There have been plenty of explosive plays. The Eagles have established their ability to stretch the field and connect over the top in the passing game. But if what the Raiders did on Sunday is the blueprint, and teams follow with excessive blitzing and man-to-man coverage on the outside, how do the Eagles make the next counter move?
This is a copycat league, after all, and the Redskins have spent the last few days watching how Oakland dismantled the Eagles offense, how the Raiders overwhelmed the line of scrimmage and took away the seven-step drops and put pressure on Donovan McNabb when he dropped back five steps. The protection improved in the second half, but by then McNabb was out of his rhythm and, well, neither he nor the offense got it back. The lone big play, really big play, of the second half was a 42-yard catch and run by tight end Brent Celek.
So what do the Eagles do is Washington employs a similar strategy? It would make sense. The Redskins have confidence that their cornerbacks can have success in "man" coverage. Their linebackers are good blitzers. Albert Haynesworth -- who did not practice on Thursday, by the way -- leads a pretty stout defensive line.
Why wouldn't they blitz?
And if they do, what will the Eagles do to gash the strategy?
These are some of the questions the coaches have to be talking about now. The offensive woes on Sunday weren't simply a matter of run/pass ratio, because things are never that simple. The Eagles had nowhere to run on Sunday because the offensive line took a beating. Brian Westbrook had a couple of gaping holes on guard traps and LeSean McCoy made something out of nothing on a reverse-field run, but otherwise Oakland played on the Eagles' side of the line of scrimmage.
It is more than simply ordering up more runs. I agree that the running game needs to be better, and in some situations I agree that the Eagles should have called run instead of pass.
The changes I'm looking for are more subtle. There won't be a change in wholesale philosophy. But the Eagles certainly need to find a way to generate a running game when the passing game isn't clicking, and they need to be a ton better on third downs. In five games, the Eagles are ranked 21st in the league with their conversion rate of 35.3 percent. That is way below the standards of this offense.
So what will they do? I don't have the answers. I'll watch on Monday night with you. There are some changes coming. Todd Herremans is going to play this week for the first time, and I'm sure that he will be given a shot in practice to show he is ready to start at left guard. Once Herremans is in place there, the line will move around some. Nick Cole? He could play some at left guard and some at right guard? Stacy Andrews? We're still waiting.
I'd also like to see some throws designed to get the ball out of McNabb's hands more quickly. He was absolutely killed on Sunday when he used play-action and turned his back on the defense. The Raiders were on McNabb quickly. They didn't respect the play-action fakes. They filled the running lanes with blitzes. And they covered the receivers with confidence knowing the blitz was there.
It is up to the offensive coaching staff to adjust.
Let's see how it goes. Having any idea which Eagles team shows up is beyond me. I'm looking for consistency. I'm looking for the team I think can be a force to emerge and stay here.
* NEWS, NOTES AND THIS AND THAT *
- Ominous sounds on the condition of Kevin Curtis' knee. More tests mean the Eagles don't know what the problem is, and if you don't know what the problem is, you can't find the solution. So the team has four receivers, all of whom can play. From seven receivers to four, just like that. The NFL is an amazing world, isn't it?
- Good luck to Omar Gaither on his foot surgery. He is one of the very, very good guys who "gets it" about the NFL. Here is a prayer for a speedy recovery.
- What I like about Will Witherspoon is his speed, his intelligence, his toughness and the long arms he has. He is 6 feet 1, about 240 pounds and he said on Thursday that he can add a few pounds, if needed. Should not be a problem at all on that frame.
- Great matchup this week against Santana Moss. No matter the troubles Washington's offense is having, Moss is one of the game's best receivers. The Eagles have to limit his effectiveness down the field.
- First test for Witherspoon: Chris Cooley, the outstanding Washington tight end. Cooley caught 7 passes for 83 yards when the Redskins beat the Rams, but Witherspoon did not have coverage responsibilities on Cooley as he played the weakside linebacker spot. Clinton Portis, someone Witherspoon paid attention to in the passing game, had 2 catches for 9 yards.
- The Eagles are tied for first in the NFL with 11 interceptions in five games. If you are game planning against this defense, what are you doing? You gonna challenge Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown all game down the field?
- I still want to know why Ellis Hobbs, averaging 25.2 yards per kickoff return, wasn't on the job last week. Maybe he was dinged up just a bit? I don't understand.
- The Eagles have to demonstrate that they can come from behind and win a close game. These next three games against the NFC East won't be blowout-type games. The Eagles must show that comeback ability.