PHILADELPHIA — Andy Reid began Donovan McNabb Week with appropriate and well-timed praise of the guys who’ll be in charge of stopping him next Sunday. The Eagles coach took particular care on Monday to point out a job well done by a defensive unit that came into Week 3’s 28-3 win over Jacksonville having given up the most points in the league. By the end of Sunday, the Eagles had the league’s 12th-ranked defense with an average of 309 yards allowed per game.
“I thought our defensive line came out and were very, very aggressive,” Reid said. “They brought a lot of attitude to that side of the football. And I thought [DT] Mike Patterson had one of his better games that he’s had since he’s been a Philadelphia Eagle; I thought he played very well, as did [DE] Trent Cole and the rest of the guys. “[DT] Trevor [Laws] had a lot of snaps out there and played well. [DE Juqua] Parker got another sack and played well. So, all-in-all I thought it was good. It was good to get [DE Darryl] Tapp involved in the game plan. I thought he stepped up and played well.” Furthermore, the Eagles had major contributions from the linebackers, especially Akeem Jordan, strangely silent the previous two weeks as he continued to adjust to life on the strong side. Jordan became the Eagles’ weakside starter in ’08 and was excellent on that side into last season, until a knee injury put him out for a month. Upon his return, he played mostly the middle, then was moved to the strong side this summer.
“Sometimes you overthink a little bit when you first get in there and you want to be perfect and that, as opposed to just cutting it loose, playing downhill football, and attacking,” Reid said, “and I think that’s what he did in this game. Listen, nobody plays the perfect game. That’s just not how this sport works; you get up and you cut it loose and you practice, practice, practice, and get all that taken care of in practice, and when you go out the game, you go out and you play.”
The defense also was bolstered by the return of middle linebacker Stewart Bradley from a concussion. Holding the Jaguars without a touchdown validated defensive coordinator Sean McDermott’s assertion the week before that things would turn around for the defense in time.
“It can always be better, obviously,” McDermott said, “but I was proud of the way the guys came down here. This was a business trip. They came down and played four quarters of good, sound, physical football.
“It’s a big factor [to have Bradley back] from a leadership standpoint and our overall defense. You’ve got to love having Stew back in the middle. He’s not the only guy playing, though. Let’s keep that in mind. There’s 10 other guys playing and playing hard.” McDermott sternly explained what he thought was missing from the Eagles’ defense in Detroit. According to the defensive guru, Gang Green was nowhere near physical enough for his liking. They were playing two-hand-touch football. Instead of imposing their will on the Lions, they let Detroit push them around.
That changed last week in Jacksonville when the Eagles limited the Jags to 191 total yards and just three points. The Birds were clearly the aggressors, especially up front where they dominated Jacksonville’s offensive line.
“I thought we came out and played good, physical football, the brand of football that we want to see for four quarters, which is a step in the right direction,” McDermott said. “We have a chance to be a very good defense, but if, and only if, we come out and play good, physical, hard-nosed football.”
With the Redskins being their first NFC East game of the season, Sunday should be the most physical game yet. Emotions will be especially high with such a familiar face lined up opposite the Eagles’ defense. But McDermott doesn’t expect to do anything significantly different. The Eagles already regularly change the verbiage of their defensive play calls – not to mention changing personnel and adding new looks possibly more than any other team in the league.
Most Eagles believe the familiarity McNabb has with the Eagles’ offense and defense will not play a large factor in the game. They have played countless times against players who were on the roster. Reid is confident the Birds’ playbook is way too expansive. The plays unfold way too quickly for McNabb’s extensive knowledge to be put to use. He only has so much time to relay the information to the defense, especially while trying to prepare for the Eagles’ defense.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg isn’t too worried either. “That’s just a touch overrated there,” he said. McDermott and Reid already have begun putting together a plan to stop McNabb, who spent most of the previous 11 seasons guiding the Eagles’ offense, until the Eagles traded him on Easter Sunday to the Washington Redskins, their next opponent. So begins another chapter of what so far has been a wild season…
Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins have dropped two in a row after winning their season opener, so there’s a desperation component also thrown in. But this week is unfortunately all about Donovan all the time.
“Listen, I think the world of Donovan,” Reid said. “And the legacy that he left here will be just that — a legacy that lasts forever. He did phenomenal things for this organization, and that’s not forgotten. But at the same time, he wants to beat the Eagles and we want to beat the Redskins, so there’s that side of it that you have to deal with.
“But we all, from [Eagles owner] Jeffrey [Lurie] on down here, we all have a special place for Donovan in our hearts.” After Sunday’s stirring win, it should be fascinating to see how the defense responds to the challenge of shutting McNabb down.
The Eagles put a heavy emphasis on a select few areas each offseason. This past year, it was offensive and defensive red zone short-yardage situations, two of the Eagles’ long-time nemeses. In order to combat the problem, coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg ran an inordinate amount of red zone drills throughout minicamp and training camp. They went out of their way to stress the importance … and it seems to have worked.
While the short-yardage side of things still needs some fine-tuning, the red zone inefficiency seems to be rectified. Through three games, the Eagles are ranked No. 1 in the NFL, having scored touchdowns on seven of eight trips (88 percent) inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
“It’s something we decided to concentrate on. It’s something we weren’t good at last year and something we needed to get better at,” starting right tackle Winston Justice said. “We kept going over it and over it. They were emphasizing it significantly. We did red zone in camp a lot .”
Only Buffalo, Oakland, Seattle and St. Louis were worse, and none of them finished with more than six wins as a result. The Eagles were able to post 11 wins and were one of the top scoring teams in the NFC, thanks to an explosive offense that scored regularly on big plays. But when it came to getting in the end zone from close range, it was a continual struggle. It prohibited the Eagles from being one of the league’s better offenses.
Last year, with Donovan McNabb (who in case you haven’t heard is returning to Philadelphia this weekend) running the show, the Eagles struggled in the red zone. They converted only 43 percent of their trips into touchdowns and ranked 28th out of 32 NFL teams. The biggest difference this season could be quarterback Michael Vick. As offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg explained, teams play Vick differently in every situation. They respect his arm and are petrified by his legs. Inside the red zone, the threat of Vick taking off (as he did on his 17-yard touchdown in Jacksonville) increases the Eagles’ opportunities for success.
“It’s shown,” tight end Brent Celek said. “Whenever he gets pressure back there, he can take off and run and score on any play. That helps out a lot.” It’s sort of similar to a younger McNabb, and it’s no coincidence that the Eagles’ red zone success was much higher earlier in his [McNabb's] career when running was more a part of his regular repertoire. WIth Vick behind center, the Eagles are thriving in the red zone. And it’s not just the passing game. His presence seems to have opened holes for running back LeSean McCoy as well. McCoy already has three red zone scores, two from outside the 10-yard line, in three games. Add Vick’s rushing touchdown and the Eagles already have four red zone rushing TDs this season. They had only 11 total in 2009. It all makes the Eagles infinitely better in the red zone, at least through three games this season.
Birds add CB to practice squad
The Eagles made their weekly roster move on Thursday when they signed cornerback Jamar Wall to the practice squad and released safety Jamar Adams. Wall was a sixth-round pick by the Cowboys this year out of Texas Tech. He did not survive Dallas’ final cut and was then claimed by the Texans. He appeared in one game with the Texans before being released. Adams was signed to the Eagles’ practice squad last week. The 25-year-old previously played with the Seahawks.
This and that
Facing McNabb is “very similar” to facing Aaron Rodgers, according to McDermott. … Juqua Parker, second in the NFL with four sacks, has been playing approximately just 25-30 snaps per game. … The Eagles expect to continue using rookie Jorrick Calvin part-time as a punt and kick returner to keep DeSean Jackson and Ellis Hobbs fresh. … After a slow start to his career, rookie linebacker Jamar Chaney “stepped it up” against the Jaguars on special teams. That likely means he will continue to be available on game day ahead of Omar Gaither.
Did not participate in practice
RB Mike Bell (illness), G Nick Cole (knee)
Full participation in practice
TE Brent Celek (wrist), DE Brandon Graham (ankle), T Austin Howard (back), WR Jeremy Maclin (back).
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org