The Eagles kept the run to the playoffs alive with Monday night's 30-10 win over Cleveland. It wasn't the smoothest, prettiest win, but the Eagles had control of the game from the opening snap. They were the better team on the field and played like it. They got a lead and bullied the Browns. There were no slow starts or mediocre performances to overcome.
My fear was that the Eagles would play down to the Browns. That didn't happen. Give Cleveland credit for making a couple of really impressive defensive plays in the red zone. Give Shaun Rogers and Braylon Edwards credit for playing like star players. Outside of those elements this was a beatdown. That's what we needed to see from the Eagles.
The winning streak now moves to three games. The Eagles have had control of all three contests. The cumulative score was 98-44. Amazingly, the games weren't even really that close. Brian Westbrook was the main man in the first two wins, but Monday night belonged to Donovan McNabb and the Philly defense.
McNabb was 26-of-35 for 290 yards. He threw a pair of touchdowns. The Browns got very little pressure on him and McNabb made them pay. He distributed the ball to nine different receivers. He worked the seams and middle of the field as well as the edges. Last week McNabb threw a lot to the backs and tight ends. This week he focused on getting the ball to his wide receivers. That's the kind of versatility you like to see in the passing game.
The coaches dialed up more pass plays than I would have preferred, but I think part of that was due to Cleveland's defense. They were rushing four guys and playing a soft zone behind that. McNabb had time to find open receivers and get them the ball. The offensive line gave him a clean pocket for most of the game. That allowed McNabb to be patient and efficient.
While Westbrook didn't score a touchdown or put up big numbers he did play great in one area – blocking. Westbrook did an outstanding job of picking up blitzers and pass rushers all game long. On a couple of plays, he gave McNabb that extra second or so to get the ball to a receiver who was just coming open. Westbrook is a complete back and the kind of player young guys should look up to. He's someone to learn from.
This week was more of an aerial attack, but one thing that didn't change was the outstanding play on third downs. The Eagles converted on 11-of-17 of their opportunities. The team is red hot right now when third down rolls around. That's how you sustain drives, score points and keep control of the game. The Eagles ran 20 offensive plays in the first quarter of the game. The Browns ran 33 plays in the first three quarters combined. Whether through the air or on the ground, the ball control attack is working very well right now.
The team struggled in the red zone. They were only 2-of-7. That's not good. Two passes were picked off. I had no problem with the Wildcat play where DeSean Jackson threw the pass. Jackson simply has to make a better throw. I know some fans will be upset with the play. Here's what I bet Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg were thinking. You have Jackson throw the ball against the Browns, expecting either an incompletion or a touchdown. You throw in that situation in that game so that when you line up in the Wildcat against Washington, Dallas, or in the playoffs; teams will have to think run and pass. They can't just focus on the run. That plan went out the door with Jackson's poor throw. Not only did that cost the Eagles points, it also surely removed him throwing the ball from the playbook. Teams will now play him strictly to run.
McNabb threw an interception before the half on an attempted fade pass to Hank Baskett. I liked the call. I like the fade pass. McNabb made a sloppy throw and Brandon McDonald made a terrific play. That wasn't an easy pick. Westbrook and Baskett showed great hustle to chase McDonald down from behind and keep him from scoring. Memo to McNabb, Baskett, and the coaches: Don't give up on the fade pass. It has produced a couple of touchdowns so far this year.
The defense played very well. They kept Cleveland's offense out of the end zone and limited them to less than 200 yards. Believe it or not the Eagles are up to third overall in the league in defense. Not only did they control the Browns, the defense made some plays. Asante Samuel picked off a pass and ran it back for a touchdown. Stewart Bradley came up with the first interception of the year by an Eagles linebacker. Trent Cole played lights out and got his eighth sack of the year. Rookie Quintin Demps blitzed late in the game and got a sack, the first of his career.
I was happy to see Jim Johnson use an aggressive defense. I figured he would play it safe. Cleveland crossed midfield on their opening series. Once they did that, Johnson turned his guys loose. They harassed Ken Dorsey all game long. He was sacked twice and hit seven other times according to the official game book.
Bradley had the best night of the linebackers. He led the team with six tackles, as well as his interception. One of the tackles was for a loss. I also liked the energy and intensity he brought to the defense. Sometimes it can be hard for a team to get up for an inferior opponent. Bradley was fired up and ready to go from the start.
The secondary gave up a few completions and dropped a couple of late interceptions, but they played solid football. Edwards was the only Browns receiver to do anything. He got the best of Sheldon Brown a couple of times.
The Eagles are now 8-5-1. They are red hot and playing their best football of the year. I love the timing of that. December is when you want to peak. All that is left are games against Washington and Dallas. We need some help, but the playoffs are right there for the taking if the team will just continue to play well. Part of me wishes we had a spot sewn up and could just relax, but another part of me is enjoying the chase. The Eagles will have to fight to get in the playoffs. If they do, the team will be in the right mindset to play well. Once you get into the postseason anything can happen. Heck, some people tell me that it is theoretically possible for the Eagles to actually win the Super Bowl one of these days. Really?