On a disappointing night when a lot more went wrong than right, one of the positives to take away from the offensive side of the ball during the Eagles 20-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys was the reemergence of wide receiver Jason Avant as a third-down target.
Avant has been largely absent from the offense after his seven-catch, 79-yard performance against the New Orleans Saints in week two. Over the next five games combined, Avant would only grab five catches. In those games, opposing defense often focused on trying to take away the middle of the field, normally Avant's domain.
But Avant hauled in two big third-down catches on Sunday night, showcasing on both receptions what everyone in the locker room will tell you are the best hands on the team.
In the first quarter, facing a third-and-23, quarterback Donovan McNabb threw the ball over the middle for Avant, who had split cornerback Orlando Scandrick and safety Gerald Sensabaugh. Avant dove to the ground and snagged the ball just before it hit the turf for a spectacular catch, but he was three yards short of the first down. Still, he gained the Eagles 20 yards in field position.
Then, on the first play of the second quarter, on a third-and-6, McNabb found Avant in one-on-one coverage and Avant made a great play on the ball downfield on another diving catch. He hauled in the catch for 23 yards, although he was incorrectly marked down when he went untouched on the ground and attempted to get up and continue running.
But those were Avant's only two catches on a night when the Eagles went 4-of-12 on third down. It's easy to see the correlation between third down success and winning for the Eagles. In their three losses, they're converting only 29.5% of third down, which is buoyed by a good performance in the Saints' loss. On the other hands, in the team's five victories, they're converting 40.3% of third downs.
If you compare those numbers to the rest of the league, the conversion rate in losses would rank 27th, and the rate in wins would rank jump up to 15th.
According to Avant, third down is all about execution.
"We just have to come together as a team and execute our assignments," he said.
And the Eagles have the opportunity to do that this Sunday, when they go against a Chargers' defense allowing a very-high 43.0% conversion rate, 28th in the league.
-- Posted by Bo Wulf, 3:19 p.m., November 10