Philadelphia Eagles News

Fan-Demonium: What We Learned Sunday


What did we learn in Sunday's victory over Washington? Quite a bit, actually. The most important thing we learned is that the previous week's comeback win over the Bears was no fluke. Let's be honest. The Eagles have really struggled in close games in the last three years. Comebacks have been few and far between, to put it mildly. The win in Chicago was great, but skeptics would argue that it was luck. Or maybe that it came against a struggling team. Now the Eagles have comeback wins in consecutive weeks. There were no lucky circumstances in either comeback. The Eagles earned both wins with clutch scoring drives in the fourth quarter and timely defense. Donovan McNabb made clutch throws. We ran the ball well. We also got into the end zone when we absolutely had to. Those are the traits of a good football team.

We also learned that the young players on this team can be counted on in crunch time. LeSean McCoy had some big time runs on the final two drives. He wasn't hesitating. He got upfield and ran to move the chains. Jeremy Maclin made a couple of huge catches on the go-ahead drive. He caught a pass down the right sideline that got us 35 yards and put us into scoring territory. Maclin then caught a short pass on third down that let us move the chains and eat some more time off the clock. Last year, we had similar situations with Kevin Curtis and Brian Westbrook, but couldn't get the job done. Am I saying the rookies are better? No, certainly not. There are other factors that help them out, but the bottom line is that the young guys are delivering when we absolutely need them to.

For the second week in a row, the offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage. That is very good news. Washington won some battles, but think about the runs where McCoy and Leonard Weaver had big holes to run through. Those holes aren't lucky. It takes good blocking to get defenders knocked off the ball or out of position. Winston Justice and Jason Peters are much better run blockers than the tackles were in 2008. Justice can really fire off the ball and get into a defender. He's become really good at caving in defensive linemen when he down blocks. The interior trio has started to get in sync. They do a lot of double-teaming and combo blocking. That requires timing and teamwork. Getting Todd Herremans healthy and making Nick Cole the full time right guard have turned out to be key developments. Cole had a couple of terrific blocks on defensive tackles in the Washington game. Center Jamaal Jackson is very good on reach blocks and also does a good job of getting to the second level on both run plays and screen passes.

While tight end Brent Celek struggled with catching the ball, I thought his blocking was quite good. He had some key blocks on outside runs that came his way. Celek was able to control a defensive end and let the runner get by him on at least two key plays. We also got good blocking from Weaver, Alex Smith and receiver Jason Avant.

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Let's talk about Avant for a minute. He's the best blocker of our receiving corps. He has the best hands on the team. He runs the best routes. Pound for pound he might be the toughest player on the team. Avant also might be the most clutch player on the entire squad. Avant caught a pair of long passes to kick start the offense in the fourth quarter on Sunday. His most impressive attempt ended in an incompletion, but also came on that drive. Avant went down the left seam. He was well covered, but went up for the ball with a defender right there. Avant just missed making a spectacular catch. He got his hands on the ball while fully extended, but couldn't bring the ball back to his body to secure it. Players really fed off the energy he showed on that drive. Avant seemed to wake up the whole team.

I like the way the coaching staff is now using Avant. Last week, we ran the wide receiver screen to him in the red zone and that resulted in a touchdown. This week, we ran another play to him in the red zone. The design of the play was to get Avant the ball on the right side along the goal line, but there was a defender close to him and McNabb opted to throw to Alex Smith in the back of the end zone. The fact we're designing specific plays to get Avant the ball in the red zone tells you all you need to know about what the coaches think of him as a player. He might not technically be a starter on the team, but Avant is a key player for us.

There were two other plays where he did catch passes inside the 10-yard line. The reason we like to use him down there so much is that Avant does a good job of working the middle of the field. He can get open in tight spaces because of his quickness and body control. Avant can also catch the ball when tightly covered because of his strength, toughness and good hands. The defense has less area to cover in the red zone so speed doesn't always mean very much. Quickness is more important. Also, skill players must be able to be physical. That's no problem for Avant.

The defense didn't have a banner day. They gave up 24 points to a struggling Redskins offense. Field position played a big part in 10 of those points, but the other touchdown drives both went 80 yards. The week before, Washington could only muster a pair of field goals. Give quarterback Jason Campbell some credit for playing well, but there were too many defensive breakdowns, especially on third downs.

Our defense is predicated two main factors. We need good pressure from the front four and good coverage by the back seven. The pass rush wasn't good on Sunday, aside from Trent Cole. He played a terrific game. Cole only got one sack, but he was disruptive all game long and got consistent pressure. Juqua Parker, Jason Babin and Victor Abiamiri each had some good moments, but didn't get regular pressure. I wish I could tell you that there was an answer to this problem, but it isn't likely. Sean McDermott can tweak some things in terms of personnel packages, but the real key would be for some player to really step up his game.

The coverage issues can be helped. Joselio Hanson will be coming back from his suspension next week. Akeem Jordan's return from injury should bring some stability back to the linebacking unit. Those players can make a difference. Sheldon Brown has been dealing with a hamstring injury the last couple of weeks. That has affected him quite a bit. We need Brown to get back to full speed. The problem is that hamstring injuries can be tricky. I don't know if his will get better this week, next week, or when the season is over. Keep your fingers crossed.

One thing to be happy about is the fact the defense has now held leads in consecutive games. We might have struggled for most of the Washington game, but the defense tightened with the game on the line in the last eight minutes of action. Washington had two possessions in that span. They got one first down, but couldn't get a drive going on either possession. Campbell was under pressure from our pass rushers on the final drive.

We're playing good run defense for the most part. That puts teams in second- and third-and-long situations. We've got to do a better job at that point. That's when the defense can get off the field and give the ball to the offense. Getting healthy will help in that area. One thing to consider is that McDermott isn't comfortable being as aggressive with the blitz because of the coverage issues. If he fully trusts the cover guys he can really get aggressive up front. That worked really well for us early in the year.

The Eagles are now 7-4 on the season. The offense is starting to be more consistent. The defense is having some issues, but I think we will see some improvement as guys return and get healthy. We aren't playing as well as the elite teams (Saints, Vikings, Colts), but we are winning games and making clutch plays. That is a good thing as the season moves into the month of December. Remember, this time last year we were 5-5-1 and had all kinds of issues. We still need to fix some areas, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic right now. Just take things one game at a time and we'll see how things shake out in five weeks. There's no reason the Eagles can't be sitting at the top of the NFC East.

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