Philadelphia Eagles scouting report: Rushing game is dangerous

Jan. 4, 2011

Following is a scouting report of the Philadelphia Eagles based on interviews with several coaches and scouts who have studied them recently:

Rushing offense

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg calls plays in the version of the West Coast offense that coach Andy Reid brought from the Mike Holmgren-coached Packers in 1999. The Eagles are explosive and dangerous (No. 2 in the NFL in yards, No. 3 in points) and have one of the best run games in the NFL statistically. They are No. 5 in yards per game and No. 1 in yards per carry, though a good part of that is a function of having Michael Vick as their quarterback. Vick ranks No. 35 in the NFL in rushing (676 yards) despite playing in only 12 games, and not only does his running inflate their rushing statistics, the threat of his bootlegs keeps defenses honest and creates running room for halfback LeSean McCoy. McCoy (5-11, 208) is a slightly bigger, more physical version of the excellent all-around back he replaced, Brian Westbrook. McCoy is elusive, good in space and finished No. 14 in the league in rushing (1,080 yards, 5.2-yard average), though he’s a poor blocker in blitz pickup. The Eagles mediocre-at-best offensive line suffered a key loss in the opener against the Packers with center Jamaal Jackson’s season-ending knee injury. Right guard Max Jean-Gilles (6-3, 358), who has been a weak link, is at less than full strength because of an ankle injury.

Passing offense

The Eagles are 8-3 with Vick as their starter, and in one of the losses, against Washington, he was unable to finish after sustaining a rib injury in the first quarter. The offense took off when he replaced Kevin Kolb (concussion) in the opener against the Packers. Vick is a more refined passer at age 30 than he ever was with Atlanta while retaining his exceptional running talents. He finished the regular season with the NFL’s fourth-best passer rating (100.2 points), a career-best plus-15 differential in touchdown passes to interceptions (21 to 6) and will be the NFC starter in the Pro Bowl. He has one of the NFL’s strongest throwing arms, and his accuracy has improved dramatically — his 62.6 completion percentage is nearly nine full points better than his career 53.7 percent rate coming into the season. He sat out last week because of a bruised quad, said he was about 75 percent of full strength earlier this week, and will be ready to go Sunday. He has excellent speed at both outside receivers with DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Jackson, who’s playing on a sore foot, has a slight build (5-10, 175) but probably is the most dangerous big-play threat in the game, as his 22.5-yard average per catch attests. Maclin (70 catches, 13.8-yard average) doesn’t have Jackson’s speed but is bigger (6-0, 198) and runs well enough (4.48 seconds in the 40 at the 2009 NFL scouting combine). Tight end Brent Celek (6-4, 255) isn’t overly fast or athletic but gets open, even downfield, and usually catches well. His receptions are down from last season (42 as opposed to 76 in ’09) but his 12.2-yard average is excellent for a tight end. The Eagles need Vick’s scrambling talent because their offensive line struggles picking up blitzes and stunts. Right tackle Winston Justice and left tackle Jason Peters are athletic but susceptible to bull rushes, and Jean-Gilles is slow.

Rushing defense

Second-year coordinator Sean McDermott runs the same 4-3 scheme in name as the highly respected and successful Jimmy Johnson did before him, but isn’t as exotic or aggressive with his safeties and cornerbacks on blitzes. The Eagles finished this season No. 12 in the NFL in yards allowed and tied for No. 21 in points allowed, about the same last year’s Nos. 12 and 19, respectively, in McDermott’s first season as coordinator. There were reports the 36-year-old McDermott’s job might be in jeopardy in October, especially with Dick Jauron on staff as a senior assistant, but that talk died down. In McDermott’s defense, he lacks game-changing talent on his side of the ball. Defensive end Brandon Graham, the Eagles’ first-round draft pick, was emerging as the defense’s best player before he went down with a season-ending knee injury Dec. 12. Rookie safety Nate Allen, a second-round pick, also was playing well when his season ended a week later because of a patellar-tendon tear. Their best run defender, middle linebacker Stewart Bradley, probably will miss his fourth-straight game because of a dislocated elbow. Rookie Jamar Chaney, a sixth-round draft pick, has been OK in Bradley’s place and might find his way on the field even if Bradley plays.

Passing defense

The Eagles rank No. 14 in yards allowed per game and per pass, but their ability to take the ball away has saved them. Their 23 interceptions ranks second in the league behind only New England’s 25. Cornerback Asante Samuel, who’s headed for the Pro Bowl, is a quality cover man who will take some chances and is a less-than-willing tackler in the run game. He’s tied for second in the league in interceptions with seven. Dimitri Patterson (5-10, 190), signed off the streets in January ’08, and Joselio Hanson (5-9, 185), a sixth-year pro, are liabilities at the other starter and nickel corner for a secondary that’s allowed 30 touchdown passes, which was third-worst in the NFL. The best rusher is defensive end Trent Cole (6-3, 270), who is a big and athletic end. He has 10 sacks this season and 52 over the past five years. No one else on the roster has more than four sacks.

Special teams

The Eagles have one of the game’s most respected special-teams coaches in Bobby April, a premier kicker in David Akers, and the league’s scariest punt returner this side of Devin Hester in Jackson. Reid fired Ted Dashier as his special teams coach when he was able to convince the free-agent April to join his coaching staff last January. Jackson hasn’t returned punts full time this season, but with the money on the line, the Packers have to assume he’ll be handling that this week. He’s averaging 11.6 yards on his 20 returns this season, including scoring the game winning touchdown on a last-play 65-yarder against the New York Giants that clinched the NFC East Division title two weeks ago. He has four punt-return touchdowns in three NFL seasons. Akers, the NFL’s all-decade kicker of the 2000s, still has a strong leg at age 36 and has made 84.2 percent of his field goal attempts (32-for-38), which is slightly better than his career mark of 81.9 percent.

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