The Eagles have four games left. They play their three division rivals and the Cleveland Browns. That game against Cleveland sounds pretty good since they'll be without Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. The games against Dallas, Washington and the Giants are another story.
Those teams swept the Eagles the first time around. That doesn't exactly bode well for the month of December and any playoff hopes the team has. There is some good news. Chris McPherson detailed the success the Eagles have had in December in a recent article. This is the time of year when Andy Reid teams are generally at their best.
The Eagles have also done very well in divisional rematches the last couple of years. The Eagles went 3-0 in 2006 and 2-1 in 2007. They must win at least two games to even have a remote shot at the postseason. A sweep would give them a good chance to get into the playoffs.
I know some fans think the team has little shot to pull off this kind of run. They're convinced that the rest of the division is substantially better than the Eagles and these last few games will show that. Maybe. I don't subscribe to that theory. Dallas outplayed the Eagles at a time when the Cowboys were arguably the best team in the league. The Eagles lost sloppy games to the Redskins and Giants, but had a chance to win both of them. The Eagles had a shot to win all three games.
If the Eagles can repeat the formula they had on Thanksgiving night, they can win any or all of these division rematches. There must be balance on offense. Brian Westbrook needs to play like a star. Donovan McNabb must make plays in the passing game. The receivers must help him out. The offensive line has to win a good amount of battles up front. The defense has to be aggressive, but smart. They have to stop the run and make plays.
The team has shown it can do this. The trick is to now do it against NFC East teams. The players must play tougher, more physical football. They need to have a chip on their shoulders. The coaches must help them out. That means sticking more with the run game on offense and being more aggressive on defense.
The coaching staff has made good adjustments the last couple of years – if they didn't the Eagles likely wouldn't have gone 5-1 in rematches against division rivals. Dallas put up almost 40 points in the first meeting of 2007. They only scored six points the next time around. The Redskins held the Eagles to 12 points in the first game last year. McNabb and the offense put up 33 in the rematch. The coaches need to come through with good adjustments this season more than ever: figure out what went wrong in those first three games and make sure it doesn't happen again.
Beating NFC East teams means playing good football. I don't want the Eagles to luck into the playoffs. I want them to earn their way in. That way, the team has a chance to make some noise once they get there. The ideal situation is for a team to play well all year and be in top form at the end of the season. Needing to get hot to get into the postseason is far from ideal, but at least the team would be on a roll at the right time of the year.
The Eagles played their best game of the year against Arizona. Is that a good sign or just an anomaly? One game can be the start of a hot streak or it can be the entire hot streak. Eagles fans who suffered through the 1998 season remember those impressive one-game winning streaks. We'll find out in New York on Sunday whether the team has turned the corner or was just giving us a holiday treat.
The win was very impressive. Donovan McNabb played like himself. He was confident, aggressive and smart and, in turn, he threw four touchdown passes. The guy who played in Cincinnati and Baltimore was nowhere to be found (thank goodness). McNabb even ran a few times. That helped the offense. This isn't like 2000 when our best play was McNabb running. You just like to see him head upfield when there is a gaping hole in the defense. It has a residual effect on the rest of the game. Defenders have to be cognizant of his running from that point on. That can open up some pass plays.
The receivers had a good game. They didn't drop passes, but instead made some tough catches. Kevin Curtis and Hank Baskett each made impressive grabs. Jason Avant fought for a touchdown late in the game. DeSean Jackson burned the Cardinals defense with his speed after the catch. The guys also did a great job of blocking, especially Avant and Baskett. The running game got a boost from them.
I think the coaches were smart to stick with these four receivers. They had been shuffling in Reggie Brown and Greg Lewis as well. That led to players constantly going on and off the field. It certainly didn't help the rhythm of the offense. Against the Cardinals the coaching staff cut down the rotation and focused on playing four guys. That worked really well. This isn't a sign that Brown and Lewis are any less talented. We've seen them play well over the years. The other guys are just in a groove right now and you have to go with the hot hand(s).
Brian Westbrook ran for 110 yards and looked good. He had more bounce in his step. He still isn't at full speed, but that likely isn't going to happen until next year. There were a couple of plays where he got into the secondary and a big play was there for the taking, but safety Aaron Francisco would come over and make the play. Francisco is a good tackler, but when Westbrook is at the top of his game he turns at least one of those runs into a big gainer. Still, it is good to see Westbrook at least looking better than he has in recent weeks.
The coaches got Kyle Eckel involved as the short yardage back. Smart move on their part. Eckel was an excellent runner in college. He will lower his shoulder and hit the hole. That's what the offense needed and that's what he did. The Cardinals had a hard time getting him to the ground at all.
The line did a good job of protecting McNabb and opening holes for the runners. Todd Herremans had the best day of the linemen. He had some real good blocks, especially on run play. He got the best of defensive tackle Gabe Watson a few times. Nick Cole took over at right guard after Max Jean-Gilles got hurt. I didn't see any drop-off in play. Cole was solid. He did a very good job of using his hands and sustaining his blocks.
I was surprised that the Eagles won the game without registering a single sack. The defensive line did get pressure throughout the game, but could not get to Kurt Warner while he still had the ball. Victor Abiamiri stood out by getting regular pressure from his defensive tackle spot in the nickel defense.
The secondary had a terrific game. Brian Dawkins and Quintin Mikell were great. They mostly played back, keeping Arizona from throwing deep. Dawkins and Mikell attacked the receivers in front of them all game long. They delivered hit after hit. The receivers caught passes, but dropped an unusually high amount. You can bet that big hits from the safeties played a large role in those drops. Both guys also came up with interceptions.
Sheldon Brown played great. He covered well and hit any Cardinals that got the ball in his area. Warner didn't complete many throws in Brown's vicinity. Joselio Hanson got the start in place of the injured Asante Samuel and played well. Hanson finished with four tackles and an interception. He did a very good job of covering guys in the slot. He was called for holding in the end zone, but that was a bad flag. Hanson tugged on the jersey. He immediately let go. I imagine the official anticipated Hanson would keep holding and that's why he threw the flag.
Quintin Demps played his most defensive snaps of the year. He was the number four cornerback. He did an OK job. There were some plays he covered really well. Anquan Boldin burned him for a nice gain on a pass over the middle. No rookie can feel too bad about getting beaten by a star like Boldin. I'm still hoping for Demps to get some snaps at safety this year. He had a couple of tackles in special teams coverage. Sean Considine led the way in that department with three stops. He's become quite a good special teams player.
That was a great showing by the Eagles on Thanksgiving. They have to make it count. Build on it by going to the Giants and winning. The playoffs are within reach, but the Eagles can't afford any more head-scratchers. Anything less than inspired, high quality football will have the players home in early January eating chocolate pudding and watching *House *marathons on USA.