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Confused Eagles Offense Falls to Saints 48-22

By C.J. Hecht

With Donovan McNabb sidelined with a rib injury, the Eagles lacked an offensive identity as they fell to the Saints 48-22. Kevin Kolb was serviceable in the first half with a 65 yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson on the Birds’ first possession. After exchanging field position for the majority of the second quarter, the Saints rallied down the field on three plays to extend their lead to 17-10 with 40 seconds remaining in the half. This is where Kolb began to show something, as he led the Eagles 60 yards down the field with one time out to a field goal to cut the Saints lead to four at 17-13.
Then, the wheels fell off the wagon. To start the first half newly acquired cornerback and kick returner Ellis Hobbs fumbled the kickoff. The Saints recovered, and you absolutely can not give Drew Brees a short field. The lead was then stretched to 24-13 in a matter of seconds. The following possession for the Eagles was not any prettier, but this time the offense had the opportunity to touch the ball. Kevin Kolb was the party at fault as he under threw an out route to DeSean Jackson, having the pass intercepted by Saints LB Scott Shanle. Once again, the Saints took advantage extending their lead to 31-14. Suddenly, with the passing of roughly five football minutes a 17-13 game turned into a 31-13 game.
Nothing got any better for Philadelphia as the Saints coasted to a victory the rest of the game. Many blamed the defense for the loss, but I blame the special teams and the offense. The defense was serviceable, certainly not as sharp as they were against Carolina, but Jack Delhomme wasn’t throwing the ball directly to them either. The secondary could have been better, but shutting down Brees and a potent Saints offense is no easy task. The play of the linebackers and the defensive line was decent. Akeem Jordan came up with an athletic interception in the second quarter and the defensive line managed to get bring down Brees twice despite a conservative game plan from defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.
In regards to the special teams, there was an illegal block in the back on almost every return. On one play, in which DeSean Jackson fielded a punt inside his own five yard line (which should never happen anyway), the Saints got their choice of two illegal block in the back penalties. This severely hurt the Eagles’ field position on a consistent basis in a game where they may have needed it most with Kolb starting his first regular season game. Hobbs’ kickoff return fumble was huge too, resulting in a lot of pressure on a young and inexperienced quarterback. He absolutely felt the pressure trailing 24-13 following the Saints score off the Hobbs fumble, as he promptly threw an interception which was forced and rushed.
Brian Westbrook only had 12 carries, certainly not enough for the team’s most explosive offensive threat. Kolb was mediocre, but improved from what we have seen from him before. Then again, there was only one direction he could go after a terrible regular season debut last season in Baltimore. Still, even observing him throughout the past couple of preseasons, this was one of Kolb’s better games. There was absolutely something for both Kolb and the Eagles to take away from this ball game. With that said, he still has a ton to learn and there is no guarantee he will ever take the steps he needs to take to become the next Eagles starting quarterback. Despite clamoring from Eagles fans at times, the team had no other options at quarterback. Michael Vick was serving the final game of his suspension and new signee Jeff Garcia could not have felt too confident with his understanding of Andy Reid’s suddenly over complex and confusing offensive schemes.
Now I do believe that the wildcat formation can have a strong benefit for a team, as it surprises defenses and keeps them off-balance. In the second quarter nearly every other play was one out of the wildcat, as the Eagles were perhaps the most consistent and successful with it then ever before. The formation, however, needs to be used selectively, and is something where a little goes a long way. Let’s go back to the infamous game last year where the Miami Dolphins went into New England and took down the Patriots with the help of Ronnie Brown’s arms and legs. The Fins used the formation under ten times. But four of the times it was used, they went for touchdowns. It is not something I'd recommend resorting to on a consistent basis.
The wildcat formation also poses some durability issues as well. Let’s consider the life of DeSean Jackson on Sundays. He returns punts, he plays quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. He takes hit after hit, and I’m not sure if I want my number one wide receiver getting hit that often. It is a long season and to incorporate Jackson such a large chunk of the offense could be a mistake in the long run. Is he going to be able to play 16 games with this role in the offense? We’ve seen Andy Reid do this before with running back Brian Westbrook and we have seen the consequences. He originally used him on punt returns, as a receiver, and primarily as a running back. However, it in 2005 it got to the point where he accounted for more than 50% of the Eagles offense. He was their leading receiver in 2006. That’s a lot to ask for from one player physically. Recently, Westbrook is often absent at practices, injured, or not receiving the amount of touches he should due to these issues. He has never played in all 16 games. Let’s not do the same to DeSean Jackson, Andy.
Further along the lines of play calling, there were just some downright odd plays yesterday. Did anyone notice the one player where Andy Reid lined up with 3 separate groups of lineman? One split left, one split right, and one placed where the full offensive line is normally positioned. This may be pushing it. The wildcat is one thing, but it does get to a point where it is counterproductive. Maybe this new offense will look better next week with the inclusion of Michael Vick. Moreover, there was a wildcat play where DeSean took the snap, sprinted left to flip the football to Westbrook, who proceeded to flip it back to Kolb. Kolb then attempted to throw the ball off his back foot across the length of the football field. As FOX’s Troy Aikman commented during Sunday's broadcast, it looks like Andy Reid may have had too much time on his hands this offseason. I promote the use of the wildcat, but don’t use it on a regular basis or take an already complicated formation design and make it even more confusing. The risks are going to outweigh the rewards.

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