What a Christmas Present: The Eagles Fooled Us All

Ron GloverSenior Analyst IDecember 27, 2006

IconThere are times when the inexplicable happens. You cannot avoid it, and you cannot get around it. You just have to deal with it.
For the Eagles, the inexplicable was trying to figure out how the NFL schedule-makers had them spending the bulk of December on the road against the Redskins, Giants, and Cowboys' oh my! With playoff hopes and holiday cheer uncertain, the Eagles became the first team in the NFL's modern era to win three consecutive divisional road games — the final one a 23-7 thumping over the Dallas Cowboys, in a game that featured an unstoppable Eagles offensive attack.

Jeff Garcia had already won Philadelphia over with his grit and emotion. Now he has cemented himself in Eagles' lore with a Christmas Day win over the hated Cowboys. This has to be a little sweeter for Garcia, who got the chance to deposit some coal in the stocking of former teammate Terrell Owens (don't forget that Garcia was the object of Owens' verbal barbs long before Donovan McNabb).

The Eagles' offensive line took the game into their hands, putting on a blocking display that was nothing short of dominant. Shawn Andrews more than validated his Pro Bowl selection. The Eagles could not be disappointed with the play of Jon Runyan, a dinosaur who has not showed any signs of going quietly into extinction. Jamaal Jackson reminded the town that he is as good a center as there is in the NFL. William Thomas changed the mind of many critics who said that hampering injuries would force him into retirement. Todd Herremans looked solid and is certainly on the verge of being one of the NFC's best guards.  What a couple of weeks its been... 
The dominating line allowed the Eagles to run the ball 42 times for 204 yards, grinding the clock away early, scoring on three of their first four drives. Brian Westbrook chipped away at the Dallas defense, finishing with 122 yards on 26 carries, forcing anybody who thinks that Westbrook is not a 20-plus carry back to look at the man's productivity in McNabb's absence. Still, Correll Buckhalter's contribution to the run game has been nothing short of amazing. His legs have been fresh for the late season run; his ability to run inside has allowed Westbrook to go outside the tackles (and for substantial gains). He has also become a nice option in the red zone. Finally, when all else occasionally failed, Garcia reached back and got those 36 year-old legs moving, accounting for 43 yards on 7 scrambles, including a 12-yard bootleg on third and one off the left side in the fourth quarter.
The passing game kept the Cowboys on their heels for most of the game. When an Eagle receiver caught a pass, it seemed he had room to run for a few extra yards — in the case of tight end L.J. Smith, 'a few extra' turned into a 65-yard gain.
The much maligned run defense silenced more than a few critics too — although early on it looked like Marion Barber and Julius Jones were going to bludgeon the Birds defense. However, in the second quarter the defense dug in, and came up with a goal line stand that pretty much packed it in for the Cowboys. By the fourth quarter, defensive coordinator Jimmy Johnson was able to work his mojo, with the Cowboy running game pretty much dead, he was able to press and drop the safeties deep. Early in the final stanza, Cowboy QB Tony Romo went deep on the left side looking for Terrell Owens, only to have safety Brian Dawkins make an over-the-shoulder interception in the end zone, enabling the offense to run a 7- minute, 80-yard drive capped off with a 1-yard touchdown run by Buckhalter.
At that point, I knew I would be able to hold down the collard greens and turkey.
A month ago, the Eagles were 5-6, without Donovan McNabb and without much of a chance. We all tanked the season and why not? We were struggling with McNabb. It could only get worse without him. That's the beauty of the NFL. In College Football, you're voted out. In the NFL, you play your way out.
I'm pretty much convinced that Marty Morningweig has assumed the play calling duties for the offense. I think that Andy Reid has slowly given in. The offense that you see now is one that you can get used to watching. With the success of Garcia and the uncertainty surrounding McNabb, this is the safest way to go. Westbrook is a 1,000-yard back that can tote the rock 25-30 times. With the line that he has in front of him, why not run it more? December and January is when the physicality of this game increases. Nothing allows you to out-physical a team more than running the ball... its equivalent to a jab in boxing — it sets you up for a knockout late in the fight. For the Eagles to remain in the latter rounds of the playoffs — jabbing early is necessary.
Finally, nothing fires up a defense and depletes an offense more than a goal line stand. For the Eagles defense, it could not have come at a better time. I am not saying that the Eagles have the Steel Curtain, but what they have may be enough to get them where they need to go. In addition, if the offense continues to run the ball and control the clock, it forces the opposition into panic mode, and that's when this defense is at its best— amid chaos (and for the record, I challenge any reader to name ten players in Eagles history better than Brian Dawkins).