Football is the ultimate team game. We've all seen that proven over the years as franchises that tried to build around stars lost to others that build around the team concept. That doesn't mean that star players aren't crucial. Sometimes the difference in a game is a handful of plays. We saw that on Monday night when the Eagles had a pair of playmakers come through in a big way.
DeSean Jackson grabbed the spotlight with his 67-yard touchdown run. The previous week we only managed to score nine points in 60 minutes of football. Jackson scored six points in about six seconds. The team needed to put a touchdown on the board to shake off the misery of the Raiders loss and move forward. Also we needed to get a lead on Washington. That team isn't built to play from behind. Later in the game Jackson caught a deep ball from Donovan McNabb and scored another touchdown.
Those two plays were made by Jackson's speed and dynamic ability. On the long run he caught the backside of the Redskins defense off guard. Both Andre Carter and LaRon Landry bought the fake to Brian Westbrook up the middle. Jackson took the hand off and headed to the left. He exploded down the sideline with several guys in pursuit. Any other Eagle gets caught on that play. Heck, 90 percent of the players in the league don't score on that play. Jackson's speed and explosion are special.
What makes him stand out from other fast guys is his balance and agility at full speed. Jackson glides. Normal humans have to run. That takes effort. Jackson is smooth. You could really see that on the long catch. He faked to the inside and then cut back to the outside. He did this with ease. There was no hesitation. It was just smooth. The defensive back tried to recover after being fooled, but had no chance. The pass was underthrown a bit, but Jackson had enough separation that he was able to still make the catch and scamper into the end zone.
You can't coach that speed. You can't teach it. You can't develop it. Players either have it or they don't. Thankfully, Jackson does. Those two plays had a huge impact in the game. They allowed us to play with a lead and overcome some sloppy offensive play.
</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He's followed the team for almost 20 years. Tommy has been trained by an NFL scout in the art of scouting and player evaluation and runs www.scoutsnotebook.com.</td> </tr> </tbody>
Will Witherspoon was the defensive playmaker. I was excited to see what he could do, but I sure didn't expect that kind of impact, especially not in his first game as an Eagle. Witherspoon led the team in tackles. He picked off a pass and ran it back for a score. He sacked Jason Campbell and knocked the ball loose in the process. He also helped us to control the passing lanes in the middle of the field.
I'm sure some people will look at the interception as no big deal. Witherspoon caught a batted ball at the Washington 9-yard line and ran it back for the quick score. That sure sounds simple, but it really isn't. How often have we seen defenders drop easy passes? Stewart Bradley, for example, had a couple of drops last year that could have changed games. Witherspoon had eight career interceptions going into the game. He had 53 passes defensed. This is a guy who knows how to play the ball. The opportunity came up and he nailed it. His touchdown gave us a 14-0 lead and control of the game.
I was even more impressed by the play where he sacked Campbell and caused the fumble. That came on the next series after his touchdown. Witherspoon blitzed up the middle. He timed it well and came unblocked. That is easier said than done. What happened next is what makes him special.
Think about the number of times we've seen a defender get loose in the backfield only to miss the quarterback and leave us all screaming our guts out. Safety Sean Jones did that on Monday. Witherspoon didn't. He made the play. Witherspoon got into the backfield and Campbell started to run. Witherspoon showed excellent closing speed as he chased down Campbell from behind. Witherspoon came down hard with his right arm to try and knock the ball loose. That's exactly what happened and we recovered it.
Playmakers always look for the ball. Making the tackle isn't enough. Go for the ball. Witherspoon did that instinctively. Even better, he actually made the tackle. Had Campbell held on to the ball, he would have still been sacked. That fumble led to a field goal.
The Eagles scored 27 points on Monday - 24 were scored or created by our two big playmakers. That's pretty impressive. We know Jackson can be a playmaker on essentially a weekly basis. Don't count on Witherspoon doing the same thing, but he does give us a special presence at middle linebacker. The last guy we had there with a similar mindset and skill set was Byron Evans. I look forward to seeing what Witherspoon can do the rest of the year.
One concern I had with him was his ability to handle inside runs against a physical team with power runners. Witherspoon did okay in that area. He won't shed blocks like Jeremiah Trotter or Bradley, but he can be effective inside. Clinton Portis had 14 carries for 43 yards. The defense kept him bottled up. The increased range Witherspoon brings to the position made a difference on Monday. He made tackles all over the field. That's just not something we're used to seeing.
I was ecstatic to see us get a win against a division rival and on the road. We really needed that. The Eagles struggled in NFC East games over the last two years and it has cost us. We must get better. Monday was a good start on that. While I did like the win, there were some definite problems that bugged me.
The offense continues to be way too hit and miss. Things started great. The offense clicked early. Things changed the moment that Brian Westbrook was knocked out of the game. Check out this stat. With Westbrook, the team had nine offensive plays and gained 123 yards. Without him, the team had 47 plays for 139 yards. That's not good.
I'd love to point to one player, but it really was a combination of things. The offense had a good feel and rhythm early on. I was very encouraged. The rest of the game it looked like we were in quicksand. The line missed some blocks, especially on Wildcat plays. McNabb made a few bad throws. He's too good to play like that. LeSean McCoy gave up a sack when he made a poor block on a blitzer. Also, give the Washington defense credit. That is a very talented group. Anyone who doubts Albert Haynesworth should have to watch his team deal with that man.
There were things to be happy about. McCoy has had fumbling problems this year, but handled the ball 19 times on Monday and didn't lose it once. That's a very positive sign. Jeremy Maclin was wide open for a touchdown on the backside of a play. McNabb never saw him. Maclin stayed quiet until the guys got to the sideline and then he explained the situation. We ran a similar play later and that was when Jackson caught his long touchdown pass. That was very heady for a rookie receiver to point out the play to his quarterback rather than just jumping around and screaming about how open he was.
Brodrick Bunkley played his best game of the year. He got a sack and made a tackle in the backfield. He recovered a fumble. Maybe the most impressive thing he did was chase down Campbell on a play out in the open. Campbell threw the ball away just as Bunkley got there. I was shocked at Bunkley showing that kind of speed. He really closed the gap on that play in a hurry.
Trent Cole had two sacks. He also drew a couple of holding calls. Chris Clemons played his best game of the year. He got a sack and just missed another. Jason Babin got to play because Victor Abiamiri wasn't able to go. Babin collected a sack and had a tackle for loss. He drew a holding call on the right guard as well. I was impressed by Babin.
Akeem Jordan gave us a physical presence in the middle of the defense. He was around the ball all game long and delivered some big-time hits. The shot of the game was when he leveled fullback Mike Sellers after a short catch. Sellers is a big dude and Jordan sent him flying backward.
Quintin Mikell was involved in two turnovers. He came up big when he was playing around the line of scrimmage. Mikell batted the pass that Witherspoon picked off and ran back for a score. Mikell then recovered the fumble that Witherspoon forced when he sacked Campbell. Good safeties will help to create turnovers. Mikell did just that.
We all were mad at Asante Samuel last week for his poor tackling. He was much better this time out. He made a couple of good solo stops. Samuel can tackle. It just isn't his strength.
Seeing Todd Herremans at left guard was great. The line needed him to return. Herremans was more good than bad. Most importantly, he looked healthy and moved around well. We need him to play well.
It was an ugly win, but you'd sure rather work on problems after that game than after an ugly loss like the one to Oakland. The line should get better as the guys get used to playing together. Hopefully Westbrook will be able to play this weekend against the Giants. He makes an enormous difference. McNabb hasn't been sharp the last two weeks. His slumps don't normally last long. I'm thinking Sunday would be a good time to see him return to form.