"Follow my steps is the road to success..."
-Jay-Z, “Swagga Like Us”
Fitting how a rap lyric from a New Yorker was somehow intertwined with advice that led to the destruction of one of his hometown sports teams … if Andy Reid read what I wrote last week about how to wake up the Eagles’ offense, that is.
OK, so he probably didn’t, but those three keys to success certainly played a big part in the Eagles’ thrashing of the Giants at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.
So let’s just take a look how, shall we?
Step One: More Eagle, Less Wildcat
I’d say mission accomplished. The Eagles ran only a few plays out of the Wildcat (three if memory serves correct) and Michael Vick only took four snaps—three of which came in garbage time with the Eagles trying to run out the clock.
Instead, they got back to what worked in the first few games. McNabb spent a good portion of the game in the shotgun, and it worked because the running game had a quick start and the secondary was stretched way too thin.
Well done, all around.
Step Two: Go West, Young Man
Brian Westbrook didn’t play. And it didn’t matter in the end, as the Eagles won. But if you look beneath the surface of the stat sheet, the findings are still a bit troubling.
Yes, the Eagles rushed for 180 yards on only 24 carries, which is nearly eight yards per.
Take away McCoy’s 66-yard TD scamper, and that number drops under five yards a carry.
Further take away Leonard Weaver’s early 41-yard TD, and, well, it’s less than three.
Then there’s 20 more yards on a McNabb scramble and a pair of garbage-time hand-offs to Eldra Buckley, and so on.
It’s one thing to dominate the rushing game; it’s quite another to have two big plays inflate your total. And again, the Eagles are NOT a “three yards and a cloud of dust” team.
Minus their TD runs, McCoy had 16 yards on 10 carries and Weaver had 34 on seven carries. The former total is awful, and the latter is only palatable because Weaver is, by definition, a fullback.
So yes, it didn’t matter in the end … but it’s clear that no matter how much hype McCoy brings or how well Weaver does on a given week, the Birds are a much different team without No. 36.
Step Three: Ask, and Someone Shall Receive
As much as the running game was smoke and mirrors, the passing game was downright amazing.
Yes, DeSean Jackson had another stellar game, but McNabb used all four of his weapons to the fullest degree.
Nobody had more than four grabs or 78 yards—even with Jackson’s 54-yard, how did he get that wide open? TD catch—but they all had effective days.
Jeremy Maclin’s 47 yards included an amazing touchdown grab and a couple tough receptions over the middle. Brent Celek returned from purgatory to do the same, and Jason Avant made a pivotal catch in a 3rd-and-6 situation with the Birds pinned inside their own 20.
Instead of having to punt and give the Giants decent field position, the Birds were able to run seven minutes off the clock and score three points to build a 16-0 lead. That’s just what Avant does.
Even Alex Smith got into the act, hauling in his first ball of the year. Of course, Reggie Brown was useless and held out of the stat sheet, which completely destroys my other musing last week, but you can’t win ‘em all.
So now the 5-2 Eagles face their biggest game of the season on Sunday night as the 5-2 Cowboys roll into South Philly. This game will determine who hits the halfway point as the outright leader in the NFC East, and with the Giants struggling, it could be a huge momentum shifter for the Birds.
Should they win, the Eagles would be 3-0 in the division (vs. 1-2 for the ‘Boys and 2-1 for the Giants) with their next NFC East tilt not until Thanksgiving weekend against the Redskins. Should they lose, it’s a three-way tie with the Cowboys having the numerical advantage overall.
Can these same keys turn on their offense once again this week?