Players have come and gone in the Andy Reid era, but the one constant of the Philadelphia Eagles of the 2000s is their reliance on the West Coast offense. Run by a mobile yet strong-armed quarterback in Donovan McNabb, the simple to learn yet hard to defend game plan turned the Birds into the NFC’s team of the decade.
That may seem like a lofty statement, but with 92 wins in the last nine regular seasons, the Eagles are the most successful franchise not named the New England Patriots in that time period.
Add in five NFC East crowns, a quintet of NFC Championship Game appearances, and a narrow loss in Super Bowl XXXIX, and it’s hard to argue their success.
But with that behind them, it might be time for Reid and company to reassess their offense.
Why? Because as great as Donovan McNabb is, and as much of an asset (while he was on the field, anyway) that Terrell Owens was in one-and-a-half seasons…D-Mac has never had the pure speed in a group of wide receivers that he has now.
With the drafting of Jeremy Maclin, the Birds have now taken a wide receiver who runs under a 4.4 40-yard dash with their first pick in two consecutive drafts. Rookies don’t usually see much playing time under Reid, but in 2008 DeSean Jackson led the team in both receptions and receiving yards.
Even with the injuries and inconsistency that made Jackson the Eagles’ default No. 1 receiver last year, even a noted curmudgeon like Reid had to see what kind of talent he had.
But if what we all saw in his tenure at Missouri translates to the NFL, Maclin is bigger, faster, and even better.
Look at the receiving corps Donovan McNabb has had to work with in his decade at the helm: not much. Seven different receivers have led the team in yardage during a single season—eight if you count Torrance Small in 1999, McNabb’s rookie year.
Of those leaders, only Owens in 2004 and Kevin Curtis in 2007 have topped 1000 yards. To make things worse, Owens’ 765 yards in 2005 led the team…and he only played seven games.
Sure, many of those “also-rans” have their place in Eagles history. Freddie Mitchell will never be forgotten for numerous reasons—not the least of which is 4th-and-26—while James Thrash will always be remembered as a guy who went from kick returner in Washington to top receiver in Philly…back to kick returner in Washington.
But now, the Eagles have something they’ve lacked for a decade: big speed. We all saw what Jackson can do last year. Maclin is much of the same, only bigger and faster. And don’t forget that while they’re not prototypical track stars, both Kevin Curtis and Hank Baskett do have very good separation speed.
So what should the Eagles do?
Follow the model of success—the New England Patriots.
McNabb has both the arm strength and mobility to make a more vertical passing offense work. And while neither Maclin nor Jackson is as good as Randy Moss—and may never be, to be fair—they can both at least somewhat fill the Moss role of a pure burner who can go up and get balls.
Curtis perfectly fits the Wes Welker role as the underneath slot receiver who can get through a defense and cause havoc; it’s what he did in St. Louis with Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, and he was so good at it there that he got a six-year, $32 million contract from the Eagles in 2007.
That leaves Baskett, Jason Avant, and the seemingly forgotten Reggie Brown to fill the Jabar Gaffney/Kelley Washington roles as spread receivers.
It worked for the Patriots in 2007, as they were just a few minutes from total perfection. And a similar offense worked for the Cardinals last year—especially in their defeat of the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game.
But neither of those teams had a running back as good as Brian Westbrook. Corey Dillon and Edgerrin James were studs early in the career, but weren’t even close to Westbrook’s level in the last couple years.
Much like they have, B-West will eventually slow down—he is almost 30, after all—but while he’s still an elite running back, even a small break from the wear and tear he’s suffered the past few seasons will make him that much more dangerous.
Add in an emerging tight end in Brent Celek as a check down and LeSean McCoy in the Laurence Maroney/Tim Hightower role, and you have an offense that can carry the Eagles back to the NFC Championship Game…and beyond.
Now if only that curmudgeon will re-think 10 years of success.