Welcome to the second half of the season! And what a second half it will be, with a difficult schedule that begins in San Diego and ends in Dallas, with rough road games at Chicago, Atlanta and New York in between. The Eagles certainly have their work cut out for them, indeed they do, and at 5-3 they are in the midst of the playoff chase in the NFC.
There are plenty of ways to dissect the Eagles here. We're looking forward, not back, and want to know what the Eagles can do to get on a roll and stay there. I've got a lot of things on my mind today. Let's begin ...
- Linebacker is a major issue right now, what with Akeem Jordan hurting. Who plays WILL for the Eagles against San Diego, a team that throws the football all over the field? The Eagles have to be very aware of Darren Sproles in the passing game and, for that matter, in the running game. Does Moise Fokou slide from SAM, where he played on Sunday night, to WILL? Does Will Witherspoon move from the MIKE position? San Diego is a different kind of offense. The Chargers are a terrific passing team. They are receiving criticism for averaging just 3.1 yards per rushing attempt, but they are explosive there, too. The linebackers, who have taken a hit because of injury, have a huge assignment.
- I'm interested to see how challenging the large Chargers receivers will be for the Eagles defensive backs. Vincent Jackson is one of the league's best, and Malcom Floyd's progress gave the Chargers a reason to release Chris Chambers. Both Sheldon Brown and Asante Samuel have played against bigger receivers, of course. But it is always difficult knowing that quarterback Philip Rivers is capable of throwing the ball up for grabs at any time. I want to caution, though, that it isn't just about size with those two receivers. They are explosive players, great hands, and they are tough inside and they run well with the football in their hands.
- The whole run/pass ratio is again a topic of conversation -- it is on the Discussion Boards, anyway -- and I've done some research that shows that every good offense, and all the Super Bowl teams since 2004, are not even close to being balanced in first-half runs vs. passes. Dating back to that 2004 campaign, Super Bowl teams throw the ball 58 percent of the time in the first half of games and run it 42 percent of the time. The NFL's top five offenses in that time have a ratio of 57 percent passes and 43 percent runs. The Eagles are in the range of 62 percent passes and 38 percent runs. Understand that a single play changes the percentages by about 2-3 points, so we're really only talking about a difference of 2-3 plays here. The point is this: In the NFL, you throw the football early with the goal of scoring points and having a lead at halftime. The vast majority of teams leading at halftime go on to win the game. Once you have a lead, then you run the football more. That's the way it works in this league. So the Eagles really aren't out of whack with what the good offenses are doing. Not even close. When the offense struggles, it is because of execution, not a run/pass ratio. In 2004, by the way, the Eagles threw the ball 66 percent of the time in the first half. Did anybody complain about the run/pass ratio then?
- I'm looking for the Eagles to find ways to get the ball to DeSean Jackson on a more consistent basis. He needs far more than two or three touches in a game. If teams try to take him away from the offense, find a way to get him back into the offense. Where has he been in the Wild Eagle? How about a handoff here or there? A screen pass? Jackson is too good to be a decoy and the Eagles can't allow defenses to dictate to them.
- For the first time in a long time, I'm thinking, the Eagles are not one of the league's top 10 offenses in terms of yardage gained at the midway point of the year. Weird to think that. There is simply too much inconsistency and too many short drives here. The Eagles opened with three straight passes against Dallas. Looking forward to seeing the strategy early on the road in San Diego.
- The Eagles lead the league in turnover differential, with a plus-11. San Diego has a plus-1, with only 11 giveaways.
- This is a strange number for a team that hasn't been as good as it wants to be at sustaining drives: The Eagles lead the league in average yards gained on first downs, 6.66 yards. A lot of the team's big plays have come on first down, but this number should translate to a team that stays on the field. But the Eagles rank way too close to the bottom of the pack on third downs, converting just 35.8 percent.
- If Ellis Hobbs can't play on Sunday, Quintin Demps must come up big. The Chargers rank 15th in the AFC defending kickoffs, allowing an average drive start at the 29.7-yard line.
- Has Trent Cole been great, or what? He is second in the NFL with 7 1/2 sacks and he is playing the run so well. If he isn't a Pro Bowl player, there should be an investigation.
- Here is to hoping that Brian Westbrook returns to the lineup on Sunday. I want Westbrook out there, and at his best. At the same time, LeSean McCoy deserves to continue to get time in the offense. McCoy is second to Knowshon Moreno in rushing yards among NFL rookies, and he is averaging 4.2 yards per carry, with two touchdowns. The kid has a bright, bright future.
- How do you feel about Leonard Weaver at fullback? He is the best athlete the team has had at that position in years. He is the best weapon the Eagles have had in years there, too. Good blocker, but not dominating. Weaver signed a one-year deal in the off-season, as did safety Sean Jones, and it is going to be interesting to see moving forward what those two players do with their next contracts.
- Speaking of Jones, there doesn't seem to be much of a rotation at free safety with rookie Macho Harris. Jones is playing very well. He really worked his way from the bottom up, learning the scheme, taking limited reps early in the summer and then moving to the front of the pack and performing in game situations. It is a good story. Jones is a non-assuming, hard-working guy who is healthy now after knee problems. He has definitely been an asset for this defense.
- I can't wait to see what the defense has in store for tight end Antonio Gates on Sunday. Sean McDermott has dealt with some excellent tight ends already this year, and Gates is right there at the top of the list. He is as athletic as Kellen Winslow, Jr. and he is as physically imposing as Jason Witten. With the linebacker situation the way it is, I wonder what McDermott will concoct to keep Gates under wraps.