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How the Eagles can get back to dominating in 2019

Eliot Shorr-Parks
July 09, 2019 - 5:30 am
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Both on-and-off the field, the 2018 Eagles were nothing like the 2017 version — and that isn’t just because of the Lombardi trophy the 2017 season ended with. 

No, it was clear throughout last season that the 2018 version of the Eagles just didn’t have it. They had talent like the 2017 team — arguably more — but they never fully clicked and reached their potential. Part of it was injuries, as a few key members of their team essentially missed the entire offseason, a fact that led to a slow start. The main reason, however, was simply a team that took major steps back in a few key areas. 

Here is a look at how the Eagles can get back to being a dominant team in 2019:

Score early: The Eagles’ offense struggled overall last season, taking a major step back from the dominating unit it was in 2017. The Eagles averaged 2.11 points-per-drive in 2018, which was 13th in the NFL. In 2017, with Carson Wentz at quarterback, the offense averaged over 2.0 points-per-drive in 10 of his 13 starts. They topped 3.0 in four games. In 2018, in Wentz’s 11 starts, the offense averaged over 2.0 points-per-drive just five times — half as many as 2017 — and never topped 3.0 points-per-drive in any game. So the offense overall was an issue. 

The biggest issue with the offense, however, was the start to games. In 2017, when the Eagles dominated teams, they averaged 6.4 points in the first quarter. That was good for 2nd in the NFL that season, behind only the Los Angeles Rams. Last season that average took a major hit, as they averaged half as many points in the first quarter at just 3.2 points, which was good 31st in NFL.

The Eagles falling behind early did a few things, but perhaps the main thing it did was take the swagger and fun out of a team that lived on it in 2017.  Instead of celebrating early-and-often, the Eagles’ offense was mostly frustrated, playing behind and making mistakes.  Getting leads early on again in 2019 will give this team the confidence it had in 2017. 

Converting important plays: One of the reasons quarterback Carson Wentz nearly won NFL MVP in 2017 was because of how surgical he was in two key areas — the red zone and on third down.

In 2017, with Wentz at the helm, the Eagles were second in the league, converting 64% of their red zone trips into touchdowns In 2018 the Eagles were 17th in the NFL in the red zone, converting on just 59% of their trips inside inside the 20. Wentz had one fewer passing attempt inside the 20 in 2018 (58) than he did in 2017 (59), but finished with six fewer touchdowns, one more interception and completed 6% less of his passes. That is a dramatic dropoff. 

The same can be said for Wentz and the Eagles’ offense on third down. In 2018 the Eagles were 11th in the NFL in third-down conversion, converting on 40.89% of their third downs. That was a huge drop from 2017, when they were second in the NFL on third down, converting on 44% of their third-down attempts. Wentz was a big reason for the Eagles’ ability to convert key third downs in 2017. According to Sports Info Solutions, Wentz made a positive play on third down on 53% of the third downs he faced in 2017. That shows in his quarterback rating, as his quarterback rating of 123.7 on third down in 2017 was easily the best in the NFL. That changed in 2018, as he made a positive play on third-down on just 40% of the third-downs the Eagles face. 

Bend, don’t break defense: The Eagles’ defense had their poor moments in 2018, but overall, they were the reason the Eagles were in playoff contention as long as they were and without question were the better of the two units. 

Forget yards. The Eagles defense did what they were supposed to do last season, keeping teams out of the end zone. The Eagles were best in the NFL last season in red zone defense, holding opposing offenses to just 44% in the red zone. That was actually better than 2017, when the defense was 11th in the league, holding opposing offenses out of the end zone on 50% of their trips inside the 20. The Eagles defense allowed just 0.337 points per play last season, good for eighth in the league. That number was slightly up from 2017, when the unit allowed 0.294 points per play, good for fifth. 

The Eagles have the defense to dominate teams and find themselves on the right end of plenty of blowouts — if the offense can do their part. 

Create more turnovers: The defense was not perfect last season, however. One area they absolutely have to improve in is creating turnovers. The Eagles created just 17 turnovers last season, good for 22nd in the NFL, compared to a whopping 31 in 2017 — fourth best in the league. 

It isn’t a coincidence that the Eagles’ season turned around last year once the defense started taking the ball away and giving their offense more chances with the ball. In their final six games last season, when they went 5-1 (with their only loss coming in overtime), the Eagles created 10 turnovers. In their first 10 games, when they went 4-6, the defense created only seven turnovers. 

More turnovers by the defense will not only give the Eagles more chances with the ball, but it will also put the offense in better position to score — with shorter fields — when they get it. In 2018 the Eagles’ offense was 14th in average field position — a drop of nine spots from when they were 5th in the league in 2017. 

You can reach Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at esp@94wip.com!

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