With a rookie quarterback, inexperienced wide receivers, and no elite running back, the Eagles offense is not to be confused with any of the NFL's best. But what has happened in recent weeks defies even modest expectations. The Eagles have not scored more than 24 points since Week 3. They had 28 combined points during the last two games.
Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said the objective is four touchdowns each week. The Eagles have reached that benchmark only once.
"We have to score more points," Reich said. "There's no question."
The offense's problems have never appeared more dire than they are entering Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Eagles are missing their top rusher, Ryan Mathews, for the second consecutive week. Top receiver Jordan Matthews is questionable with a sprained ankle, and there is uncertainty about the receiving corps behind him. The offensive line is jumbled again, with Allen Barbre moving from left guard to right tackle to replace the injured Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
At this point in the season, the personnel is not going to change dramatically. Carson Wentz is entering his fourth month as the starting quarterback, and the Eagles are encouraged by the way he's playing. The coaches are also optimistic about the development of rookie running back Wendell Smallwood, who will likely be the lead rusher Sunday. They can hope that a week on the sideline invigorated embattled wide receiver Nelson Agholor.
Coach Doug Pederson did not unequivocally commit to playing Agholor, but a good week of practice and the need at the position with Matthews ailing has Pederson leaning toward playing him. Pederson could activate five wide receivers for the first time this season, but he has bypassed that option for special-teams purposes. No Eagles wide receiver is a core special-teams player.
The offense was limited without Matthews in the second half last week. Dorial Green-Beckham, Bryce Treggs, and Paul Turner were the only wide receivers. Even if Matthews plays, having five receivers active will give the Eagles options if Matthews is ailing or less effective.
"Once we got away from Jordan and he came out of that game, I went with more of the tight ends with Trey [Burton] and Zach [Ertz] a little bit," Pederson said. "That's a role that Paul Turner obviously could fill, as well, and the more experience he gets, obviously he could fit that position as a slot receiver. Everybody else is primarily outside guys."
Relying on the passing game might be a poor decision Sunday. Pederson has routinely emphasized a balanced offense during the week only to fall into the habit of preferring the pass on game days. Against Green Bay last week, the Eagles had 36 pass attempts and 18 rushes. One week earlier, it was 45 passes and 23 rushes.
A deficit in the score often leads to passing, but this offense is best with balance. Against a Bengals defense that ranked fifth worst in the NFL with 120.5 rushing yards allowed per game, it would be especially prudent to remember the run.
"I'm constantly monitoring the run-pass ratio, constantly during a football game," Pederson said.
The coach said one of his biggest concerns with the offense is red zone efficiency and relying too oftenon field goals. In the last two weeks, the Eagles scored touchdowns in all three red zone trips - their only touchdowns in those games. But in the previous five games, they scored touchdowns on only seven of 17 trips inside the 20-yard line.
"We've got to learn how to finish once we get down in that red zone area," Pederson said. "Sometimes it's always a touchdown, check-down mentality for us. Meaning the quarterback always has options to shoot the ball in the end zone, but let's be smart and stay ahead of the chains, stay ahead of the down and distance. Running the ball down there becomes very effective."
The Eagles also need to score earlier in games. They had halftime leads in all of their victories, and halftime deficits in five of six losses. When the Eagles win the coin toss, Pederson wants them to defer. He does this so they can try to have the ball at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half, creating two possessions without the other team's getting the ball. He also believes it can calm his offense and create advantageous field position if the defense can force the opponents off the field. The downside is if the Eagles allow early points and are playing from behind throughout the game without an explosive offense.
"We're a team that probably right now, it's harder for us to come from behind," Pederson said.
Pederson said he considers this when managing the game, which is why he emphasizes time of possession. He wants to try to keep it within a one-score game going into the fourth quarter to give the Eagles a chance, although they're much better when they have a lead and can run in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles' three highest-scoring outputs came in the first three weeks of the season. Reich said field position was a factor in those games. The Eagles benefited from their special teams and defensive plays. Their average starting field position in the first two games of the season was their 38-yard line. In the last two games, it was their 17-yard line and 23-yard line.
The way the Eagles played in those early weeks created excitement that was difficult to maintain. With more games, the offense has appeared closer to what was expected entering the season. But if they're going to change their losing ways, the Eagles will need to improve their scoring.