Eagles Offensive Coordinator Explains How The Offense Must Improve

The Eagles need to do a better job of moving the chains.

Ryan Mathews. (Jeff Fusco)

Ryan Mathews. (Jeff Fusco)

At first glance, it’s hard to say the Eagles’ offense has performed poorly through two games. Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz is off to a sensational start. The Birds are averaging 29 points per game, which ranks eighth in the NFL. Philadelphia also leads the league in time of possession. Doug Pederson’s ball control offense undoubtedly deserves credit for limiting the amount of snaps the defense must face. As a result, Jim Schwartz’s unit has allowed the least amount of points in the league.

But while the Eagles’ offense has been effective enough to aide the team to a 2-0 start, there’s plenty of room for improvement. The Eagles’ offense is only averaging 4.8 yards per play. Only four teams rank worse. One reason why the Eagles aren’t getting more yards is because they’re struggling to move the chains efficiently. Philadelphia is only converting 26.7% of their third down attempts, which is the fifth worst rate in the league.

Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich explained fixing the Eagles’ poor conversation rate isn’t just as simple as being better on third down. The improvement must start earlier in the series.

“Stay in phase,” explained Reich. “I haven’t looked at it … I just made a cut up the other day of all of our third downs. And as I started to look back, I just knew there were a lot of third-and-really longs. I don’t know the exact numbers. I didn’t get to that point.”

“But you’ve got to stay in phase. You’ve got to get third and manageable. That’s going to be key. And penalties will put you into third-and-long. If you get in second-and-long, you’ve got to be good on second-and-long to kind of get it back in phase.”

Reich is right: the Eagles are facing a lot of “third-and-really longs.” Philadelphia’s average “to go” distance on third down is 8.8 yards. Only the Vikings and the Browns are facing longer situations on average. The Eagles are averaging a paltry 3.83 yards per attempt on 22 third down pass attempts. Eight rushing attempts on third down have only been good for one yard per carry.

Speaking of the run game, that’s a big area where the Eagles need to see improvement. The Birds have rushed well in volume (233 total yards) but not in efficiency (3.5 yards per carry).

“We ran for 133 yards in the first game and 100 in the last game, so that’s OK,” said Reich. “That’s acceptable. It needs to be better. We expect it to be better. But that’s certainly an acceptable range. We’d just like to have a few more explosive runs and keep it in phase, but I think we’re on our way to that.”

It’s worth noting all of these numbers come from a small sample size so far. The Eagles have only played two games. There’s still time for improvement.

“I really believe that our running game is continue to get better,” said Reich. “We’ve run it OK at times. I think we have a really good offensive line. I think our backs are good. I just think it’s early in the process. We need to just keep handing them the football.”

Running the ball more effectively would obviously be a big boost to the Eagles offense. For as well as Wentz has played to this point, it’s not impossible to think he could eventually hit a rookie wall. Sooner or later, he’ll need to have a running game he can count on to make his job easier. The Eagles clearly need to do a better of job in reaching more manageable third down situations.

The bad news for the Eagles is that their hope for improvement in the run game might not come this week.

“Stopping the run,” answered Reich when asked about the strength of the Steelers’ defense. “I mean, I don’t know for sure, but you could look over the last 20 years … this defense is continually in the top five versus the run. They’ve got great schemes to stop the run. They’ve got great personnel to stop the run. They put you into a pass only mode, and then they can run some of their exotic stuff.”

The Steelers’ defense has allowed the eighth least yards per rush attempt this season. Last season, Pittsburgh allowed the sixth least.

If the Eagles can get their run game on Sunday, that would be very big for the offense. If not, however, it could be up to Wentz yet again to carry the team through the air. And even though he’s been impressive, asking the 23-year-old rookie to best a Steelers offense averaging just under 32 points in their last 10 regular season games is a tall task.