Great offenses excel at situational football. They convert third downs to keep drives alive and when they get down inside the opponent's 20, they finish the job and score touchdowns rather than settle for field goals.
That's what the Eagles did last season on their way to a Super Bowl title. They owned third down. They owned the red zone.
They finished first in the league in red-zone offense, converting 65.5 percent of their trips inside the 20 into touchdowns.
They finished eighth in third-down efficiency (41.7 percent), but were second through 14 games before a 3-for-25 slump against Oakland and Dallas dropped them down a few spots.
Then, in the playoffs, they converted an astounding 60.5 percent of their third-down opportunities. Nick Foles, subbing for the injured Carson Wentz, completed 26 of 32 passes for 398 yards and four of his six postseason touchdowns on third down.
His 158.1 third-down passer rating in the playoffs was the highest in the Super Bowl era.
The fact that the Eagles haven't been nearly as good at situational football in their first four games and also happen to have lost two of those four isn't a coincidence.
The Eagles head into Sunday's important game against the Minnesota Vikings tied for 16th in both third-down and red-zone efficiency. That's the middle of the pack, and the middle of the pack won't get you into the playoffs, let alone back to the Super Bowl.
"We can't just rely on the success we had last year,'' said tight end Zach Ertz. "Our red-zone offense has to be better than it was Sunday.
"We can't settle for field goals. We have to score touchdowns. If we had done that Sunday, it would've been a completely different ballgame.''
He's right. It would have been. The Eagles converted just one of four red-zone opportunities into a touchdown. Had a second-and-3 on the Tennessee 8-yard line late in the second quarter and had to settle for a field goal.
Had a third-and-3 at the Tennessee 12 late in the fourth quarter and again settled for a field goal. In one of the game's more peculiar plays, Wentz opted to throw the ball away when he couldn't find anyone open, even though he had room to escape the pocket and extend the play.
Then, in overtime, the Eagles had a first down at the Tennessee 17 after a 15-yard run by Jay Ajayi, only to lose 2 yards on a Wendell Smallwood run followed by incompletions to Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz.
"The red zone was one of our best areas of production last year,'' said center Jason Kelce. "If we convert in the red zone a few more times Sunday, we're not even talking about overtime.
"One mistake, one guy not doing his job on each play, really is what is culminating into stalling out drives and resulting in three points instead of seven points.''
Wentz ,who led the league in both red-zone and third-down passing last season, completed just 4 of 9 passes in the red zone against the Titans and was 4-for-11 for 70 yards on third down. One of those completions was a 16-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery in the third quarter. But on the Eagles' last five third-down opportunities, he had four incompletions and was sacked.
"[Situational football] is something we stress in the offseason,'' Wentz said. "It's something we stress during the week. Obviously, we had a lot of success with that last year. But this isn't last year.
"It's hard to point to one thing we're missing this year. With both third down and the red zone, I think unfortunately we're hurting ourselves on first down and second down.
"We're putting ourselves in tough situations, whether it's penalties or sacks or whatever. Negative plays are really hurting us and are affecting both situations.''
Some of that certainly is true. The Eagles are 24th in yards per first-down play (4.78) through four games. They were 12th last year (5.35).
But the Eagles really haven't faced any more third-and-long situations than they did last year. They just aren't converting them as effectively.
Twenty-seven of the Eagles' 60 third-down situations (45.0 percent) have been 8 yards or more. They've converted just four of those 27 (14.8 percent).
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Last year, 99 of the Eagles' 230 third-down situations (43.0 percent) were 8 or more yards. But they converted an impressive 32 of them (32.3 percent).
Wentz had a 133.0 passer rating on third-and-8 or more, completing 69.0 percent of his attempts, averaging 11.6 yards per attempt, and throwing seven TDs and just two interceptions.
He was sacked just four times on third-and-8 or more last year. In his two starts since returning from his knee injury, three of his nine sacks have been on third-and-8-plus, including two that resulted in lost fumbles.
"We want to be great in the red zone,'' Wentz said. "Third-down efficiency, we want to be one of the best in the league. We need to bring back some more big plays, and we want to score fast and use our up-tempo stuff when it's there.
"I get ticked off when we come off the field after [not converting on] third down. I want to score on every drive. That's the mind-set coach has. That's the mind-set this whole offense has.''
Jordan Matthews caught 225 passes with 19 touchdowns in his first three seasons with the Eagles, the large majority of them out of the slot.
When the Eagles re-signed him last month after Mike Wallace fractured his fibula, it was assumed that Matthews would be mainly used in the slot in "11'' personnel groupings (1RB, 1TE, 3 WRs), and Nelson Agholor would slide outside.
But you know what you do when you assume.
In the two games he has played since his return, Matthews usually has lined up outside in three-wide receiver packages, and Agholor, who had a breakout season in the slot last year after replacing Matthews after he was traded to Buffalo, has stayed in the slot in 11 personnel.
Matthews' 56-yard touchdown catch last week came in '12'' personnel (1RB, 2TE, 2WR).
During the offseason, Eagles coach Doug Pederson had talked about wanting to let Agholor spread his wings and play both inside and outside. But once the Eagles signed Wallace, that talk subsided.
Asked this week about the decision to keep Agholor in the slot and use Matthews outside in 11 personnel groupings, offensive coordinator Mike Groh said, "We think Nelson's a really productive player inside. He was throughout the course of last season, and [we] feel really comfortable with what he's done for us there.
"That doesn't disparage what Jordan can do or can't do. It's just a product of the fact that Nelly's had a ton of production in there for us.''
Agholor played both inside and outside at USC. When the 6-3, 215-pound Matthews came out of Vanderbilt, many scouts thought he wasn't quite fast enough to create separation on the outside and probably would play primarily in the slot in the NFL.
Former Eagles coach Chip Kelly, who drafted Matthews, liked him inside primarily because of his size. He thought having a 6-3 slot receiver would create coverage mismatches against smaller nickel corners.
It was one of the few things Kelly was right about during his three years as the Eagles coach.
But Matthews, who was taken by the Eagles in the second round of the 2014 draft, is a little sensitive on the whole slot issue.
"Just so people know,'' he said Thursday, "the only reason I played slot so much when I was here the first time was because, in Coach Kelly's offense, the slot position was the guy who could play on both sides, and was the communicator of the offense.
"Jeremy [Maclin] was coming off an ACL and they didn't want him to have to do too much. And Riley [Cooper] had just had a successful year outside. So he said, 'Jordan, can you communicate the offense from inside?'
"I got very good at it, and when Doug came in, he told me to keep doing it. So I think that whole thing about me being pigeon-holed there [as just a slot guy] is kind of dumb and overblown.
"I don't like to talk about it too much. I can play both [inside and outside]. I hope we can just stop talking about it soon.''
Said Agholor: "We do what we got to do. We're all plenty capable of playing anywhere. And we all want to make sure we raise our value as wide receivers and make plays.
"Jordan's a great player. He's proven he can play inside. He's going to make great plays outside like that touchdown catch last week. He's a great addition to our wide receiving corps.''
Figuring the Eagles
–The Eagles have nine touchdown drives. None of them have been fewer than eight plays. Five have been 11 plays or more. Last year, 20 of their 45 touchdown drives were six plays or fewer.
–The Eagles lead the NFL in average time of possession. They've won the time-of-possession battle in all four of their games. Their 34 minutes, 12 seconds TOP average is 2:31 more than last year's (32:41), when they also led the league in TOP.
–The Eagles are 23rd in run-play percentage (37.0). They have run the ball on 108 of 292 offensive plays. Last year, they had a 44.1 run-play percentage. One of the reasons for the lower run percentage has been the play-calling on first down. Last year, the Eagles ran the ball 47.6 percent of the time on first down. Through four games this year, that percentage has dropped to 41.1. That's the fifth lowest first-down run-percentage in the league.
–The Eagles already have lost five fumbles in the first four games. That's the most in the league. Last year, they had 11 lost fumbles the entire season. Breakdown of the five lost fumbles: Carson Wentz (2), Nick Foles, Wendell Smallwood, and Tre Sullivan.
–The Eagles used 12 personnel (1RB, 2TE) on 30 of 76 offensive plays against the Titans. Twenty-three of those 30 plays were pass plays. Wentz was 17-for-21 for 243 yards and two touchdowns with 12 personnel. In his two starts, he has a 112.9 passer rating with 12 personnel and just a 72.5 rating with 11 personnel (1RB, 1TE). He has a 77.1 completion percentage and is averaging 9.4 yards per attempt with 12 personnel. With 11 personnel: a 57.9 completion percentage and 5.3 yards per attempt.