Here's a look at some of the Ups and Downs from Sunday's loss to the Chargers ...
UP – Wide receiver Jason Avant had a great game. He caught eight passes for 156 yards. Avant made one spectacular grab that moved the chains on third-and-18. He worked the middle of the field well, as usual. He had three receptions of more than 20 yards. His longest gain went for 58 yards. If Avant had a bit more speed he could have gone all the way. I think Avant is the best slot receiver in the NFC.
DOWN – Once again red zone offense was a major issue. Three drives stalled inside the Chargers' 10-yard line and we had to settle for field goals. That, as much as anything, cost us the game. There was a combination of factors on those drives that hurt us when we got near the goal line. There is an old saying in football that in clutch situation you should ""think players, not plays."" We had five running plays in the red zone against the Chargers. Those carries were split among four running backs. That's not good. Get the ball to your best player. Don't mix and match, trying to be situational. Our best receiver is DeSean Jackson. He had two passes come his way in the red zone, but both were incomplete. You have to find a way to get him touches.
The blocking in the red zone wasn't good enough. When the coaches did call running plays the runners didn't have much to work with. Center Jamaal Jackson was knocked backward on a first-and-goal run by Leonard Weaver. Running backs need a hole to attack. All Weaver saw was his center being pushed back. Earl Campbell would have been helpless on that play. Eldra Buckley didn't have much of a hole on third-and-goal. LeSean McCoy had the best red zone run. He got five yards on one carry.
Donovan McNabb didn't help matters. He has a bad habit of waiting for players to come open instead of anticipating plays. Things are very condensed in the red zone. The quarterback must see things before they happen. Take the pass to Brent Celek for example. He was open in the end zone and the play should have worked, but McNabb was slow to throw the pass and Celek was too close to the sideline at that point and the pass was off-target.
UP – The offense played well in the second half. They scored 17 points and gained 274 yards. The offense didn't have any breaks. The defense didn't come up with any turnovers to set them up. Field position was no help. There were no major penalties on the San Diego defense. McNabb and company scored on four of six possessions after halftime. One drive ended with a pick on the final play of the game. Another drive ended basically because of an offensive pass interference penalty on Jeremy Maclin. There were no three-and-outs. The offensive consistently moved the ball up and down the field. They also got the ball into the end zone twice. It was too little too late to be sure, but still showed us that the offense can move the ball when they get into a rhythm. I thought McNabb did a good job of running the no-huddle attack and played his best half of football in a long time.
DOWN – Penalties really hurt us. What the heck is going on? Some were on offense, some defense and others on special teams. Some were on veterans. Others were on rookies. Penalties cost us yards, points and time on the clock. I am sure that Andy Reid and his staff have focused on this issue in recent weeks, but something has got to change. It sometimes seems as though we're giving games away.
UP – McNabb dropped back to pass 57 times behind a makeshift offensive line. He was only sacked twice and had good time to throw for most of the game. That's good pass protection. Todd Herremans had to step in for Jason Peters at left tackle and he did a fine job. Winston Justice continued his strong season at right tackle.
DOWN – Sean McDermott made some position changes on defense. They did not work. He moved Chris Gocong to middle linebacker for the game. Gocong struggled on the inside. He was slow to react to plays and struggled to get off blocks. He isn't a natural MIKE. Gocong is meant to play on the outside. That move was somewhat forced by an injury to Akeem Jordan, which forced a linebacker shuffle. McDermott made another change that was experimental. Trent Cole moved over to left defensive end. He had his quietest game of the year. He came close to getting a sack, but that was after he flopped back to the right side after halftime. I don't blame McDermott for trying different things, but it was unfortunate that none of them worked as hoped.
I'm not sure if the injuries are largely to blame or what, but the defense has now let us down big time in consecutive games. The defense could not get the ball back from Dallas. This past week the Chargers were able to move the ball, work the clock and add points. We did force a field goal attempt, but the defense needed a real stop. Allowing them to get the late field goal and eat up time eliminated any realistic shot of a go-ahead or tying score by us. Give the Chargers credit for executing when they had to, but our defense has enough talent that they should be making a play or two. That didn't happen Sunday.
For my entire column which includes more quick hits from Sunday's game and reasons for optimism moving forward, click here.
-- Posted by Tommy Lawlor, 10:59 a.m., November 17