Scout Report: Philadelphia Eagles News and Notes
Even without Terrell Owens, the Eagles' offense has rolled through the playoffs, racking up 54 points in double-digit wins over Minnesota and Atlanta.
Running back Brian Westbrook has averaged 5.9 yards per carry and 6.6 yards per touch in the playoffs. Quarterback Donovan McNabb has a 111.3 passer rating. He has thrown four touchdown passes and no interceptions and has completed 64.4 percent of his passes.
But McNabb and Co. will be facing a much more formidable defense Sunday when they take on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX than they did in wins over the Falcons and Vikings.
Not only more formidable, but different. The Patriots are one of just six teams in the league that employ a 3-4 defensive scheme. The Eagles have gone up against a 3-4 just twice this season and the results don't provide a lot of optimism as far as Sunday is concerned.
They played Baltimore and Pittsburgh, both 3-4 teams, in Weeks 8 and 9. They beat the Ravens, 15-10, but managed just 298 total yards and converted only 2 of 11 third-down opportunities. McNabb completed just 18 of 34 passes.
A week later, they were bludgeoned by the Steelers in a 27-3 loss in Pittsburgh, getting just seven first downs and 113 total yards and converting none of their eight third-down attempts. McNabb, who completed 15 of 24 passes for 109 yards, was sacked four times and failed to throw a touchdown pass for only one of two times all season.
"I'm not sure it was so much the 3-4 as the fact that the Ravens and Steelers were two of the better defenses in the league," said offensive coordinator Brad Childress. "Both have good players and play good team defense.
"I'd say the same thing about New England. They play off each other very well. It's team defense and they all understand where everybody is at. They no where the liabilities are. They're a smart football team."
It appears the Eagles will have wide receiver Terrell Owens back for Sunday's game, though it remains to be seen how effective he will be or how many snaps he'll be on the field for.
One player they definitely will have - and at full strength - is Westbrook. He missed the Baltimore game with a cracked rib and only had nine touches a week later against the Steelers. Since then, Westbrook has been on a tear. He has notched eight consecutive games with 100-plus rushing and receiving yards.
"Brian is so versatile," Childress said. "He can play every position on the field, whether it's the widest position in the slot, next to the tackle as a split back, as a single back, or an I-tailback. You don't find many people like that. You see many people put there as decoys. But he's able to strike from all those positions. I think his versatility is what impresses me the most about him."
Childress and coach Andy Reid move Westbrook all over the formation, trying to get him in coverage mismatches against linebackers and safeties.
The problem this week is the Patriots' linebackers are as good a group as there is in the league.
"They've got great athletes running that scheme," said left guard Artis Hicks. "They've got great linebackers. With that 3-4, you've got to have fast, athletic linebackers and they do."
SERIES HISTORY: 10th meeting. Eagles lead the series, 6-3. Last meeting was in Week 2 of the '03 season in Philadelphia. Patriots took advantage of six Eagles turnovers to cruise to a 31-10 victory.
- Eagles players and coaches weren't very happy with wide receiver Freddie Mitchell, who gave the Patriots some prime bulletin board material late last
week when, in an interview on ESPN, he admitted to not knowing the names of
the Pats' cornerbacks and then said he "had something" for the Patriots'
easily-riled strong safety Rodney Harrison. Asked whether he regretted making
the comments, Mitchell said, "Never. I never feel bad for anything I
say. It's interesting though how they blew it up. It's cool. Whatever happens,
- On Sunday, Donovan McNabb will become only the third African-American to
start at quarterback in a Super Bowl. McNabb has not tried to downplay the
fact that, if the Eagles win Sunday, he'll become only the second Super Bowl-winning
black quarterback in history (Doug Williams was the other). "This is
history being made," he said. "To be in that short list of only
three who have played in the Super Bowl, it says a lot. It all started with
Doug. He gave us an opportunity. And doors have been opened. What (Tennesee's)
Steve McNair was able to do at the Super Bowl, it gives the kids now, at the
collegiate level, high school, Pop Warner, it gives them an opportunity to
dream and have aspirations to play at this level. And Winning a Super Bowl."
- Tight end Jeff Thomason, who was lured away from his job as an assistant project manager with a New Jersey home construction company last week to replace injured tight end Chad Lewis, is expected to play about 15 to 20 snaps Sunday against New England. He'll be the club's No. 2 tight end behind L.J. Smith. Thomason had been out of football for two years when the Eagles called him. But he was in shape (he runs triathlons) and was familiar with the Eagles' offense (he played for them from 2000 to 2002). "We knew Jeff was a fit with us and we knew he was in shape," coach Andy Reid said. "And he (lived) right across the bridge (from Philadelphia)."
BY THE NUMBERS: 11 -- Donovan McNabb has had a passer rating of higher than 100 in 11 of the Eagles' 18 games this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I wouldn't mind sitting in a chair in the Copa Cabana, having a cold beverage on the beach and just relax. Football has really drawn a lot out of me with the politics and stuff like that. I just want to relax and get away from all that." - Eagles wide receiver Freddie Mitchell on his post-football aspirations.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
It appears that wide receiver Terrell Owens will play Sunday against New England, though it's uncertain how much he'll play and how effective he'll be just six weeks removed from ankle surgery. He probably won't start -- Freddie Mitchell and Todd Pinkston will open the game as the Eagles' two starting wideouts. When Owens enters the game, Mitchell will move to the slot, which was his role before Owens got hurt in mid-December.
With backup tight end Chad Lewis out with a broken foot, the Eagles likely will cut down on their two-tight end sets against the Patriots.
- LB Keith Adams, who has played well in the playoffs in place of injured
Mark Simoneau, is expected to start Sunday at WLB.
- WR Terrell Owens is expected to play Sunday against the Patriots, though
it still is uncertain what his role will be or how effective he will be. He
- RB Brian Westbrook still is a possibility to return punts Sunday against
the Patriots. Rookie Dexter Wynn has been the club's primary punt returner
the second half of the season and in the playoffs.
- DE Derrick Burgess, who had two sacks in the NFC Championship Game after
being switched from the right side to the left side, will start at RE Sunday,
but probably will occasionally flip-flop with LE Jevon Kearse.
- WR Freddie Mitchell, who has been starting in Terrell Owens' absence, is expected to start Sunday, but will move back to the slot if Owens is able to play.
GAMEPLAN: Both of the Patriots' starting cornerbacks are out, which is something the Eagles hope to exploit early. They will move Brian Westbrook all around the formation and try to take advantage of coverage mismatches against the linebackers. They'll do the same with tight end L.J. Smith. They think they can have some running success inside against the Patriots' three-man front, particularly if end Richard Seymour isn't able to play. Defensively, the Eagles will focus on shutting down running back Corey Dillon and putting quarterback Tom Brady in obvious passing situations. Brady is as good as there is as recognizing the blitz, but the Eagles will send extra men after him early and often.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Eagles Gs Artis Hicks and Jermane Mayberry v. Patriots LBs Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson. If the Eagles are going to be able to run the ball inside, they must win these two matchups. ... Eagles WRs Terrell Owens, Todd Pinkston, Freddie Mitchell and Greg Lewis v. Patriots CBs. Eagles receivers must be able to get off the line of scrimmage and into their routes.
INJURY IMPACT: WLB Mark Simoneau still hasn't completely recovered from a high ankle sprain, but Keith Adams has done a superb job as his replacement and is expected to start Sunday. ... WR Terrell Owens intends to play Sunday just seven weeks after major ankle surgery. If he is anywhere close to 100 percent, he could have a major influence on the outcome.
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