The Case Of the Shrinking Leads

The Eagles offense has been shut out in the fourth quarter in each of  its last five games. Not since October 20, when Alex Henery kicked a 31-yard field goal three seconds into the period, has this unit generated points in the fourth.

The good news is that the Eagles are 4-1 over that five-game stretch. In back-to-back wins against Oakland and Green Bay, they were able to maintain a comfortable lead as they salted the game away. If you remember, they closed out the Packers with a 16-play drive that ate up 9:32 of game clock.

Things got a little too interesting late against Washington and Arizona over the last two weeks. The Eagles entered the fourth quarter up 24-0 on Washington and won 24-16. A 24-7 second-half lead against the Cards shrunk to 24-21.

There are worse problems than trying to figure out how to hold onto big leads — at least it means you’re getting big leads to begin with — but it is an area that needs to be cleaned up before it comes back to bite them.

“I don’t know if there is a common thread,” said Pat Shurmur of the offensive dip late in games. “In a couple games we were playing we were trying to milk the clock. There have been times when we have been ahead and we have done a better job chewing the clock and moving the ball, and there have been a couple games that we didn’t, and so that’s what you work on.”

Chip Kelly encountered a similar issue in the regular-season opener against Washington. His team was up 33-7 in the third quarter and held on to win 33-27.

A big question is whether the shift from up-tempo to a slower speed is a problem for this team. Are they still learning how to run an efficient offense when they get out of the up-tempo?

“No,” said Kelly. “I mean, we’re always working on it but I think if you look at what we did in the Green Bay game and what we did in the Tampa Bay game, we’re capable of doing it and we have executed it. In two games we were very successful at it, in two games we weren’t good at it.”

Shurmur offered his take Tuesday.

“We’re used to playing fast at times, and then we’re used to playing for us what is a normal speed, being a no-huddle operation. I think we’ve effectively in a couple games done a good job of slowing it down where we’re in four-minute mode. The challenge for us is to be efficient no matter what we try, whatever pace we try to play at.”

Added Todd Herremans: “I don’t think [slowing it down is causing problems]. If you look at the Green Bay game and the Tampa Bay game, we were able to effectively move the ball at the end of the game to run the clock out. We slowed it down and ate clock there. I don’t really see it as a negative for us. In that last game it was probably just a little bit of a shift in momentum, and trying to get the momentum back when you are trying to run out the clock is a little tough sometimes.”

There doesn’t appear to be one answer for why the offense sometimes dries up late. A piece of it might be tempo-related; some of it can be attributed to play-calling, lack of execution or the defense’s shift in approach. It’s a multi-layered  issue, and one that has the coaching staff’s attention.

“It’s something that we have to continue to work on,” said Kelly. “There’s gotta be things to work on every single week and that’s something we’ll really address this week.”