We all know that football is a game of adjustments. The Eagles did a lot of self-scouting during the bye week to see what areas needed to be worked on and what changes needed to be made. Let's take a look at some adjustments that were evident in the victory over the Falcons.
DEFENDING SCREENS AND DRAWS
Teams really hurt the Eagles defense on third downs with screen passes and draw plays during the first six weeks. Just think back to the Bears game. Matt Forte got a pair of crucial first downs on screens. Without those two plays, the Eagles might very well have won the game.
I thought Falcons running back Jerious Norwood could be a very dangerous threat on those types of plays. He's got excellent speed and only needs a small opening to turn a short pass into a long gain. Michael Turner is also quite good in that area. The Eagles knew they had to tighten up and did so. Brodrick Bunkley disrupted one screen pass. Stewart Bradley blew up a screen. The Eagles did a very good job of playing screens. I don't know if Jim Johnson had specific defenders spying the running backs or simply had all the guys really focused on screens. Whatever he did worked. The draw play wasn't a major factor either. None of Atlanta's running plays were very effective.
IMPROVE THE RUNNING GAME
The first, most basic way to improve a rushing attack is to stick with it. There were 28 called running plays against Atlanta. That's the most since the opening day demolition of the Rams. Brian Westbrook had a season high 22 carries. The Eagles smartly fed him the ball over and over. Donovan McNabb "only" threw 13 passes after halftime. The team had the lead and Westbrook was hot. The Eagles had 17 called run plays. They need to get that kind of balance more often.
I was impressed with the blocking by the fullback and tight ends. Dan Klecko attacks his targets at full speed. His technique isn't great, but the effort sure is. That's half the battle at fullback. Both Brent Celek and L.J. Smith blocked very well against Atlanta. They were critical in allowing Westbrook to get outside. Smith especially had a good day.
There is still work to be done. The inability to run the ball effectively near the goal line and in short-yardage situations is a major problem. The offensive line has the size and ability to dominate in those situations, but that isn't happening. The running backs aren't helping matters. They aren't breaking tackles or pushing the pile.
GETTING BACK TO GOOD RUN DEFENSE
The Eagles were great against the run during the first month. Then both Washington and San Francisco gashed them. Would the real Eagles run defense please stand up?
The good unit came to play on Sunday. They played their gaps well. They got penetration and disrupted plays in the backfield. They handled trick runs by the Falcons with good discipline and gang tackling. The Eagles tackled well overall.
Coaches use a phrase called "set the edge" or "setting the edge." The Eagles did a great job of this. What that phrase means is that a defender has to stay wide on an outside running play and not let the running back get around him. The goal is to force the runner to cut back, where the backside defenders are coming to get him. You can have a defensive back come up and set the edge, but mostly it is a defensive end or linebacker. Chris Gocong did a great job of this against Atlanta. He attacked upfield, but stayed under control enough that he didn't run himself out of the play. Turner was forced to slow down and turn back inside. That's when the pursuit swarmed him and got him down for small gain or even a loss.
INVOLVING THE TIGHT ENDS
Tight end is an important position in the West Coast offense. The Eagles have had great success over the years with Chad Lewis and L.J. Smith. 2008 has been a different story. The Eagles only had 16 catches in the first six games from tight ends. That isn't good enough. On Sunday, McNabb threw six passes to tight ends and they caught four of them. That isn't great production, but it's a step in the right direction. Two of the catches went for at least 20 yards, also a good sign. Both plays involved a short pass that turned into a long gain. Those are the kind of safe, efficient passes that really help an offense.
TO BE DETERMINED
Kickoff coverage was mixed. The plan seemed to be to kick shorter and not let the returner get up a full head of steam. The long return was only 21 yards, but the Falcons did start three drives at their 29-yard line or better directly after kickoffs.
Atlanta doesn't throw many passes to its tight ends so we don't know how the defense adjusted in that area. Justin Peelle caught one pass for 17 yards. We need to see the defense face a guy like Chris Cooley or Jason Witten to find out how well they really addressed this situation.
David Akers didn't attempt a long field goal. That remains a question mark.
ON TO SEATTLE
The Eagles will look to extend their winning streak to three games on Sunday when they visit the Seahawks. Andy Reid takes on his former boss and mentor, Mike Holmgren.
Seattle has had a disastrous season. They are 2-5. Four of the five losses are by 10 points or more. They've been decimated by injuries, especially to quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and the receiving corps. Only St. Louis and Detroit have scored fewer points in the NFC.
Hasselbeck will miss the game on Sunday and Seneca Wallace will start in his place. Wallace is coming off his best game of the year. He threw for 222 yards and a pair of touchdowns as Seattle beat San Francisco, 34-13. Wallace has talent. He just hasn't played much at quarterback in his time in the NFL. He's a very good athlete and the Seahawks have used him some at wide receiver over the years.
The main passing target has been rookie tight end John Carlson. This will be a solid test to see how the defense does against a talented, productive tight end. Seattle was hoping to have receiver Deion Branch back for the game, but it doesn't sound like he will play. They still have a good offensive line. Tackle Walter Jones is a great run and pass blocker. Trent Cole will have his hands full on Sunday.
The Seahawks defense is still built around end Patrick Kerney, outside linebacker Julian Peterson and middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu. All three guys are playing very well right now, but Kerney and Tatupu are battling injuries. They are expected to play despite missing practice time. The unsung hero of the defense is linebacker Leroy Hill. He leads the team in tackles and tackles-for-loss.
The Eagles are the better team and the healthier team, but winning at Seattle is never easy. The Seahawks have a good home field advantage. Also, Tatupu has been kryptonite for the Eagles offense. In two games against Philadelphia, he has four interceptions for 138 yards and a touchdown. The first key to winning is not to throw it to number 51.
A win at Seattle would be huge for the Eagles. It would get the team to 5-3 at the midway point and put the team on track to win double-digit games, likely a must in order to get into the playoffs.