Originally posted 9/23/08.
OK, so I never got around to finishing/posting my analysis of the Cowboys game. But after reviewing what I had written so far, particularly some of my concerns about the game and what I was looking to see in week 3 against the Steelers, these 2 games are really worth discussing together, especially given the totally opposite defensive play in each game.
Unsurprisingly, the bulk of my criticism of week 2 was on the defense. I mean, what the hell was that? I know Romo and the Cowboys have a strong offense, but damn, they dismantled our D. I do believe, however, that the Cowboys will be hands-down the best offense that the Eagles will face this season; it's also unlikely that the 2nd meeting in Philly in Week 17 will actually be a meaningful game for one or both teams. Accordingly, I figured things HAD to look up for the D coming out of that MNF performance. Truthfully though, I was absolutely surprised at just how well they rebounded in week 3 against the Steelers. I actually feel like I should go back and delete the entire blog post that I began to write last week because nearly all of my criticisms have become moot. As Phil Simms aptly noted, how in the hell did the Cowboys put up 41 points on THAT defense?!
The Steelers O-line obviously did an inadequate job of protecting Roethlisberger, and I have heard the name Winston Justice come up in more than a few comparisons. Nevertheless, the Eagles front 7 were absolutely masterful. They literally could not have done things any better as far as I'm concerned. They were not only responsible for 8 of the 9 sacks against Pittsburgh, they were a brick wall in the face of Willie Parker, who was held to 20 yards on 13 carries. Through 3 games, the Eagles lead the league in run defense, allowing a mere 45.7 yards per game. And it's not like they've been up against crap RBs either; Steven Jackson, Marion Barber and Willie Parker are some of the best in the NFL. And more amazingly, despite giving up 8 trillion points to Dallas, the Eagles overall D is 4th in the NFL.
Along that vein, I think the Eagles are living up to that well after week 3. The Cowboys game reminded me of the Pats game last year, both a "moral victory" of sorts if such a concept exists. However, the Birds followed up that Pats 3-point loss with a flat performance against a medicore Seahawks team, and I was afraid something similar would happen this week against the Steelers, especially with having the short practice week. (To be fair of course, the disastrous Seahawks loss may have had a litttttle something to do with AJ Feeley's 4-interception shitfest.) If anything, the 2008 Eagles in contrast took the MNF loss and built on it, plugging the holes that clearly existed in that game and making vast improvements in the proceeding game. This is the first time in a long time that I haven't felt like the Eagles were taking themselves out of games mentally. Where last season they seemed to dwell on poor past performances and continue to underperform (Green Bay, anyone?), this season they seem to have only used it as motivation.
Now that I've finished gushing about how awesomely wonderful our squad is... I've gotta at least address the offense, at least their last 5 quarters compared to their first 7 of the season. First, I don't blame McNabb for the Cowboys loss, and neither should you. McNabb had a stupid fumble at a bad time, but for the love of God people, the defense and special teams gave up 41 points, there's only so much you can ask of your QB, he's not a freaking miracle-worker. And to say that he can't finish games is absurd. I love my fellow Eagles fans, but some of them are so quick to forget the MANY times that McNabb has led them down the field to 4th quarter victories and only dwell on the times he's come up short. My absolute favorite thing about the Cowboys game was how mobile McNabb looked. It helped that the O-line gave him good protection, but he looked like vintage McNabb, didn't he?! He was using spin moves, side-to-side moves, I mean he looked seriously confident on foot and I am really looking to see how that benefits him this season.
Yes, the last drive on offense was ugly. Yes, McNabb should never have taken that DeMarcus Ware sack. But it would be unfair to only focus on the 4th quarter, when the QB and O-line played a very, very good game the rest of the night- prior to the last drive, McNabb was only sacked twice against a vicious pass rush, and I was impressed how much time the O-line gave him in the pocket. So despite the lackluster last few drives, I still give the Eagles offense and particular Donovan McNabb an A for the Cowboys game.
The O in the Steelers game is a little more confusing to dissect. First, the Steelers were far and away the best D we've faced so far. And second, Westbrook left the game one play into the 2nd quarter. There are really almost no words to describe how utterly crucial and indispensable B-West is to the Eagles, even more so than McNabb in my opinion. Buckhalter did a noble job of replacing him after he left the game, but there is no one else who commands the coverage that Westbrook does, which is what makes him so valuable. Fortunately, as far as injuries go, this one sounds like it could be worse, and Westbrook has been walking without crutches. I'll be curious to see whether he plays this Sunday night against Chicago, but I'm far more concerned with his health down the stretch. And... it's just the Bears, right?? Anyway, my overall conclusion on the Eagles O against the Steelers is that we shouldn't be worried. Reid admitted that he and Marty Mornhinweg were conservative with the play-calling in the second half, given the spectacular defensive play and the fact that the Eagles were opening a make-shift ER on the sidelines to handle the offensive players going down by the dozen. The Birds face another tough D in the Bears this week, but I'm confident that they'll be OK offensively.
And finally, how could I possibly discuss the O without a word about DeSean Jackson? That word is... IDIOT. Yes, I believe he is and will continue to be a very good receiver and I'm glad we have him, especially with the injuries to Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown (Brown was in for a few plays but had no catches on Sunday). Nevertheless, for an otherwise smart guy who went to Berkeley, he's an idiot. And I worry that he's got some TO/Ocho Cinco crazy-in-a-destructive-way in him. In fact, I was all set to buy myself a shiny new DeSean Jackson jersey, but after this past week wisely changed my mind and went with Stewart Bradley (which I will hopefully be debuting at the Redskins game at the Linc in 12 days, but who's counting?) But anyway, the immeasurable arrogance displayed by Jackson when he casually flipped the ball behind him a YARD before reaching the end zone against the Cowboys speaks for itself. And for those of you who missed SportsCenter and Jackson's similarly moronic swan dive a yard shy of the end zone in high school, I encourage you to check that out here. Jackson's idiocy was sealed in my mind this past Sunday when he caught a pass late in the 4th quarter when the Eagles were trying to drain the clock and he ran straight for the sidelines, stopping the clock. IDIOT. But whatever, he's a great receiver, blah blah blah. Just use a minimal amount of common sense from here on out, buddy.