Sunday, October 11, 2009

McNabb and Westbrook Return for the Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles v Carolina Panthers

The Eagles return to the field today after an advantageously timed bye week. The additional "R and R" allowed a couple of key players to heal and limit their absence from the line-up. Donovan McNabb will be behind center and Brian Westbrook will be in the back field when the Eagles face off against the Tampa Bay Bucs for their opening drive this afternoon.

The Eagles season so far has been bi-polar as their performances have been at the extremes- both good and bad. In weeks 1 and 3, they dominated their opponents with suffocating defense, potent offense and strong special teams play. Unfortunately, though, in between they were at the opposite end of the spectrum, laying an egg in all phases of the game and accordingly getting drubbed by the Saints.

There is strong reason to believe that the week 2 performance was an aberration and that Eagles fans can re-kindle their championship hopes. Although both the Panthers and Chiefs are struggling teams, the Eagles demonstrated their potential by soundly outplaying each team across the board. With reinforcements coming in the form of Pro Bowl players McNabb and Westbrook, they can only get better.

In the Chiefs game while the two players were out, the team also activated Michael Vick and officially launched their tailored version of the "Wildcat." How and how often the team uses this formation will continue to bear watching. At this point, the big questions revolve around whether the team can avoid having the Wildcat disrupt their normal offensive flow and whether they can overcome its ineffectiveness against stronger teams? The "2.7 yards and a cloud of dust" version displayed for 11 plays against the Chiefs will not get it done, especially since it takes the ball out of the hands of the two returning playmakers.

Fortunately for the Eagles, the Bucs do not appear to be very good. It should buy them another week to continue their mad scientist offensive test lab. Of course, it will be difficult to draw any conclusions if they have some limited success with their back yard formations because the Bucs are having difficulty with all formations.

Expect the Eagles to terrorize the Bucs rookie QB Josh Johnson. He gets his second NFL start after some mixed results in his debut last week against the Redskins. The biggest threat that he seems to present is his ability to make some plays with his legs. The Eagles attacking defense has typically made life miserable for inexperienced signal callers, so expect Sean McDermott to keep steady pressure on Johnson throughout the game unless they drop into prevent formations to protect a big lead.

On offense, the Eagles will continue to spread the ball around. Westbrook and rookie LeSean McCoy will share carries and screen plays. McNabb will likely hit DeSean Jackson for some big plays and use Brent Celek and Jason Avant to move the chains. Coming back from being off for a few weeks, McNabb should find particular comfort in throwing to emerging star Celek and may look for him a couple times in the red zone. Kevin Curtis will be out again, so it would not be surprising to see Jeremy Maclin contribute a big play or two.


Eagles 34

Bucs 10

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