Welcome to the big show, rookie.
I guess Jeremy Maclin decided he had enough of quietly working his way into the lineup. He came up with a huge game Sunday in the win over Tampa Bay. Maclin caught six passes for 142 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Sometimes numbers can give you a false read. Hank Baskett had an 89-yard touchdown catch and a 90-yard touchdown catch in his time as an Eagle. Both came on short throws where a defender missed a tackle and Baskett just raced downfield for long scores.
Maclin's numbers from Sunday were completely legit. He earned those stats. The first touchdown was a play where Maclin got behind nickel cornerback Elbert Mack on a deep route. The pass was a bit off-target, but Maclin was able to adjust to it and get his hands on the ball. He showed excellent speed in getting by Mack for the 51-yard score. His second touchdown also involved his speed. Maclin ran by the cornerback, who was playing off. It is impressive when a receiver can eat up a defensive back's cushion and still get behind him. Maclin made more of a body catch on this play and did a good job to hold onto the ball as he hit the ground in the end zone. The second touchdown was from ""only"" 40 yards out.
Maclin played very well. He caught short, intermediate and deep passes. He worked the left and right sides. He was effective over the middle as well. Maclin ran good routes. He was able to beat press coverage when Tampa tried that. He was also able to make catches with a defender all over him. Maclin located the ball well and adjusted to it. These are not easy things for a young receiver, especially one who spent his college days in the dreaded spread offense.
Maclin has slowly adjusted to the pro game and has improved a bit each week. Well, don't look for him to improve on the numbers from Sunday, but he still can get better at the little things it takes to be a good receiver. Honing positional skills is something that takes years of practice. Maclin is ahead of schedule as far as I'm concerned. I had low expectations for him this season. I thought he would contribute more on special teams than as part of the offense. This is one case where I'm happy to be wrong.
Now about that man getting him the ball. Donovan McNabb had a good game in his return from injury. He was 16-of-21 for 264 yards. He threw the ball well, especially down the field. McNabb finished the game with five passes than went for 20 yards or more. Only the touchdown to Leonard Weaver was truly a short pass that turned into a long play.
McNabb showed no ill effects from his rib injury. He was efficient and explosive as a passer. He had two rushes that totaled 30 yards. I never saw him looking like a guy with any injuries or problems. There was no hesitation in his game. He didn't look to avoid contact (any more than a healthy quarterback would). It was good to see McNabb play well. If this team is to challenge for the NFC East title and possibly a Super Bowl, McNabb will need to come up big.
The only other offensive player of note was tight end Brent Celek. He continued his good season with four catches for 58 yards. His signature moment came on a 38-yard reception when he leapt over Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber. Celek now has 26 catches on the year. I'm not happy with Celek right now. How is he supposed to remain our secret weapon if he keeps posting big numbers?
All joking aside, Celek is quickly going from solid young player to being a very good starter. There are three facets to being a receiver (tight end or wideout). There is the time before the catch, the catch itself and what happens after the catch. Celek is proving to be good at all three. He knows how to get open. He runs good routes. He catches the ball smoothly. Celek has shown excellent run-after-the-catch ability. He's actually been uncanny when it comes to fighting for first downs and knowing just how far he needs to go. The one area where Celek still needs a lot of work is blocking. He had a couple of good blocks, but also got shoved around on some other plays.
The offense scored four touchdowns and put up 325 yards, but they only had 48 snaps. A couple of those were kneel-downs. The offense was so explosive that the defense spent most of the day on the field. They faced 75 plays from the Tampa offense. That is 10 to 15 more than the average game. The defense played well for the most part, but the Bucs had more success than I thought they would. While watching the game I was mad at our defenders for making too many mistakes. Upon re-watching the game I saw that Tampa quarterback Josh Johnson had a lot to do with that.
Johnson's scrambling ability was obvious. He also did a terrific job of getting rid of the ball just before being hit. This did lead to some interceptions, but he was able to move the chains on a regular basis and the Bucs did score 14 points. I think his quick throws also had to frustrate the defense. At least six guys hit Johnson just as he got rid of the ball. That will drive defensive players crazy.
The defensive star was once again Trent Cole. He led the team in tackles, had a sack and a pair of tackles for loss. Cole should have had a pair of sacks, but one was taken away by a penalty on the play. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott seems to have a good feel for how to use Cole. We're lucky in that sense. A coach must know how to use his star player. Take a look at the Panthers and Packers. Julius Peppers isn't happy in Carolina and seems to pick and choose his moments to play all out. The coaches don't know how to push the right buttons to get him to play up to his talent. Green Bay has a gifted pass rusher in Aaron Kampman, but way too often he's playing in space instead of attacking the quarterback. Peppers and Kampman have combined for four sacks and one tackle for loss in nine games. Cole has 3.5 sacks and a pair of tackles for loss this year by himself.
Rookie Antonio Dixon didn't show up much on the stat sheet, but easily played the best game of his young career. He was in the Redskins training camp this summer before getting let go in the cutdown process. The Eagles grabbed him and he's been worked in each week. You can't teach size and strength. Dixon has both. Now he is starting to learn how to use that power. He disrupted a running play, which led to a tackle for loss yesterday. He also blew up center Sean Mahan on a couple of snaps. One play was the fourth down where Josh Johnson fumbled. I couldn't see if Dixon directly caused that, but he certainly helped matters.
Omar Gaither had another good game. He played the run well. He now has fought through blockers for two games in a row. That's encouraging. Gaither blitzed up the middle a few times. His pressure affected Johnson a time or two. Gaither broke up a pass over the middle. If the throw wasn't so hard he might have had a chance for the interception.
The other middle linebacker, Jeremiah Trotter, had a quiet game. He played on obvious run downs. Trotter had a couple of tackles, but definitely looked rusty. That was to be expected. You don't skip training camp and the preseason and show up ready to play. It was sorta fun to see No. 54 running around out there looking for someone to hit.
The starting corners combined for three interceptions and generally covered well. The interceptions are crucial. Good teams pick off passes. Back in 2007, the Eagles only had 11 picks the entire season. Asante Samuel was added to the mix in 2008. The total went up to 15. Cornerbacks had seven picks on the year. We're only a quarter of the way through the 2009 season and the corners have already come up with seven interceptions. This is a very good trend.
The one problem from Sunday's win that must be addressed is penalties. The Eagles were penalized 10 times for 111 yards. Some were incredibly costly. The Bucs overcame a third-and-25 situation because of a dumb mistake by Macho Harris. He hit a receiver in the middle of the field. It wasn't a vicious shot, but it was too obvious to ignore. Shots like that used to be part of the game 20 or 30 years ago, but not anymore. You only hit guys with the ball or guys that are blocking. Don't risk getting a flag, especially in that situation. Get the ball back to McNabb and Maclin so they can go get us more points. Be smart.
I'm sure Reid and his assistants will be focusing on the penalties. The Eagles are good enough to be sloppy against mediocre competition and still win easily. Do that against NFC East teams and you will lose or really struggle to win.
A 3-1 start to the season is a good one. The team is moving the ball and scoring points. The defense is stout, aside from the Saints debacle. Special teams is a work in progress, but there is more good than bad. The franchise quarterback is getting healthy. The young players are stepping up as needed. Eagles fans have a lot to be happy with right now. Enjoy it for a day or so and then start thinking about the Raiders. The Giants have a good team and the Eagles will need every win possible this year to try and take the division title.