In his last two games, L.J. Smith has 9 receptions, 4 for first downs, and a new-found spot in the Eagles' resurgent offense. Finally, suddenly, the Eagles have given Smith more of a focus after 11 games during which Smith had just 19 catches and many, many more questions. Not so coincidentally, Smith's production and the offense's rise have come at the same time.
Why? How? Maybe it is just the place and time for the right kind of opportunity. The Eagles have been searching for a week-in, week-out answer at tight end, and just as it appeared that Smith's playing time was going to be further decreased while second-year man Brent Celek played more and more, Smith has played his way into the passing game.
It hasn't been an easy year for Smith. He signed the franchise tender offered by the Eagles back in the spring and figured to be a major part of an explosive, versatile Eagles offense. Smith's sports hernia, which ruined his 2007 campaign, was completely healthy. He was a much wealthier man who was going to get a chance to put up some serious numbers this season.
But it wasn't until the 13th and 14 games that Smith stepped up and became a force in back-to-back weeks. And now, as the Eagles get back to work to prepare for Cleveland, Smith is in the picture just as heavily as the Eagles planned he would be back in the spring.
That's good news for the Eagles, for the offense, for Smith. Having Smith make plays in the short- and intermediate-passing game allows the Eagles to get the ball to other weapons in the passing game. Smith's performance against the Giants was sensational with his 6 catches for 44 hard-fought yards. He caught everything thrown his way, he made plays with the ball in his hands and he moved the chains. The Giants couldn't cover Smith, caught the ball in space and then made defenders miss.
It was so encouraging. So promising for the rest of the season. Having Smith back means a lot to this offense. He has just 28 receptions this year, but a strong final three games would really help the Eagles execute down the stretch.
**NEWS, NOTES AND THIS AND THAT
- So what happens next with Reggie Brown? The former second-round draft pick has drifted out of the picture at wide receiver and isn't likely to move back up the ladder in the immediate future. It is certainly a shocking and disappointing fall for Brown, who is going to have to keep a positive attitude, work hard and hope that his outstanding nature ability surfaces again.
- Rave reviews for Akeem Jordan at WILL linebacker since replacing Omar Gaither. Jordan is a tremendous athlete who is a perfect example of a player who worked his way from the bottom of the NFL food chain -- non-drafted rookie -- and did everything right to get to this point. Jordan attacks the line of scrimmage and has shown a lot of strength in the running game. And he can cover in the passing game very, very well.
- Big challenge for the special teams this week as Joshua Cribbs returns kickoffs and punts. Cribbs has good speed, is strong enough to break tackles and is very quick. The Eagles can't allow Cribbs to have big returns. Make quarterback Ken Dorsey drive the length of the field to put points on the board.
- Former Eagles on the Browns roster: wide receiver Donte' Stallworth, center Hank Fraley, offensive lineman Scott Young and tight end Jed Collins. Collins was one of the fullback candidates for this team in the spring and summer.
- I can't tell you how he is doing necessarily in the running game, but it would seem correct to assume that fullback Dan Klecko is playing pretty well at the position the last couple of weeks. Brian Westbrook is red hot, and a lot of that success has come when the Eagles have played with two backs in the formation.
- Running back Correll Buckhalter has a critical Thursday and Friday approaching as he tries to get back on the practice field to be ready for Monday night's game. Let's hope the Eagles continue to run the ball effectively and let's hope Buckhalter gets some touches. He deserves them.
- Shawn Andrews update? I don't have one, but logic would suggest that he still has a chance to return this season. Otherwise, I guess, the Eagles would put him on Injured Reserve.
- The players vote on team MVPs next week, but I will offer my votes as a pre-emptive promo. Offensive MVP: Brian Westbrook. I don't think there is much of a question as we have seen Westbrook get so red-hot the last couple of weeks. Defensive MVP: Quintin Mikell. I think he is having a Pro Bowl season. I strongly considered Stewart Bradley and Trent Cole here, too. Tough call. Special teams MVP: Akeem Jordan, with David Akers and DeSean Jackson close behind. Jordan should go to the Pro Bowl for the way he attacks special teams.