It's been a while since we've sat down with a weekly opponent but with the magnitude of the NFC Title game looming, ROTB had to pick the brain of an Phildelphia Eagles expert. JasonB, from Bleeding Green Nation was kind enough to answer our long-winded questions and head over to their site to check out our answers to his Q&A both today and tomorrow.
ROTB -First let me congratulate all of you Eagles fans. You had some crazy up and downs this season but I know most, if not all, of Cardinal Nation was celebrating when you knocked the Cowboys out of contention. The Eagles seemed to turn their season around with a blowout win over the Cardinals back on Thanksgiving night. The Eagles entered that game sitting literally .500 (5-5-1), but have since won six of seven including three road wins. What's the difference between the pre-Thanksgiving day Eagles and the post-Thanksgiving day Eagles?
First, we were all celebrating when you beat Dallas back in October... so that feeling is mutual. I'd say the biggest difference between the pre-turkey post-turkey Eagles is probably Donovan McNabb. Obviously everyone knows that he was benched that previous Sunday in Baltimore, but re-installed as the starter for the Arizona game. Since then, the guy has been playing with a chip on his shoulder. The benching bothered him and while he won't admit it, I think it motivated him as well.
I think the benching also had a proxy effect on the rest of the team, especially the offense. Since then, several guys on that side of the ball said they felt they were more responsible for McNabb's benching then he was. Since then, we've seen less dropped balls, better pass protection, and a better run game.
ROTB - Looking at the Eagles stats in the playoffs, it looks amazing that they're here in the NFC title game. McNabb has thrown more interceptions than TDs and Brian Westbrook is averaging less than two yards per game. The defense is playing lights out and the offense is doing just enough to win. Do you think the offense gets on track this week and can the defense continue their stellar play?
Well, part of the problem with the Eagles offense has been who they faced. The Vikings are the best run stopping team in all of football. Everyone struggles to run against them and we were no different. The Giants are obviously no slouch either. They had a top 5 defense this year and it's hard to score points against them. I think McNabb has been the victim of some hard lucks picks this postseason, a few tipped passes and what not... For the most part he's been smart with the ball and made plays when he had to, especially on third down.
With all due respect to the way the Cards defense has played recently, they will be by far the lowest ranked defense the Eagles will face in these playoffs. Between the Vikings, Giants, and then possibly the Ravens or Steelers... If the Eagles offense doesn't get fully into gear this weekend, I'm not sure it ever will. Still, I think this defense is playing well enough for them to win anyway.
I don't think it's very surprising that the Eagles are in the title game when you consider their defense is allowing around 12 to 13 points a game. They've only allowed two TDs. It's been almost 2 months since someone scored more than 14 points against this defense.
ROTB - I can't help but think of the Giants of last year when I look at the Eagles situation earlier in the season. There was plenty of speculation that Andy Reid and McNabb were on the their way out of town (like Coughlin and Eli last year) before they turned it around, snuck into the playoffs and find themselves on the doorstep to the Super Bowl. Is that a comparison that you guys have made and did you ever buy into the idea that Reid and/or McNabb's days in Philly were numbered?
Well that's certainly the story that has been written these past couple weeks. Leading up to the game with the Giants, everyone was writing the story "Are the Eagles this year's Giants?" After the game the headline changed to "The Eagles are this year's Giants!" Whether that's true remains to be seen, but this team is playing with the kind of desperation and moxie the Giants showed last year. The Giants did it with defense and so are we.
I don't think Andy Reid was ever in danger of losing his job. Ownership trusts him pretty implicitly and there wasn't much doubt that he'd have another year here. As for McNabb, that's another question. The Eagles drafted a QB in the 2nd round a couple years ago, McNabb's base salary jumps way up next year, and his recent results weren't looking like he was worth that money... So I think there was a chance, if a team came in with a big offer, that McNabb could have been moved in the off season... but that certainly doesn't look like the case now. Eagles owner Jeff Lurie came out after the Dallas game and pretty much put to bed any speculation as to where Reid and McNabb would be.
ROTB - McNabb's never had a true #1 wide receiver, expect for the disaster that was TO for a season or so, but he's an expert on distributing the ball to a wide variety of weapons. Is there a #1 receiver in the trio consisting of Jason Avant, Kevin Curtis and DeSaun Jackson? Also what happened to LJ Smith? Is he hurt or is Celek just a better player?
I suppose there's a chance DeSean Jackson develops into a Santana Moss/Steve Smith type #1 WR that's not too big... but for the most part this is a good group from top to bottom. Jackson has surpassed all expectations in his rookie year. I believe he led all rookies in receiving yards and has been real threat going deep and getting yards after the catch. Kevin Curtis had his first 1,000 yard season last year and when he got healthy this year played really well. Jason Avant is a guy that doesn't have much speed, but he has great hands and will go over the middle against anyone. Avant has caught 22 first down passes this year and I swear 90% of them have been on 3rd down. He just has a knack for finding space over the middle on third downs.
Now, if you got McNabb alone in a room and asked him if he'd prefer that big time #1 guy... I guarnatee he'd say yes... but I think he'd also say that this is his best group of WRs since TO and this group is probably more talented from top to bottom than the TO year was. Obviously he was more talented than any one WR we have now, but every other guy is more talented than his counterpart on that 2004 NFC champion team.
Plus, you can never forget Brian Westbrook. That's a guy that in a given year will catch 90 passes. He's not a WR (although he will line up as one sometimes) but he's a major and very effective part of the passing game.
Here's a couple of quick hit questions:
ROTB - Will Kolb ever open the season as the starting QB?
Possibly, but it won't be next year.
ROTB - Will Jim Johnson ever get a shot at being a head coach?
No. Unfortunately, he's just too old at this point. Teams want young guys and if not young guys, guys with years and years of success as a head coach. I certainly think he would deserve a head coaching job and he's had some interviews through the years... I believe the 49ers chose Mike Nolan over him LOL! But like I said, teams want youth and he just doesn't have that.
Lucky for him, he gets paid more than many head coaches in this league... so I'm sure he's not too upset about it.
ROTB - How many years does Brian Dawkins have left?
Judging by the way he's played the last 2 months and in these playoffs... I'd say at least another year or two. He might not be the player he was in his prime, but I think you'd struggle to find 5 free safeties that played better than him this year.
ROTB - Whatever happened to Fred-Ex?
Actually I think he went into substitute teaching... no lie. He never played in the NFL again... Funny enough, he still blames Donovan McNabb for that. He actually thinks that McNabb has blackballed him from the NFL because he was friends with TO... I know Donovan is a popular guy around the league, but somehow I doubt he cares about what happens to Fredex nor does he have the power to dictate personnel decisions for other franchises...
Many thanks to JasonB and all of the Philly fans who jumped over to ROTB. It's been a fun week and Sunday should be a great game.