PHILADELPHIA – Fast starts have helped the Philadelphia Eagles overcome slow finishes.
The Eagles (7-5) have survived poor fourth quarters during a four-game winning streak thanks to building big leads early. They've been outscored 33-0 in the final quarter in the four games, and haven't scored an offensive touchdown in the fourth quarter since Week 6 at Tampa.
"Part of being a good football team is you have to learn how to finish games," coach Chip Kelly said. "It's something we've got to continue to work on. Like everything, there's got to be things to work on every week, and that's something we'll address this week."
The stat is somewhat misleading because the Eagles haven't needed to score points in the fourth quarter during their winning streak. They've built leads of at least 17 points in the third quarter of each game.
They effectively ran out the clock in a 27-13 win at Green Bay on Nov. 10 by keeping the ball the final 9:32. But they couldn't sustain long drives in the fourth against Washington and Arizona, and the defense needed a hold at the end in both games.
The Redskins nearly overcame a 24-0 lead and were trailing 24-16 with the ball at the Eagles 18 when Brandon Boykin intercepted Robert Griffin III's pass in the end zone with 24 seconds left two weeks ago.
Last Sunday, the Cardinals rallied from a 24-7 deficit and were trailing 24-21 before the defense forced a turnover on downs in the final minutes.
"I don't know if there's a common thread," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "In a couple of games we were playing, we were trying to melt the clock. There's been times when we've been ahead and we've done a better job of chewing the clock and moving the ball, and there's been a couple games that we didn't. And so that's what you work on."
The problem could be the Eagles change their approach when they have leads in the fourth quarter. The fast-paced, hurry-up offense works well when the Eagles run plays quickly, keep the defense off-balance and don't allow opponents to rest or match up properly.
Kelly still has the offense run without a huddle with a lead, but players stand at the line of scrimmage and let the clock run down before quarterback Nick Foles takes the snap. That allows the defense more time to rest, to see what the formations are and it changes the tempo.
"I think we're used to playing fast at times and then we're used to playing for us what is normal speed, being into a no-huddle operation," Shurmur said. "I think we effectively in a couple of times did a really good job of really slowing it down where we are in four-minute mode. The challenge for us is to be efficient no matter what we try, whatever pace we try to play at."
Then there's the obvious fact that opponents know the Eagles are likely going to run the ball to keep the clock ticking.
"I think what happens is everybody in the stadium knows you're going to run the ball, so they're playing zero coverage," Kelly said. "If you do throw it and it's incomplete, you stop the clock. If you run it, even if you don't gain a yard, you're still running 40 seconds off the clock. So there is kind of a catch-22 there. But people aren't playing the normal defenses they normally play in the first, second, and third quarter. They're putting an extra guy on the line of scrimmage.
"If you bring in an extra tight end, they're going to have two more than you, one for the quarterback and one for the extra player. That is a difficult situation to run the ball against. The answer is easy. Hey, throw it. If you throw it and it's incomplete, the clock stops.
"I'd like to be in that situation every week because that means we're up."
The Eagles, who are tied with Dallas for first place in the NFC East, host the North-leading Detroit Lions (7-5) on Sunday.
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