Monday, October 12, 2009

Rejuvenated McNabb Leads Eagles Past Bucs

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles are one of the elite teams in the NFL. The Tampa Bay Bucs are not. The outcome of yesterday's game, a 33-14 Eagles victory, was about what you would expect, even though the Eagles committed an inordinate amount of penalties.

But, games are not won based on opinion or expectations, especially in the highly competitive NFL, so credit the Eagles for taking care of business. Donovan McNabb made his return to the team from a broken rib, and played brilliantly, completing 76% of his 21 passes for 264 yards. He also tossed 3 touchdown passes, including two long strikes to rookie Jeremy Maclin. With the game well in hand, he gave way to Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb in mop up duty.

The Eagles other returning star, Brian Westbrook, did not fare as well. Although he scored a touchdown, he was limited to a total of 35 yards rushing and receiving. Unlike McNabb, he did not appear quite ready for prime time and fortunately, the team did not need him to play a big role.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles gave up more yardage than expected. Some key turnovers and unusual coaching decisions by the Bucs helped keep the point total to 14. Although rookie QB Josh Johnson threw three interceptions, he looked surprisingly good under the Eagles heavy dose of pressure. With some more NFL experience and a stronger cast around him, Johnson appears that he could have a bright future.

Overall, the Eagles defense was up and down throughout the day. They persisted in blitzing all day, but sometimes seemed to lack urgency in getting to the young QB. Tight end Kellen Winslow had a big day, roaming free through the middle to catch 9 passes for 102 yards. Big plays, such as Asante Samuel picking off two passes and Sheldon Brown picking off another, helped to contain the Bucs.

Yesterday may have been Maclin's breakout game in the NFL. With the Bucs focusing on shutting down DeSean Jackson and Westbrook, Maclin took advantage of single coverage to rack up 142 yards on 6 catches. Early in the first quarter, he made a nice grab on a 51-yard TD and followed that with a 40-yard TD strike at the end of the second quarter.

The "Wildcat" formation was once again very unsuccessful. The team ran 9 such formations with Michael Vick on the field, including 2 with him flanked out as a receiver. The production increased .5 yards per play from their last game, but 3.2 yards per play does not get it done. From a distance, it appeared to be a disruption and hindrance to an otherwise productive offense. The Eagles can get away with playing around with this against foes like the Chiefs and Bucs, but they won't be so lucky against more formidable opponents.

This is particularly true since the Eagles current array of offensive talent is too good to waste with gimmick plays and formations. With McNabb behind center, two explosive wide-outs in Jackson and Maclin, an emerging star in tight end Brent Celek, two elusive running backs in Westbook and LeSean McCoy, and playmaking fullback Leonard Weaver, the Eagles have the best bevy of weapons they have ever had.

The Eagles kept pace with the Giants, who destroyed their next opponent, the Oakland Raiders, staying one game behind at 3-1. It will be important for them to once again take care of business against a lesser team, as they then face their NFC East division-mates over the following three weeks. When the schedule reaches that point of the season, the team will not be able to prevail committing more than 100 yards in penalties or wasting production with the Wildcat.

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