At the start of the 2008 season, it looked as if all of the pieces were in place for the Eagles to have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Well, the Eagles set the franchise record for points in a season with 416. That was good enough to make the Eagles the sixth-best scoring offense in the entire league. A year ago, the Eagles were 17th in points per game.
The success of the offense in 2007 largely hinged on Brian Westbrook's record-breaking season. He had franchise single-season record 2,104 yards from scrimmage. Kevin Curtis, who was entering his first year with the team, garnered 1,110 receiving yards - a career high.
For the Eagles to be better on offense in 2008, there were four key areas where improvement was needed. Now that the season is over, here is a look at the Eagles did in those categories and whether the production was better than expected.
1. All Hands On Deck - Wide Receivers
The Eagles used a second-round pick in the 2008 on DeSean Jackson. His production at Cal was well-documented - he had 29 touchdowns in 36 career games over three seasons. He scored as a receiver, a punt returner and as a rusher. He finished his college career third in school history in all-purpose yards.
But the big question mark about his was his size. At 5-10 and 175 pounds, would Jackson be able to handle the attention paid to him by defenses would be looking to rough him up?
Well, Jackson was only expected to be a role player at the beginning of the season, but he was thrust into the lineup immediately thanks to injuries to Curtis and Reggie Brown. Once Jackson got in the lineup, he was not coming out. Jackson finished second among NFL rookies with 912 receiving yards which was good enough to set a franchise rookie record. His 62 catches was the second-most by a rookie in franchise history.
And just like in college, he scored as a receiver, a rusher out of the Wildcat formation and on a punt return. Jackson also had a flair for the dramatic as he continued to excel in the playoffs. His 62-yard touchdown reception against Arizona in the NFC Championship gave the Eagles a brief lead in the fourth quarter. In the Divisional Round win over the Giants, Jackson led the team with four catches for 81 yards. In the Wild Card win over Minnesota, Jackson set the team playoff record with 109 punt return yards.
In all, the Eagles wide receivers had 197 catches - the most by a receiver group in the Andy Reid era. The Eagles led the NFL with eight players with 25-or-more receptions. Kevin Curtis rallied strong late in the year after missing the first six games with the sports hernia. Curtis finished with 33 catches for 390 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Jason Avant turned into a clutch receiver with 13 third down conversions.
2. In The Zone - The Red Zone That Is
In the final 10 games of the 2007 season, the Eagles drastically improved their performance in the red zone. They converted nearly 55 percent of their trips inside the 20 into six points at an average of 4.8 points per red zone opportunity.
There was optimism for much-improved play in the red zone in 2008. L.J. Smith, who entered the season with all of his touchdowns coming in the red zone, was fully healthy. Hank Baskett, the 6-4 receiver, worked with Donovan McNabb in the offseason on the fade route.
The Eagles had mixed results in the red zone in 2008. For the year, the Eagles ranked 22nd in touchdown percentage with a conversion success rate of 49 percent. The Eagles scored points on 84 percent of their trips to the red zone, an average of four per opportunity to be exact.
Of course, the loss in Chicago where the Eagles were unable to punch the ball in from the 1-yard line late in the game was one of the bleaker moments of the season. But don't blame the Eagles for a lack of ingenuity. Todd Herremans became the second offensive lineman to catch a touchdown pass, a 1-yard strike from McNabb, in the win over the Seahawks. The fade connection between Baskett and McNabb worked twice for touchdowns.
In the playoffs, Brent Celek emerged as a potential red zone threat for the future. He led the Eagles with six catches for 56 yards in the Wild Card win over Minnesota. He caught the first playoff touchdown of his career in the win over the Giants. And for a finale, Celek had an Eagles postseason record 10 catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns - one in the red zone - in the loss to the Cardinals.
3. Put It On The Line
The offensive line struggled in 2007, but all five starters underwent intense training in the offseason to come back stronger than ever in 2008. It was supposed to be the third year that the current starting five, which includes a trio of Pro Bowl players, would be together.
That was not the case.
Shawn Andrews battled depression during training camp and suffered a season-ending back injury in Week 2.
But the injury to Andrews allowed the Eagles to learn about a pair of young, untested players in Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole.
Jean-Gilles took over the starting job, but suffered a season-ending leg injury in the Thanksgiving win against Arizona. Cole, a rookie free agent signing in 2006, took over and solidified the line.
In all, Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas continued to show up for work each and every week. Runyan extended his streak of consecutive regular season games started to 192. Thomas finished the campaign with 166 regular season starts for the Eagles since he was a first-round pick in 1998. Inside, Todd Herremans established himself as a player on the rise as he earned All-Joe Team honors from USA Today.
The Eagles allowed just 23 sacks in 2008. And for a team that passes the ball as often as the Eagles do, that number is that much more impressive. The Eagles only allowed a sack every 27.3 passing attempts, the best ratio in franchise history by a rate of nearly five passing attempts. Down the stretch the line played better, surrendering 12 sacks in the final 12 games. In three games against the New York Giants, including the Divisional Round battle, the Eagles allowed zero sacks.
That protection allowed opened the door for ...
4. It's All On Five
Donovan McNabb used the 2007 season to round back into form after his 2006 ACL injury. By the end of the 2007 campaign, McNabb had regained his mobility and the zip on his fastball. He entered the 2008 season seething of confidence, an amazing command of the offense and great presence in the pocket.
McNabb had his ups and downs in 2008, but in the end turned in one of the best seasons of his career - and that's saying something. McNabb set the single-season franchise record for passing yards (3,916) and completions. He became just the sixth player in NFL history to pass for over 25,000 yards and run for over 3,000 in a career. McNabb was in the top five of the NFC in most major passing categories including completions, yards, first downs and touchdowns.
McNabb played brilliant down the stretch to lead the Eagles to wins in four of their final five regular season games to make the playoffs. He continued that with marvelous efficiency in the postseason leading the Eagles back to the NFC title game for the first time since the 2004 season. In the NFC Championship Game, McNabb wasn't perfect, but put the Eagles in position to win with 375 passing yards - a postseason career high - and three touchdowns.
In the end, the Eagles improved in a lot of areas from the 2007 to the 2008 season and it showed in the results. The Eagles went from a .500 record and missing the playoffs to just seven points shy of a Super Bowl appearance. But the Eagles will have to build on these improvements in order to take the next step and become a Super Bowl champion team in 2009.