As the July 21st opening of training camp approaches and the offseason comes to an end, we pretty much know all the major pieces that we will see lining up for our Eagles come opening day. We can now start to analyze the line up and figure out the question marks facing Big Red for the upcoming season. This post will focus on the offense and an upcoming post will look at the defense.
1.Will The Red Zone Offense Improve? – Last year, the Birds were 24th in the NFL in TD efficiency in the red zone. Clearly, if the Birds want to become a contender again, they cannot leave as many points on the field. One step in the front office’s plan to rectify the red zone problem included tagging Tight End LJ Smith with the franchise designation. The Birds’ brass claimed that LJ would be a key to opening things up in the red zone. I partially agree. Having a legit tight end in the game will occupy the linebackers and safeties opening up the passing lanes for slant patterns and swing passes to B West. However, I believe two other factors need improvement before the Birds will see an increase in their Red Zone efficiency: McNabb’s accuracy and Reid’s play calling.
D Mac has to do a better job of putting the ball into small openings. My biggest complaint about McNabb throughout his career has been his unwillingness and/or inability to put the ball in small windows. Since everything tightens up in the red zone, we will need to see more “stick throws” from D Mac. Also, would it kill Big Red to bring some imagination to his play calling in the red zone? I cannot recall the last time the Birds scored an easy red zone TD due to a brilliant play call. To paraphrase Andy, he has to do a better job of putting his guys in position to make a play.
2.Will A Third Receiver Step Up? – As much as the fan base grumbles about our starting receivers, it looks like we are going to have to accept that Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown are our starters. There are no Pro Bowlers walking through that door to suit for our Birds. I cannot really put my finger on why, but I believe that Curtis and Reggie Brown can be functional starters, especially if a third receiver that compliments them is developed. It would appear that a big, physical slot receiver would be a great compliment to our smaller, quicker starting wide outs. If we are to have a good deal of success on offense this year, this is the season that either Hank Baskett or Jason Avant has to assert themselves. They both have the physical tools to become successful slot receivers. I would like to see D Mac and Big Red show a little faith in both guys to accelerate their development. By the way, I am not counting on DeSean Jackson producing much on the offensive side of the ball as a rookie. Look for him to make his mark solely as a punt/kick returner in 2008.
3.Will The Offensive Tackles Stay Healthy For Another Year? – The Birds’ venerable tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan were superb and mostly healthy last season. However, they will be turning 34 and 35 respectively in November. Can the Birds realistically expect both to play at the same level as last year? We better hope they do not show any slippage. I think you will recall the nightmare that is the first tackle off the bench should one of them go down. One of the great errors of this past draft was failing to spend one high round draft pick on a tackle to groom.
4.Will A Back Up Running Back Be Utilized? – It is an unquestioned fact throughout the league that the Birds’ most indispensable weapon is Brian Westbrook. In his first five years, the Birds pretty much treated him like fine china and tried to keep his number of touches at a manageable level. Last year was totally different. He set career highs in both rushing attempts and receptions. As great as B West is, I would like to see his number of touches reduced. I think Big Red agrees with me as over the last two years he has brought in Lorenzo Booker (a similar back to B West) and Tony Hunt (a big back who was underutilized last years). Developing a reliable back up would not only preserve B West, but it could diversify the offense and give Reid more play calling options.
5.Who Are We Kidding? The Biggest Question Is Which Donovan McNabb Shows Up? – Let’s be clear. If the same Donovan McNabb shows up that played most of last season, then the Birds are basically cooked and we can start getting ready for the Kevin Kolb era in 2009. However, I really believe that we will see the Donovan McNabb we have become accustomed to seeing in Midnight Green. Coming off an offseason of rehabbing his ACL injury, McNabb struggled most of last season as he never looked healthy or comfortable with his receivers. Towards the end of the year, he started to move around the pocket a little better and his level of play increased greatly. After another complete offseason to recuperate and practice with his receivers, it would appear reasonable to expect a return to form by D Mac.
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