Gardner-Johnson, and following the media swarm that surrounded his locker after the win, rookie safety Reed Blankenship had one thought: I can't wait to talk to my mom and dad.

"They weren't able to be here tonight because my dad was a little under the weather," Blankenship said. "I know they are so happy right now and I cannot wait to talk to them. I know I'm going to get emotional with them as soon as I hear my mom answer the phone. She's going to be crying, probably. I'm excited for that."

Real life. Love it.

6. Darius Slay: A Big-Picture Perspective

Long after the game was over, cornerback Darius Slay was at his locker close to leaving for the night and I had a chance to get a couple of questions in. One of them: What is your big-picture takeaway with the Eagles being 10-1?

"My big picture is still here, in the same moment, because I've never been 10-1 and it still is my big picture," he said. "I don't know how I feel. I've never been 10-1. I'm turned up. So, I'm going to continue to live it uuuuup."

Well said.

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