Eagles hope newcomers spark return to dominance in red zone

Eagles QB Carson Wentz will have new playmakers to work with, including Jordan Howard, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Miles Sanders. LARRY W SMITH/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz noted recently that red zone efficiency, much like third-down success, is "something that almost makes or breaks ballgames" each season.

"And so that's something that you always want to take a hard look at in the offseason," Wentz said, "and see where you could be better as a team, both schematically and executing as a player."

There's also a third avenue toward improvement -- talent acquisition. Philadelphia has been aggressive on that front, adding running backs Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders as well as rookie receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, a trio that should help the Eagles return to the potent red zone force they were during their 2017 championship run.

The 2017 Eagles (13-3) ranked second in the league in red zone scoring percentage (64 percent) and, in turn, third in average points per game (28). Wentz was a magician inside the 20-yard line, completing 65 percent of his throws with 23 touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks.

Philly slipped to 17th in red zone efficiency (59 percent) in 2018 and 18th in points per game (23), and finished the regular season with a 9-7 record. Injuries limited Wentz to 11 games last season and hampered his play when he was on the field. The running back and receiver positions were hit by injuries, too, stripping coach Doug Pederson's offense of much of its firepower.

The Eagles loaded up their backfield this offseason by trading for Howard and selecting Sanders in the second round of April's NFL draft. Howard alone should boost the team's scoring prowess. He has 17 red zone rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons -- just two less than the Eagles have scored as a team in that span.

"Obviously, the physical ability that he brings to the table is exciting," Wentz said, "and I think Eagles fans should be really excited about having him as a piece of our offense."

Sanders, meanwhile, has the lateral quickness to make defenders miss in tight quarters and is expected to be deployed as a receiver out of the backfield as well.

Arcega-Whiteside is not just a big target (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) but his basketball background shines through with an ability to box out and haul in 50-50 balls, much like his new teammate Alshon Jeffery. Arcega-Whiteside tied a 41-year old school record at Stanford with 14 touchdown grabs in 2018.

"J.J. is a great fit for what we do," Eagles vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas said. "J.J.'s ability to go up and get the ball, his strength, his ability to separate and finish contested catches in the scoring zone -- he's just a highly productive guy and really tough, really strong."

Think about the red zone package the Eagles could roll out -- Howard in the backfield, a two-tight-end set featuring pass-catching dynamos Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, and Arcega-Whiteside lined up opposite Jeffery should they prefer his size over DeSean Jackson's speed near the goal line.

Couple that grouping with what the team brass expects to be a healthy Wentz and a top-end offensive line, and the Eagles have everything they need and more to be dominant in the red zone in 2019.