Remember how in the Eagles’ second-quarter report I said that “the more things change, the more they stay the same?”
If you compare the third quarter of the Birds’ 2009 season to the same time frame a year ago, that statement actually couldn’t be more wrong.
After a 5-3 start in 2008, the Eagles almost fell apart in the first half of the second half.
Following a tough home loss to the Giants, the embarrassing tie with Cincinnati and the infamous Baltimore loss that saw Donovan McNabb benched in the second half, the Birds were 5-5-1 and almost left for dead.
But things got better once the Eagles waxed Arizona on Thanksgiving night, and that began a 4-1 stretch run that got them into the playoffs.
This season…well, a 4-1 stretch run might win them the NFC East, and handily.
The Birds’ 2009 third quarter was much more fruitful. The Eagles have fought all quarter, and have won three gutty games in a row after a tough loss to San Diego.
They stand at 8-4, and if they continue to play the way they have (and should), a return to the playoffs is imminent.
So let’s see how their very successful third quarter of the season grades out position by position.
Previous grades: A, B-plus
Current grade: A-minus
Overall GPA: 3.67
Statistically, Donovan McNabb had his best quarter of the season in November and early-December.
Over the last four games, McNabb has thrown for 1,192 yards—including a season high 450 against San Diego—and six touchdowns versus three interceptions.
Yes, he still makes a few bad decisions a game, and yes, he still throws the ball into the ground a lot. And yes, his QB rating has been down (his 101.8 against Atlanta on Sunday was the highest of the quarter).
But he’s shown himself as a true leader as of late, bringing the team back from a pair of fourth-quarter deficits to defeat Chicago and Washington.
Problem is, those are both bad, bad teams—ones the Eagles should’ve waxed like they did Atlanta. Still, he’s been getting the job done, and you can’t argue with wins.
Michael Vick has taken limited snaps at QB this quarter, but had his best game of the year against Atlanta. Vick’s 65 yards and two touchdowns might end up as more than half of his season total in each category, but for one moment in time, he was once again the king of the Peach State.
Can’t give them an A because McNabb has been fairly pedestrian much of the time, but I can’t go much lower because they’re 3-1 without their top offensive weapons.
Previous Grades: B, B-minus
Current Grade: B-plus
Overall GPA: 3.00
LeSean McCoy isn’t Brian Westbrook, and he may never be.
But he’s been good enough, and with the emergence of Leonard Weaver as a multi-dimensional threat, the Eagles are okay for now on the ground.
Due to his concussion issues, Westbrook has played half of one game this quarter, recording 54 total yards.
But in his absence, McCoy has started growing into his role. Against Chicago, Shady had his best rushing effort of the season (99 yards and a score), and he followed that up with over 100 all-purpose yards against Washington.
Weaver, meanwhile, has more than shown the Eagles what they’ve missed without a true fullback the last couple seasons. He only has 92 rushing and 79 receiving yards this quarter, but many of them have come on big gains or in big spots where his effort provided a huge boost.
Weaver had his best game of the year against Atlanta, going for 100 all-purpose yards and a receiving touchdown. He’s already surpassed his career rushing high, and should see several more touches going forward if he can keep producing.
Eldra Buckley has only seen extended time in one game, but did score the first TD of his career against the Redskins. PJ Hill, meanwhile, has not seen the field since being signed.
The key for McCoy going forward will be consistent touches; Weaver’s big day forgives the fact that he only got nine against the Falcons, but against teams with legit secondaries, he’ll need to get the ball a lot more.
Previous Grades: B-plus, B-minus
Current Grade: A-minus
Overall GPA: 3.22
Even with missing a game-and-a-half due to a concussion, DeSean Jackson still didn’t lose too much off his stat pace.
In the third quarter he hauled in 18 balls for 239 yards and a pair of scores. Over 11 games, he’s averaging 15 catches, 256 yards, and two TDs per quarter…so yeah, the stats are the same.
But, where he’s emerged is as a true playmaker. While he still has the deep threat, he’s also showing he can make tough catches and be an every down, legit, No. 1 receiver. If he can get back on the field, he should surpass 1,000 yards and could reach 10 TD.
His absence has benefited Jeremy Maclin, who has grabbed 21 balls for 286 yards—almost half of his season totals—in the last four games. Maclin is developing very quickly, and the combo of himself and Jackson could be very lethal for many, many years.
The biggest surprise, however, has been Jason Avant. He’s become McNabb’s favorite target, and his great performance was an eight-catch, 156-yard performance in the loss to San Diego.
Overall this quarter, Avant leads the team with 20 catches and 312 yards, with a lot of that coming in clutch situations. He’s also already set career highs in both categories (35 for 510), and his emergence has given the offense another dimension.
Beyond that, though, not much has changed.
Brent Celek got a huge contract extension, but hasn’t really done much more than he did in the previous quarter. Reggie Brown actually got four catches for 100 yards, but his best game of the season came when he was the No. 3 receiver by default.
Alex Smith is still invisible, Kevin Curtis is still hurt (and might as well be placed on IR at this point) and Jordan Norwood was just signed off the practice squad.
Previous Grades: B-plus, C-minus
Current Grade: B-minus
Overall GPA: 2.56
They’re getting better.
Donovan McNabb was only sacked nine times this quarter (compared to 15 in the previous one), the rushing game is averaging about 85 yards and they’re fully healthy.
Well, sort of, as Jason Peters seems to gimp in and out at least once a game.
But Todd Herremans is back, Winston Justice has settled in at right tackle and the Nick Cole/Max Jean-Gilles/Stacy Andrews combo is perfectly adequate at right guard (and also left when Herremans slides out to tackle to replace Peters).
Something’s working though, so I’ll split the difference between their grades…and since the Birds are 3-1, I’ll go higher end and give them a B-minus.
Previous Grades: A-minus, B-minus
Current Grade: B-plus
Overall GPA: 3.23
Hey, the Eagles are 8-4, but they’re winning ugly.
Needing two fourth-quarter comebacks against awful teams? That’s great for the personal resume, but awful in the grand scheme of life.
Still, they looked solid against Atlanta and came alive late against San Diego, so you know the talent is there—and with their schedule, they could conceivably win out.
Looking at their last four games, you see a lot of potential. They’ve already beaten the Giants, owned Dallas on the road, and get to host a pair of teams (the 49ers and Broncos) that have to come across the country, which is always a death knell.
The Giants, Broncos, and 49ers have all been very inconsistent as of late, and the Cowboys notoriously swoon in December. Based on how they played in November, that slide has already started in earnest.
If DeSean Jackson can get healthy, LeSean McCoy can continue to improve and the role players like Weaver, Avant, and even Vick can keep contributing, this team can go very deep.
After all, sometimes the whole truly is better than the sum of its individual parts.