What's happened has happened and maybe there is no need to look back to see what might be ahead. We know about the turnovers and the challenges in the red zone and penalties and the botched opportunities.
Having the bye week, then, has given the coaching staff a chance to re-evaluate every channel of the offensive structure. What tweaks are to come?
We know this so far: The offensive line could have a pair of starters who weren't on the field two weeks ago. King Dunlap returns to man the left tackle position, fully healthy, the hamstring injury healed. Rookie Dennis Kelly is ready to make his first NFL start, at right guard in place of the injured Danny Watkins, and Kelly is as much of an unknown as can be in Game 7. He is a hulking young man with a long reach and good, athletic feet. A tackle by trade, Kelly caught the eye of the coaching staff early in the spring and has progressed well. But can a kid who is 6 feet 7 play low enough and fast enough to excel inside, where the action is much more instant than at tackle?
We could very well find out on Sunday if Watkins, listed as doubtful with an ankle injury, doesn't bounce back after missing practice Thursday and Friday.
So you start right there and have questions about the offensive line and its ability to function at a high level against an energized Atlanta defense. The Eagles are going with a line that I would say nobody in the world would have anticipated a couple of months ago. But that's the nature of the game and Howard Mudd is going to work with what he has at his disposal.
But do the Eagles temper their offense with the changing personnel up front? It's unlikely, as the rule of thumb in the NFL is that if you are here, you are here for a reason. The show must go on, as they say.
More telling will be the structure of the game plan. Surely the coaching staff discovered through the self-scouting process that they immersed themselves in during the bye week what they do well and what they can do better in the weeks ahead.
Here's what I think, in a nutshell:
- The Eagles are going to run the football. Maybe not as much as some of you want, but they're going to make a commitment to the running game. This isn't going to be a ground-and-pound offense, but the Eagles know they have to muck and grind more in the weeks to come. Look for the running game, unless the Eagles are playing from behind.
- Giving Michael Vick some short routes and quick reads in his progressions is important. This offense is still going to take some shots down the field, especially if corners start to play some bump and run and the safeties creep toward the line of scrimmage, but the Eagles know they have to move the chains and help out an offensive line that has been challenged.
- Vick has the green light to run, he always has, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see more designed plays for Vick to gain yards with his legs. He understands he has to protect the football and get out of bounds when necessary. Keeping his running as a threat is important to keeping a defense out of balance.
- Look for some creative ways to get the football in LeSean McCoy's hands. Maybe he'll move around the formation more, or get involved more in the screen game, or take a pitch or two. He is going to have a diet of 25 touches each week.
- I can see some moving pocket, and I think that Brent Celek needs to get his touches. The key to this offense is the catch-and-run aspect of the passing game, the balance in the run/pass ratio, the play of the offensive line and, of course, Vick. He has said all the right things this week, done everything in his diligent manner to prepare for a ball-hawking defense.
- Look for, in my guesstimate, an attempt to play up-tempo football. The Eagles need to get the speed game going. At the line of scrimmage quickly, off the ball fast. Bing, bang, boom. Get the ball out of Vick's hands. Let his playmakers make plays. It's been the goal through the entire season, and rarely has it been executed.
There are a bunch of variables for Sunday. The weather could be a factor -- windy, some sprinkling of rain -- and the Falcons are coming in rested and healthy. I don't know how that is going to impact the game plan, but let's say it might be difficult to rear back and throw it deep much if the weather pattern holds.
Very few, if any, hints have been given regarding the direction of the offense. I'm not sure, frankly, if we're going to see a huge difference in the approach. The execution, yes, that *has *to be different or the Eagles are going to be forced to make major changes in personnel.
I expect an offense that has a great sense of purpose on Sunday. If there is ever a game for the Eagles to play their very best game of the season, this is it. With so much at stake, it's time for the Eagles offense to lead the way and find an identity it can carry through for the rest of the season.