Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Eagles in the Playoffs?!? What Now?

I've got to admit it, the Eagles making the playoffs is something that after last week I didn't think all that possible. Since week 1, the talent on this team has been undeniably good but the execution was consistently...sporadic. For a few weeks, they're the cream of the crop. A few later and they look like a team deserving of the number one draft pick. First half you'd think the Eagles were a semi-pro team, but in the second half the team is a unstoppable force. McNabb and Reid go from goats and idiots to stars and geniuses and back on a weekly basis, no more like on a drive to drive basis.

Last night against the Cowboys, the Eagles cemented their playoff berth (albeit with considerable help even before the game) with a flat-out dominant shellacking of their immensely talented, but tormented division rival. The offense was solid, McNabb, Westbrook, and Buckhalter were all good and the offensive line did a great job holding back an accomplished Dallas defense, especially Tra (William?) Thomas who shutdown probowler and sack artist DeMarcus Ware.

The obvious stars of the game were the Eagles defense. This unit has been great all season and only getting better and better as the season has moved forward. The Eagles have allowed the league's third lowest yards per game and are fourth lowest in points per game. In the second half of the season the defense has allowed 20 or more points only twice. Once in a loss to the Giants and once in a blowout win over the Cardinals. Dawkins is back and playing great and Stewart Bradley is emerging as a terrific linebacker for this defense.

However, this isn't a team without its flaws. Let's be honest, this is a 9-6-1 team that tied the Bengals for god sake. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Eagles pummeled everyone in their path and won the Super Bowl. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Eagles got romped in Minnesota this coming weekend. This team is entirely bipolar, anything is possible from here on out. And just as I stated a few weeks ago, it all depends on two things: Andy's playcalling and Donovan's decision-making and accuracy. The team won nine games based on the success of these two things and lost 6 (well 7 with that tie) because of the failures of these two things. The defense has been nothing short of fantastic all season, so that's not the inconsistency issue and Westbrook hasn't been healthy all season so that's not it either. Andy and Donovan are the variables so let's tackle them separately, the Eagles' playoff fate depends on them:

Reid:

Most of this season was spent throwing the football, over and over again. The Eagles passed at a 60 percent clip, but it felt more like 80 percent and as the losses piled up near the middle of the season it felt like 100 percent. Last week in a loss to the Redskins the pass/run ratio was 50:14. Now if this was a blowout that would make sense, but in a 10-3 game it seems downright foolish. The Eagles have shown time and time again (with the exception of the Browns game) that we are no longer a team than can air it out 40 times and win. Reid needs to give Westbrook and Buckhalter consistent touches if the Eagles expect to do damage in this year's playoffs. Also, as I posted about earlier this month, the Eagles short-yardage struggles with be only magnified in the playoffs if Reid can't find a solid answer to get one, or two, yards consistently. The sneak worked Sunday, and it should be a focal point in the offense once again.

McNabb:
It's simple, when McNabb is accurate and makes good decisions, the Eagles win. McNabb doesn't have to be spectacular anymore because he has an accomplished defense behind him. McNabb has become a game manager and if he embraces the role, he will be a fantastic one. He's no longer a running quarterback but he needs to use his leagues to keep defenses off balance. If Donovan is required to put the team on his back, the Eagles are in big trouble, they've showed that many times this season.

My last Eagles concern is about both of those two. The Eagles must have the worst two-minute drill in football. Whether it is at the end of the half or the end of the game, the offense always seems out of sorts and unprepared. This is the playoffs and I'm betting that we're going to need the big drive atleast once before it's over.

Sunday will be the first team and I'm optimistic that the Eagles are good enough to make something out of this year and go deep in the playoffs, but we'll see how it goes.

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