Despite Win, Eagles' Offense Still Not Clicking Yet

Alex MarvezCorrespondent IDecember 16, 2008

PHILADELPHIA - Once considered all but shut, the door to the playoffs is gradually creaking open for the Eagles.

It's just hard to have confidence they can do much if they're able to walk through it.

Not to completely disparage a 30-10 Monday night home victory over Cleveland. Winning a third consecutive game-especially by such a lopsided margin-is far better than the 0-2-1 November stretch that almost sent Philadelphia into freefall.

But if the Eagles were clicking on all cylinders offensively, the dreadful Browns (4-10) would have been finished by halftime. Donovan McNabb wouldn't still be taking snaps and padding his passing statistics into the fourth quarter. And most important, Philadelphia would have sent notice to the rest of the NFC that it truly is a dangerous, blossoming team heading down the stretch.

Instead, this remains a flawed squad that shouldn't be fooled by a blowout against far inferior opposition.

I know: I sound like a notoriously grumpy Eagles fan. To get in the spirit, I booed Santa Claus from the press box.

But seriously, the Eagles could have given their home crowd so much more to cheer about if able to finish drives with touchdowns rather than field goals-or worse.

The Eagles entered the game ranked 21st in the NFL when it comes to touchdown percentage inside the red zone, converting on 51 percent of their attempts (26 of 51). They now stand at 48.3 percent after a two-for-seven effort against the league's 26th-ranked defense.

Philadelphia's first-half offensive performance was as erratic as the team's overall play in an 8-5-1 season. The Eagles marched inside the Cleveland 14-yard line on all four possessions-rolling up 262 yards in the process-but experienced increasingly diminished returns.

It seemed the closer Philadelphia moved toward the end zone, the worst things became.

There was an Eagles touchdown on the opening series, followed by a 24-yard David Akers field goal on the second possession. The next two drives produced bupkis.

This was a different kind of nightmare than in the Week 4 loss to Chicago in which the Eagles mustered 6 points on their final three trips inside the Bears' 13. That was a microcosm of the lack of punch Philadelphia had in its short-yardage running game through the first three-fourths of the season.

Blame for failing to blow open Monday's game earlier falls squarely upon a goofy offensive play call and McNabb's worst pass of an otherwise pinpoint performance.

Even with the offense humming sans gimmickry, Eagles coach Andy Reid deployed the "Wildcat" formation on a third-and-goal play from the Browns' 7. The only one fooled was Reid, who learned the hard way that rookie DeSean Jackson is a much better receiver than quarterback. Jackson's toss to wide receiver Hank Baskett in the end zone was intercepted by Browns safety Sean Jones.

Told it was the first time Jackson had thrown this season, Reid quipped, "And the last time, too ... We make a little better throw right there and we're in."

McNabb's throw to Baskett with nine seconds remaining in the second quarter was even worse. An underthrown lob was intercepted by Brandon McDonald and would have gotten returned for a touchdown if it weren't for Baskett's dogged effort in tracking down the cornerback from behind at the Eagles' 7 as the half expired.

The second half wasn't much better. Two more possessions inside Cleveland's red zone, two more Akers field goals. It wasn't until McNabb fired a 10-yard touchdown pass to Greg Lewis with 11:14 remaining that the Eagles finally scored another touchdown inside the Browns' 20.

"Every win is a good one, but we do have some things we obviously can work on, particularly in the red zone," Reid allowed. "You can't have the mistakes you've had there."

The Eagles could get away with this against the overmatched, injury-riddled Browns. It isn't going to fly against real opposition.

Cleveland still hasn't scored an offensive touchdown since Nov. 17. That translates to 16 quarters and 46 possessions. Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel single-handedly outscored Cleveland's entire offense with a 50-yard interception return in the second quarter. The pass was thrown by Ken Dorsey, a third-stringer who simply has no business being in the NFL if a clipboard isn't in his hand.

Defense has become Philadelphia's strength and its biggest reason for hope. The Browns gained 63 yards on their first possession and just 128 for the rest of the game.

"We wanted to get off the field and create turnovers," Eagles safety Brian Dawkins said. "That's who we are going to be for the rest of the season."

That's what the defense must be unless this offense finds more red-zone consistency.

Maybe this was an example of McNabb and Co. playing to its level of competition, especially after back-to-back victories over division winners Arizona and the New York Giants. We'll find out soon enough. The Eagles end the season with games against host Washington and visiting Dallas, two teams that defeated Philadelphia earlier this year. Even if the Eagles win both, Philadelphia needs a loss by either Tampa Bay (9-5) or Atlanta (9-5) to reach the playoffs.

"We have to take care of things we can control. That's playing good football," Reid said. "Everything else, we have to put it out of our mind. There's nothing we can do about it. We have to make sure we concentrate on the Eagles and nothing else."

Considering what transpired in the red zone Monday, Reid can only hope his offense heeds the message.

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