The Eagles are going to the Super Bowl!!!
In these dull days of the offseason in between OTAs and Training Camp there is only so much we, as fans of the NFL, can read about Brett Favre's retirement plans. I'm going to identify what almost stopped the Eagles from making the playoffs and what kept them from the Super Bowl in the 2008 Season.
1) Short Yardage Situations
There is no doubt that had the Eagles been able to convert short yardage more succesfully last year they could have won at least two more games (Chicago and New York #1). Jeff Lurie and Andy Reid have adequately addressed this this offseason. The acquisition of Leonard Weaver helps convert short yardage downs in two ways.
a) Leonard Weaver can run. At roughly 50 lbs (47 lbs to be exact) heavier than Westbrook, Weaver clearly has the ability to move the pile a little bit more successfully than Westbrook's 203 lbs frame.
b) Run Blocking. When Weaver hwas first interviewed by David Spadaro for philadelphiaeagles.com Weaver said:
I'm here to block for Westbrook and the other backs. If Coach Reid decides to hand or throw me the ball then I'll show them what I can do with ti but I'm not here to become a ballhog.You cannot underestimate the value of a true run-blocking fullback. It's just one more body carving the way through the hole your offensive line opened up. Andy Reid's decision to not carry a fullback on last year's roster could have cost the Eagles two games.
The second thing to help the short-yardage game, and the running game in general, is a new offensive line. Tra Thomas was a dependable, dominant pass-rushing Left Tackle, but his run blocking was deplorable. Jason Peters is a vast upgrade over Tra, His size and athleticism allow him to dominate any defensive end. Shawn Andrewsis back, and at his natural position of Right Tackle. Jon Runyan was (and still may be)a warrior at Right Tackle but at the age of 35, coming of a knee surgery which has sidelined him even in his own home he is not fit to be a starter in this offense. The addition of Stacy Andrews at Right Guard only helps the offensive line, as last year the Eagles were working with back ups at that position all year. The pairing of Shawn and Stacy Andrews is the answer to the right side of the offensive line.
2) The Deep Threat
Last year Donovan McNabb was forced to play the "dink and dunk" style of offense. In the "dink and dunk" offense you move the chains by completing short, crisp passes to receivers that will get you some yardage but will rarely take you deep. This style took a level of explosiveness out of the offense. The "dink and dunk" offense works for some but it does not play to the strengths of the Eagles. You saw late last season that Donovan McNabb threw his best passes down the field (towards DeSean Jackson in particular in the Cowboys and Giants games). This style of play has always been McNabb's specialty, all the way from his days in Syracuse. Last year with Curtis and Brown, the starting receivers at the time, sidelined for the first six games McNabb had no dep threat to go to. The one time he did go deep successfully DeSean Jackson dropped the ball right before the goal line =P With speedsters Jackson and Curtis ready for the season and the development of Jeremy Maclin the Eagles and Donovan McNabb will finally be able to go deep again.
Another aspect of the deep pass is time. The receivers need time to get deep and separation from the secondary. The new and improved offensive line will provide that time for the play to develop.
Now you may be saying, "but the Eagles made it to the playoffs and the NFC Championship despite these weakness. They even broke several offensive Franchise Records on the way." But the point is that the ever elusive Lombardi Tropy remained out of reach. One reason the Eagles were tampered with on their way to Tampa is evident: Larry Fitzgerald. He managed to score 3 touchdowns in one half on a defense that had not alloewd a single receiving TD since the week 15 Cleveland Browns game. A Cornerback cannot be expected to cover Larry Fitzgerald by himself. With no discredit to our Cornerbacks: that man is a beast. The Cornerbacks need over the top safety help to make plays on the ball and to help make the tackle. You probably asked yourself when Larry Fitzgerald strutted into the endzone with Qutinin Demps lying on the ground "What was Demps, and not Dawk, doing covering him!" Well the answer is simple: Dawkins couldn't. Larry Gitzgerald has the size and speed to make Dawkins ferocious gameplay ineffective. Quintin Demps was fooled by the fake handoff to Tim Hightower and left Fitzgerald alone for two seconds. He could not catch up. Demps' lack of experience led to Fitzgerald's touchdown. Now that Demps has a year more of experience and has played in some big games he has the mindset to go and help the cornerbacks over the top.
But remember, this article, this offseason hype, these ratings could all be for naught. If McNabb gets injured or goes through a longer mid-season slump, Westbrook's injury sidelineshim for more time or hampers his play, McDermott cannot handle the pressure of Defensive coordinator, or Andy Reid goes ultra-pass crazy this could just be another disappointing year (for the record I don't think it will be). But as of right now the Eagles look destined for a Lombardi Trophy.