Playoff Preview: Philadelphia Eagles

At one point, the Philadelphia Eagles had lost five of six games and seemed all but dead after the season-ending loss of Donovan McNabb. But Jeff Garcia rediscovered the magic that made him an All-Pro in San Francisco and directed them to an NFC East title and the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. Bear Report takes a look at Andy Reid's club as they host the Giants in the wild card round.

Rushing Offense
The Eagles are 11th in the NFL in rushing offense, averaging 124 yards per game. Always known as a pass-first team, Philly finally bought into the running game in the second half of the season and relied on tailback Brian Westbrook more than ever. He set career-highs in attempts (240), yards (1,217), and receptions (77) and was flat-out robbed of his second trip to the Pro Bowl. Westbrook was always considered too fragile to be an every-down workhorse in the NFL, but he had six 100-yard rushing games and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Fullback Thomas Tapeh isn't on the field very much because Philly runs so many one-back sets, but backup tailback Correll Buckhalter finally shook the injury bug and averaged 4.2 yards per carry in spot duty.

Passing Offense
The Eagles are 3rd in the NFL in passing offense, averaging 257.4 yards per game. This team was supposed to be dead in the water after MVP candidate Donovan McNabb was lost for the season with a knee injury, but Jeff Garcia led Philly on a five-game winning streak to end 2006 and might be the league's hottest quarterback heading into the playoffs. After looking lost in Cleveland and Detroit the last two years, Garcia put together a passer rating of 95.8 in Andy Reid's version of the west coast offense by throwing 10 touchdowns against only two interceptions. The ball is spread around quite liberally in this passing game, but the trade for Donte' Stallworth (38 catches for 725 yards) and the emergence of Reggie Brown (46 for 816) gave both McNabb and Garcia two dependable targets on the outside. Tight end L.J. Smith caught 50 passes of his own and is a legitimate red zone threat (five touchdowns).

Rushing Defense
The Eagles are 26th in the NFL in rushing defense, averaging 136.4 yards allowed per game. Veteran linebacker Jeremiah Trotter cracked the century mark in tackles for the sixth time in eight seasons, leading the team with 113. Dhani Jones and rookie Omar Gaither are the other starting LBs, but they rank only fifth and sixth on the team in tackles, respectively. Pro Bowl free safety Brian Dawkins was all over the field once again, making 98 stops and intercepting four passes. At defensive tackle, Mike Patterson has done pretty well defending the run as evidenced by his 52 tackles, but Darwin Walker (six sacks) has been more effective rushing the passer and can be beaten on the ground.

Passing Defense
The Eagles are 9th in the NFL in passing defense, averaging 191.7 yards allowed per game. Darren Howard is the big name at defensive end and contributed five sacks on the season, but youngster Trent Cole has been a pleasant surprise and leads the club with eight QB takedowns. Reserve end Juqua Thomas has also gotten into the pass-rush act with six sacks of his own. Cornerback Lito Sheppard will be going to the Pro Bowl after a six-INT performance in 2006, although Sheldon Brown has not been nearly as effective on the other side of the field. Sean Considine has replaced former All-Pro Michael Lewis as the starter at strong safety and finished third on the team with 86 tackles.

Special Teams
Veteran kicker David Akers did not have his most productive season in 2006, but he still connected on 18 of 23 field goal tries and scored 102 points. Although his leg strength does not appear to be what it once was considering he didn't even attempt a kick beyond 49 yards. Punter Dirk Johnson averaged a career-best 42.6 yards this year, but that was still only good for 24th in the NFL. Reno Mahe and Dexter Wynn handled the majority of the kickoff returns for Philly, but they were unspectacular in averaging 22.2 and 20.1 yards per attempt, respectively. They also handled the punt return duties, but Mahe's best this year was just 23 yards, and Wynn never took one back longer than 22 yards.

JC


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