Play calling here in Philadelphia is a very sensitive subject. Most knowledgeable sports fans will agree Andy Reid is a very good head coach, with maybe one or two exceptions.
Personally, I feel Reid's struggles as a play caller are slightly exaggerated, but I do sometimes find myself questioning his methods.
The 2008 season – this one more than any other of Reid's years as a coach—seemed to be defined by the play calling. Five plays in particular stood out to me as a representation of the year, whether good or bad.
1) Screen pass
This play has been a huge part of the Philadelphia offense over the past five or six years, ever since the team selected Villanova running back Brian Westbrook in the third round of the '02 draft.
Westbrook's quick speed and incredible elusiveness make him great out of the backfield. His specialty is catching a short pass and turning it into a big gain, behind his wall of blockers.
Think the 52-yarder against the Bucs in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter in 2006. Or the 57-yarder to beat Washington a year later.
Or the play against the Niners in '03—his first season as a key piece of the Eagles' offense—in which Westbrook nearly broke Tony Parrish's ankles with his juke.
This year, it was Westbrook's memorable 71-yard screen pass to help defeat the Vikings in the first round of the playoffs. The play, which occurred on a standard three-receiver I-formation, capped off an exciting 23-14 win to help the Eagles advance to the NFC Divisional Playoffs.
I think we as Eagles fans can expect to see many more screens in the '09 season. Brian Westbrook is a master at this play and LeSean McCoy should be pretty good as well.
2) Westbrook off tackle
Last year against the Giants in Week 14, the score was 3-0 Eagles late in the first half. The Eagles lined up in an I-formation. Handoff to Westbrook, and six seconds later, he was jogging into the end zone for a touchdown and a nine-point lead.
It appeared on TV that the play had Westbrook designed to run behind Herremans at left guard. Upon crossing the line of scrimmage, Westbrook juked to his right and was off to his races.
Creating plays out of thin air.
3) The deep ball to Jackson
Remember how the 2008 season started?
That 55-yard deep bomb to DeSean Jackson down the right sideline, in which Jackson made a leaping catch over first round pick Tye Hill of the Rams.
Jackson emerged as the team's leading receiver for the '08 season, recording 912 yards for the year. Perhaps his most memorable play came on a 62-yard desperation heave late in the NFC Championsip Game to give the Eagles a 25-24 lead over the Cardinals.
The Eagles have always utilized the deep ball well.
Todd Pinkston, the lanky receiver from '00 through '05 who didn't even tip the scales at one hundred pounds soaking wet, made his living out of catching the deep ball. In fact, during the 2004 season, when Pinkston had T.O. opposite him, he averaged 18.8 yards per catch, tops among all NFC receivers.
Imagine the 2009 season.
DeSean Jackson. Jeremy Maclin. Kevin Curtis. Three speedy receivers. How could a defense possibly cover those guys?
And don't forget about Westbrook out of the backfield. Remember his catch against the Packers in '04, in which he basically ran a fly as a wide receiver would?
This is going to be a dangerous group of playmakers in 2009.
4) Short Yardage Runs
This was the downfall of the team in 2008. The inability to convert on short yardage situations, particularly on 3rd or 4th and 1 plays, particularly on primetime games against the Giants late in the fourth quarter.
Last year, the team desperately lacked a power back.
Westbrook—with all due respect to him, since he is a tremendous runner—is not a power runner. And it didn't help that All-Pro guard Shawn Andrews missed the entire 2008 season due to back surgery.
This past offseason, the team acquired Pro Bowl caliber fullback Leonard Weaver from the Seahawks. Weaver is a better than average runner, a solid run blocker, and a tremendous pass blocker. His addition should greatly boost a team that really struggled in short yardage situations.
With Shawn Andrews returning and the additions of linemen Stacy Andrews and Jason Peters, the Eagles have turned one of last year's biggest weaknesses into a probable strength.
5) McNabb Quarterback Sneak
This one has been in the Eagles playbook for quite some time. While McNabb isn't the runner he used to be, he is a bulldozer on those short runs up the middle.
He weighs a solid 240 pounds with one of the strongest lower bodies in the NFL. On a quarterback dive up the middle—such as the one against the Giants in the Divisional Game—McNabb is virtually unstoppable.
Center Jamaal Jackson is a good run blocker. The team should be even better next season with the Andrews brothers on the right side of the line and All-Pro run-blocking tackle Jason Peters on the left side.