Behind Enemy Lines: Eagles, Part II

Viking Update asked and Chris Steuber of answered the questions surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles as they prepare for the Minnesota Vikings. What's the status of Donovan McNabb, how did his development compare to Tarvaris Jackson's. What about Brian Westbrook and that aggressive defense?

Tim Yotter: It almost seems like everyone expects Donovan McNabb to not be in Philadelphia after this season. What is his status there and has he worn out his welcome?

Chris Steuber:
The writing is on the wall and every day it's becoming bolder that he won't be here beyond this season. If the Eagles got off to a tremendous start, a start that would captivate the city of Philadelphia, then yeah, I could see McNabb coming back. But when they drafted Kevin Kolb this past April, that was the beginning of the end for McNabb as an Eagle. I think there is a 50/50 divide between the fans. Some fans want McNabb to be the quarterback until he decides to retire, while others want a new era to begin. If I had to assess the situation and give you an answer about McNabb's future, I'd say this is his last year in Philadelphia.

TY: Besides his struggles with injuries, do you see other signs that any of his skills are slipping?

I think the injuries have caused his skills to diminish. McNabb has never been the most accurate quarterback, but there was always the threat of him making a play with his legs. The one thing I've noticed this season is that he's unable to escape the pocket like he used too. He doesn't have that burst of speed any longer and that's hurt his game and caused him to take more sacks. McNabb's decision-making is questionable this year. He's always been a conservative passer who doesn't like to turn the ball over, but this year he's locking in on one receiver and not going through his progressions.

TY: How has Hank Baskett been used and how good is Philadelphia feeling about trading Billy McMullen for him?

Billy McWho? When that trade was made prior to the 2006 season, many believed it was a throwaway deal, including myself. But Baskett proved he was a player. He had a really good rookie year, as he hauled in 22 receptions for 464 yards and two touchdowns. This year, he's played sparingly, but hasn't been utilized to his full potential. The Eagles offense has struggled for most of the season, except for their unexplained 56-point output against Detroit, and they haven't given Baskett a chance to succeed. Baskett is behind Reggie Brown, Kevin Curtis, and Jason Avant on the depth chart. I think he should get more opportunities to make plays, because he is a big receiver with great hands and leaping ability. At this point, the Eagles have to find an answer to their offense, most notably, their passing game.

TY: Has there been a noticeable difference in the philosophy of Philly's offense since Brad Childress went to the Vikings. If so, how?

Not really. It's basically the same offense with a few more wrinkles. The Eagles try to run the ball more, but it all comes back to the passing game. Things look different this year for the Eagles because McNabb is struggling. If McNabb was the same player he was during the 2004 season, the year Philadelphia went to the Super Bowl, the offense may look a little different. But overall, the scheme and philosophy haven't changed.

TY: The Vikings have begun to motion Adrian Peterson out of the backfield lately. How long did it take Brian Westbrook to become really effective in doing that?

Westbrook was a natural receiver out of the backfield when he came to Philadelphia as a rookie from Villanova. He was effective from the beginning. The biggest question surrounding Westbrook was "could he be an every-down back?" Early in his career he suffered a few freak injuries and gained the label of being "injury-prone." Even today, Westbrook still has to deal with his doubters who don't believe he's a featured back. He's probably one of the most exciting players in the league who doesn't get the respect he deserves. But to answer your question, Westbrook was a tremendous weapon in the passing game from the beginning, but it took the Eagles a couple of years to finally feature his full potential.

TY: As the Vikings struggle through the development of Tarvaris Jackson, what were some of the issues the Eagles faced in developing Donovan McNabb and was there a point early on when he was close to getting the hook?

When the Eagles drafted McNabb in 1999, it was understood that veteran quarterback Doug Pederson was going to be the starting quarterback to start the year. But when you draft a quarterback second overall in the draft, when you decide it's his time to run the team, you live with the results, win or lose. The Vikings' situation with Jackson is different from what the Eagles situation was with McNabb. McNabb was the future and everyone knew it. Jackson was a second-round developmental player from a small school who they believed could one day be a starting quarterback at the NFL level. He still has a long way to go, but McNabb had a rough first season and developed into a tremendous player with playmaking ability.

TY: There seemed to be a lot of discussion this week about Jim Johnson's aggressiveness. Is that still proving to be a good approach or has the defense been burned deep too often?

Jim Johnson's defense is predicated on being aggressive. It's his nature. He likes to get pressure on the quarterback and disrupt the opposition's flow by bringing the blitz from all angles. The Eagles defense hasn't been the problem this season, except for the last 1:50 in last week's devastating loss to the Bears. The Eagles haven't really gotten burned deep this season. The defense gives up some big plays, but they usually hold their ground in the red zone. They don't give up many touchdowns, and force their opponent to kick a field goal. The defense has some holes, especially in the secondary, but overall they've been consistent this season.

TY: The Eagles don't seem to be getting much out of their draft picks yet this season. What is the status there?

The Eagles rarely get production out of their rookies, because the coaching staff doesn't give them the opportunity to play. The Eagles usually draft players for the future, not for the present. I don't think you'll see any of the rookies from this year's class make an impact this season.

TY: The Vikings offered a better contract to WR Kevin Curtis than the Eagles did, according to Brad Childress. Besides his three-touchdown game, how has Curtis done and has he ever given a reason for his decision (other than Philly was expected to be more competitive than Minnesota this year)?

Curtis has been good, a little inconsistent, but good. He was incredible against the Lions during the Eagles 56-point assault, and caught 11 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns. I believe he has big-play ability, but in the West Coast Offense you're limited as a receiver because the quarterback spreads the ball out to everyone. So far this season, Curtis has managed 29 receptions for 506 yards and four touchdowns. When Curtis visited Philadelphia during the offseason, he really liked what he heard from the coaching staff as far as the offensive scheme. I'm not sure why he chose the Eagles over the Vikings, but looking at the quarterback situation during the time he made his decision, I'm sure, in his mind, Philly had more potential than Minnesota.

TY: For a guy who has gotten very little name recognition, Trent Cole already has seven sacks. Give us some background on him, and is he the Eagles' best defensive player already?

Cole was the Eagles fifth-round pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. He was a linebacker/defensive end at the University of Cincinnati and was drafted by the Eagles to be a situational pass rusher. He's really benefited from Jim Johnson's defensive rotation, because it keeps him fresh and strong throughout the game. He's a great athlete with a high motor and has developed into a tremendous pass rusher that teams have to pay attention too. He's the Eagles' best defensive end, but I still think Brian Dawkins and Lito Sheppard, when they're healthy, are the best defensive players on this team.

Chris Steuber is the editor of and Tim Yotter is the publisher of

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