NFC East: Will Witherspoon

Did Reid make the right pitch?

March, 25, 2010
3/25/10
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Donovan McNabbJody Gomez/US PresswireMight quarterback Donovan McNabb be on the move? The Eagles are said to be entertaining offers.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- If you were hoping the Donovan McNabb era would officially end in Philadelphia, Tuesday and Wednesday provided watershed moments. Andy Reid, perhaps McNabb’s biggest defender, said he’s all ears if someone wants to trade for the veteran quarterback.

Reid’s statement after the season that McNabb would be his starting quarterback in 2010 was left dangling in the wind, although we’re reviewing tapes to see if his fingers were crossed. I’ve had the sense for the past two months that club president Joe Banner and new general manager Howie Roseman were leaning toward moving McNabb, but it was hard to imagine Reid getting on board.

On Tuesday in a Ritz-Carlton restaurant, Reid sounded the retreat. He told a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist the Eagles were “entertaining” offers on all three quarterbacks, but McNabb was obviously the headliner. Despite the infamous ’08 benching in Baltimore, Reid and McNabb have remained close over the past decade. But apparently someone in the building has convinced Reid that he should at least be open to the idea of moving McNabb while he still holds some trade value.

On Tuesday afternoon, while other head coaches rushed off to tee times, I saw Reid, owner Jeff Lurie, Banner and Roseman huddle for several minutes in a breezeway outside the hotel. About 30 minutes later, Reid was uncharacteristically spilling his guts to a Philadelphia newspaper. At 7 o'clock the next morning, Reid attempted to temper some of his remarks.

“I'm listening," said Reid. "I'm not saying I'm doing anything, but I'm keeping my ears open, which we do on every player. This is no different. ... I mean, Donovan's our No. 1 quarterback, and Kevin [Kolb]'s our No. 2 quarterback, and Michael [Vick]'s our No. 3 quarterback. That's how I feel.”

So this is no different than, say, trading for linebacker Will Witherspoon during the regular season? No, this is way different than any trade Reid’s been involved with. He’s openly admitting that the one player his coaching career is most intertwined with is being shopped. And the point that some folks are missing is that Reid’s also showing immense trust that the 25-year-old Kolb can hit the ground running as the franchise quarterback. (Try not to think about the fact the Eagles will enter 2010 with major questions at center and right guard, Kevin.)

(Read full post)

Eagles release LB Witherspoon

March, 5, 2010
3/05/10
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The Philadelphia Eagles have announced the release of veteran linebacker Will Witherspoon, who came over in a trade for rookie wide receiver Brandon Gibson just before the deadline last season. Witherspoon started at both middle and weakside linebacker.

With Stewart Bradley coming back from a knee injury and Akeem Jordan likely assuming a starting role, Witherspoon became expendable. The former Rams starter helped the Eagles in a pinch and he showed excellent leadership in the locker room.

Eagles' D has a long way to go

February, 11, 2010
2/11/10
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AP Photo/Mike FuentesThe Eagles Asante Samuel may be a Pro-Bowler, but he's not exactly a "shut-down corner."
It's been more than a month since the Eagles' season ended in Arlington, Texas, but we've been able to mention the Donovan McNabb situation on a daily basis. It's one of the most compelling storylines of the NFL offseason, but it's not the most important issue the organization is facing.

If the Eagles don't fix their defense, it really won't matter whether it's McNabb or Kevin Kolb behind center. I've already ruled out Michael Vick as the starter despite at least one report that the Eagles are just dying to pay the man his $5 million in 2010. (Since Vick is hosting at least seven NBA All-Star parties in Dallas this weekend, I'll try to catch up with him.)

The Eagles failed spectacularly in December and early January, in part, because they had no answers for Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jason Witten and Felix Jones. You can blame it on the departure of Brian Dawkins, a season-ending injury to middle linebacker Stewart Bradley or the death of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. But the Eagles weren't the only team in the league to face adversity in '09.

The club can't afford to obsess about the quarterback position this offseason at the expense of the rest of the roster. There's simply too much work to be done on defense. Eagles president Joe Banner told the club's Web site earlier this week that he didn't think the gap between the Eagles and Cowboys was as wide as those final two games indicated. And that sort of sentiment should scare the hell out of Eagles fans.


Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRECoordinator Sean McDermott's Eagles defense needs to find some answers in the offseason.
Sean McDermott's defense had no hope against the Cowboys because there was not a single player who could match up with Witten. Assigning linebackers such as Will Witherspoon and Moise Fokou to cover Witten is an absolute farce. Even if the Eagles accounted for Witten, it just opened things up for Austin and Crayton across the middle.

The return of Bradley will certainly help the Eagles' cause but this defense isn't one player away from making noise in the playoffs. Everyone wants to talk about letting Dawkins get away, but I'd argue that the lack of depth at cornerback is just as big of an issue. You have to admire Sheldon Brown for playing through pain on numerous occasions, but that doesn't cancel out the fact that he was a liability at times.

Asante Samuel will always go to Pro Bowls based on his gaudy interception totals -- and those are important. But Samuel's reluctance to make contact with ball carriers will continue to be a sore spot with coaches and fans. Let's not act like Samuel's a so-called shut-down corner. I'm pretty sure Deion Sanders was the last man to fulfill that role. Samuel is one of the biggest gamblers in the game, which makes the Eagles susceptible to the big play (Austin on the sideline).

I know it's fashionable to talk about taking the "best player available" in the draft, but the Eagles better make sure that player can cover a wide receiver. Who do you guys trust in the Eagles' secondary? I still think Quintin Mikell's a quality player, but he was exposed when he had to line up next to inferior talent.

I think the Eagles would be wise to either trade for a veteran safety or find one in free agency, like the Cowboys did with Gerald Sensabaugh last March. Sean Jones certainly wasn't the answer last offseason and Quintin Demps is firmly entrenched in Andy Reid's doghouse. I think it's extremely difficult to ask a rookie to make an immediate impact at the safety position because of its complexities.

The Eagles were so desperate in the secondary at one point this season that they signed a former Mr. Irrelevant who couldn't stick with the Detroit Lions. I would identify the best two or three cornerbacks in this draft and try to get one of them at No. 24. I know you're not exactly set along the offensive line but teams such as the Colts (and even the Eagles) have shown that you can find starters in the later rounds.

Then there's this little thing about finding another pressure player to take some heat off defensive end Trent Cole. And for the record, I don't think it would be wise to dump a bunch of free-agent money into signing Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, who might be asking for Albert Haynesworth money, which sounds ludicrous to me. Haynesworth, who is a couple years younger than Peppers, signed a contract that included $41 million in guaranteed money.

There's no chance I'd make that type of commitment to Peppers, who had 10.5 sacks for a bad Panthers team in '09. The Eagles spent roughly $30 million on defensive end Jevon Kearse before finally cutting their losses following the '07 season. Kearse was younger than Peppers when he arrived in Philly and he was an enormous disappointment even before a season-ending knee injury in 2006.

The ubiquitous scout turned broadcaster/writer Mike Lombardi has suggested the Eagles trading backup quarterback Kevin Kolb for Browns defensive tackle Shaun Rogers. And isn't a 31-year-old defensive tackle with a checkered past exactly what the Eagles need to finally win a Super Bowl?

No, I'm afraid there won't be a lot of shortcuts available in trying to catch up with Wade Phillips and the Cowboys. Andy Reid and his new boy wonder general manager Howie Roseman are going to have to close the gap via the draft. The Eagles have obviously hit big on offensive players such as DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek and Jeremy Maclin in recent drafts.

Now, they desperately need to rebuild a defense that seemed to become old and slow overnight. Or maybe you agree with Banner in that those two blowouts at the end of the season were an aberration.

Cowboys are the team to beat in playoffs

January, 3, 2010
1/03/10
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Donovan McNabbTim Heitman/US PresswireThe Dallas defense smothered Philadelphia and quarterback Donovan McNabb on Sunday.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- If you were hoping for another tight NFC East battle with a lot on the line, Cowboys Stadium wasn't the place to be Sunday afternoon. The Cowboys not only locked up a home playoff game next Saturday night, but they thoroughly embarrassed an Eagles team that had won its previous six games.

I had my doubts that the Cowboys could beat the Eagles three times in the same season, but that was before I observed their first possession Sunday. Quite simply, Dallas has become the most complete team in the NFC -- and it couldn't have happened at a better time.

This was a team that's spent the past 13 seasons fading down the stretch, but after Sunday's 24-0 beatdown of the Eagles, the Cowboys should be the most confident team in the playoffs. They've already won on the road in New Orleans and let's not act like the Vikings are rolling again simply because they disposed of a dying Giants team.

I realize that a different Eagles team could show up next weekend, but for now this appears to be an excellent matchup for the Cowboys. From the opening snap Sunday, Dallas was by far the more physical team. Running back Marion Barber, a man who hasn't embraced daylight this season, had three carries for 58 yards on the first possession. It set the tone for one of the most punishing performances of the season on both sides of the ball.

I realize that Andy Reid has a better playoff pedigree than Wade Phillips, but it became painfully obvious Sunday that he's outmanned against this Cowboys team. Eagles apologists might point to a botched snap in the second quarter as the turning point in the game, but they already trailed 14-0 and a score would've only delayed the inevitable.

For all I know, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones may still be conducting interviews in the home locker room. He gleefully admitted that he'd already "drawn up the paperwork" for Phillips' new contract, although he stopped short of offering his coach a pen. Even Phillips gave himself a pat on the back after the game, joking that the Cowboys' defensive coordinator "did a good job." And with all the grief this man has taken for his late-season failures, who could blame him for taking a swipe at his critics?

The Cowboys simply got sick of being everyone's favorite December punching bag and came out swinging the past three weeks. And when things started to go south last month with losses to the Giants and Chargers, Phillips continued to believe in his players.

"We're a real strong-minded team," he said after the game. "We're real confident right now. We said it going into New Orleans ... They act like champs. They play like champs. I think that's a big part of it."

I fully expect that Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will come up with a different game plan on Saturday, but I'm not sure it will matter. The Cowboys were so successful in the running game early that McDermott asked his safeties to play closer to the line of scrimmage. That opened up the middle of the field for quick slants to Miles Austin and Patrick Crayton, who combined for 189 yards and a touchdown.

The other issue is that the Eagles don't have anyone who can cover Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten. He finished with six catches for 76 yards and a touchdown. Linebacker Will Witherspoon had no hope against him and safety Quintin Mikell didn't fare much better. There's also the factor of cornerback Asante Samuel constantly gambling for interceptions. He caused one interception but his risky ways led to Witten's 10-yard touchdown and a 40-yard catch by Austin.

On defense, the Cowboys shut down one of the most prolific offenses in the league. It's the first time in club history the Cowboys have recorded back-to-back shutouts. The Eagles hadn't been shut out since Dec. 5, 2005, against Seattle. The immortal Mike McMahon was under center for that game.

Cowboys linebacker Bradie James sacked Donovan McNabb on the Eagles' first possession and the quarterback never found a rhythm. Even when DeSean Jackson beat Terence Newman on a deep route, McNabb overthrew him by 5 yards.

Reid had so much respect for the Cowboys' defense that he used a lot of maximum-protection schemes. That meant that McNabb had fewer targets, making it easier on the Cowboys' secondary. Jackson may be one of the most feared receivers in the league, but he has come up empty in two games against the Cowboys this season. McNabb attempted eight throws in his direction, but Jackson had only had three catches for 47 yards. The Cowboys doubled him at times, but they didn't do anything drastic.

"I think teams think too much about stopping Jackson," said Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins, who's very familiar with the Eagles wide receiver because the two have trained together in the past. "You have to focus on staying over the top with him. If you start obsessing about him, you can get in trouble."

Crayton said he expects to see a completely different Eagles team this weekend. He estimated that McDermott only blitzed about 40 percent of the time and he expected that number to be closer to 60 percent on Saturday night.

"We have to almost treat them like a different team," Crayton said. "It will be the same personnel, but I think we'll see a much different approach."

And while I realize the Cowboys are perfectly capable of losing this game, I don't see it happening.

Barber keys Cowboys' first TD drive

January, 3, 2010
1/03/10
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Cowboys running back Marion Barber had three carries for 58 yards on the first possession. It looked like Eagles linebacker Moise Fokou was destroyed on a couple of the plays by right guard Leonard Davis. The Eagles' defensive tackles, Brod Bunkley and Mike Patterson, have been superb at stuffing the run, but they're off to a rough start.

In other news, the Cowboys sacked Donovan McNabb on the Eagles' first possession. Looked like Bradie James beat Winston Justice on an outside blitz. Right now, the Cowboys are dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Eagles linebacker Will Witherspoon is getting blown up on running plays.

Eagles shuffle the deck on D

December, 31, 2009
12/31/09
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If you haven't stumbled across Sheil Kapadia's Moving the Chains blog, you're really missing out. Sheil runs the show at Philly.com and he does a nice job of digging up valuable nuggets for Eagles fans and observers.

In his latest blog entry, Sheil breaks down how defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has been rotating his defenders. The Eagles are blessed with a lot of talent along the defensive line and McDermott's not afraid to make wholesale changes to create the right matchups. In Sunday's game against the Broncos, McDermott tightened his rotation at defensive tackle while continuing to rotate his defensive ends.

As Sheil points out, that might have something to do with how well Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson are playing right now. They have been highly effective against the run, although Frank Gore did have a nice day recently.

Did you guys realize that Jeremiah Trotter didn't play a single snap in the second half against the Broncos after being relatively effective in the first half? Akeem Jordan moved over and played a lot of middle linebacker in the Eagles' base defense. He obviously gives the Eagles more versatility at that position. Here's the breakdown at linebacker against the Broncos in terms of total plays:

The Eagles will sometimes go to a single-linebacker look when they want to get cornerback Dimitri Patterson on the field. I love taking a look at McDermott's different personnel groupings. From what I can tell, he doesn't call as many blitzes as his predecessor, Jim Johnson, but it seems like he uses more players. Will he tighten the rotations during the playoffs? We'll soon find out.

A bizarre second half -- so far

December, 13, 2009
12/13/09
10:55
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- So that's why Eli Manning shouldn't make it a habit to take off running. He got 14 yards but then he fell awkwardly on his face and forgot to secure the football. If he slides like a normal quarterback, that's not an issue.

And the Giants left a prime scoring opportunity on the field. Oops, hold the blog entries. Domenik Hixon just caught a pass in the flat and turned it into a 61-yard touchdown. Will Witherspoon missed a tackle in the open field and safety Sean Jones just sort of watched as Hixon took off. I have no clue what Sheldon Brown was doing on the play.

But never mind because DeSean Jackson just scored on a 61-yard touchdown pass. It's amazing how much time Donovan McNabb has in the pocket. He could've taken another two or three second back there but he didn't need it. Jackson had broken free from safety Aaron Ross, who is playing out of position.

Last team with the ball wins.

Final Word: NFC East

November, 20, 2009
11/20/09
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11 in the Beast.

[+] EnlargeMiles Austin
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Cowboys hope Miles Austin can take advantage of Washington's aggressive secondary.
The Redskins have to do a better job against double moves. The Skins are coming off a nice win, but the secondary let Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall get deep on two touchdowns and he could have had another if not for a poorly thrown pass. Carlos Rogers, DeAngelo Hall and Fred Smoot are all aggressive players who sometimes get caught guessing on routes. The Cowboys have had success with Miles Austin on double routes and I would expect them to try to take advantage of the Redskins' aggressiveness. It also looks like Redskins safeties LaRon Landry and Reed Doughty have taken some poor angles to the ball on deep throws. The Cowboys have to be more balanced on offense this week, but they'll still take some shots downfield. Look for the Redskins to shade Landry in Austin's direction, which might open something up for Roy Williams on a vertical route.

Can the Giants fix their issues on defense? The good news is that this is the healthiest they've been all season. There's even a chance that cornerback Aaron Ross finally returns to the field. The Giants have paid dearly for not having sufficient depth at safety. If Ross could actually move over and help them at safety, there could be a huge payoff. I also think this could be a big game for former Falcons linebacker Michael Boley. The team pretty much gave up on the speedy linebacker. Now, he has a chance to make them pay. The Falcons lose an important player with running back Michael Turner out this week. Quarterback Matt Ryan will have to get the job done, and he's been very shaky in protecting the footbally lately. He managed games so well last season that it's hard to believe that he could throw so many interceptions. The Giants need to get in his face early and not allow him to find a rhythm.

I think the Eagles will be much better on defense this week. And I'm not just talking about the fact that they'll be staring across from the interception-machine known as Jay Cutler. It looks like Joe Mays will step in at middle linebacker, allowing Chris Gocong to return to the strong-side spot. With Will Witherspoon at the weak-side position, I think the Eagles will look like a more athletic team. Mays isn't a star or anything but he's capable of covering running backs and tight ends. If Sheldon Brown can play through a hamstring injury, I think the Eagles will be OK in the secondary. If Brown can't go, the Eagles are going to be hurting. Quintin Mikell and Asante Samuel are both strong players, but they wouldn't have much help with Brown on the sideline. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott desperately needs his front four to generate most of the pass-rush. You don't want to be bringing a lot of blitzes with the way this secondary looks right now.

Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett needs to re-discover the running game. Garrett said the game plan got "out of whack" last week against the Packers because of some down-and-distance situations. Some of that's true, but he could've done more to establish the running game. What's the point in spending a first-round pick on Felix Jones if you're going to give him three touches in a tight game? Jones is one of the most explosive players on the team and Garrett has to dial him up this week. Owner Jerry Jones pretty much said the same thing this week. He wants to see the other Jones get more opportunities, so hopefully that happens.

Watch this matchup between Cowboys right tackle Doug Free and Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo. I realize that Orakpo's a stand-up linebacker on first down but he'll see plenty of action at defensive end. He's a strong player who loves to use the bull-rush -- and I think that's Free's biggest deficiency. The former Northern Illinois player moves really well laterally and he's what scouts call a good "foot athlete," but he can get overpowered. Look for Skins defensive coordinator Greg Blache to try and get Orakpo in one-on-one situations with Free. The Cowboys will try to counter that by helping out Free with tight ends. If the Redskins pull off the upset, I think Orakpo will have had a monster game. Keep that in mind this Sunday. And have a tremendous football weekend.

Jordan, Demps ruled out for Eagles

November, 20, 2009
11/20/09
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Eagles coach Andy Reid has ruled out starting linebacker Akeem Jordan (knee) and safety Quintin Demps (ankle) for Sunday night's game against the Bears. It looks like Joe Mays will get the start at middle linebacker, allowing Chris Gocong to move back to the strongside spot. Will Witherspoon will remain the starter on the weakside.

Reid also said that running back Brian Westbook is taking it easy this week and will start attending team meetings again next week. The brain injury specialists in Pittsburgh said they wanted to see Westbrook again in 2-3 weeks, so obviously he won't be back in the lineup before then.

"We’re backing him off and letting him rest,” Reid told reporters Friday. “That was on the doctor’s plan that they had for him. Next week he can start going back to meetings and doing some things. We’ll see how he feels. The doctors want to see how he does for the next week, what, if any symptoms he has and evaluate him in 2-3 weeks."

Little fantasy advice: If you have access to LeSean McCoy, I'd find a way to get him on the field in this game. Something tells me the rookie's about to go off. Call it a hunch. Or call it whatever you want to call it.

Eagles' Jordan ruled out for Sunday

November, 13, 2009
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We knew it was coming, but Eagles coach Andy Reid made it official Friday that linebacker Akeem Jordan (hyperextended knee) will not play against the Chargers on Sunday. The Eagles will move Chris Gocong over to middle linebacker and Will Witherspoon will play the weakside spot. Rookie Moise Fokou, who filled in for Gocong against the Cowboys last week, will remain at the strongside position. Reid didn't shed much light on the situation Friday.

"We have a variety of things we can do there. We have a bunch of different combinations that we’re working on and we’ll just play it how we see it once we get out there as far as personnel goes."



In other injury news, left tackle Jason Peters did not practice Friday and he's listed as questionable for Sunday's game. According to reporters on the scene, starting left guard Todd Herremans moved over and took some reps at left tackle during practice.

Final Word: NFC East

October, 30, 2009
10/30/09
4:00
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 8:

 
 Rich Gabrielson/Icon SMI
 Jay Ratliff could be key to the success of the Cowboys' pass rush on Sunday.
Eli Manning has to do a better job managing this offense on Sunday. I thought he was really bad against the Cardinals -- and I'm not simply talking about the interceptions. He's at his best when the Giants are controlling the tempo of the game. With all that pre-snap mess he was involved with, the Giants weren't able to find any rhythm. Manning's been really good on the deep ball this season, but I'm not sure there will be a lot of opportunities against the Eagles. The Giants need to commit to the running game early and keep Donovan McNabb off the field. When they throw the ball, I think tight end Kevin Boss could be a really good option. There's a good chance that rookie safety Macho Harris will be out for the Eagles and new middle linebacker Will Witherspoon's still trying to get up to speed after joining the Eagles before the Redskins game. I think offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride will try to get Boss in a mismatch situation.

Everyone talks about DeMarcus Ware but the Seahawks need to watch out for nose tackle Jay Ratliff. In the little bit that I've seen from the Seahawks, I don't like the way center Chris Spencer responds to power up the middle. He's getting pushed around too much, and I think he'll need help against Ratliff. If Ratliff controls the line of scrimmage and beyond, look for things to open up for Ware and Anthony Spencer in the pass rush. Matt Hasselbeck's still a good quarterback but pressure up the middle will cause him to make mistakes. I don't like this matchup for the Seahawks at all.

This is a game when the Cowboys can unleash their two tight end formation. The talented Martellus Bennett finally showed signs of being a threat last week against the Falcons. The Seahawks struggle at safety with Deon Grant and I've never been a huge fan of Jordan Babineaux's work back there. If Bennett gets matched up with one of those players or linebacker David Hawthorne, I like his chances. Look for either Jason Witten or Bennett to have a big game. I could see them combining for nine or 10 catches easy. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett needs to unleash one or both of them in the red zone in this game.

I sense that either Justin Tuck or Osi Umenyiora is about to have a huge game. I know that Winston Justice has been decent at right tackle for the Eagles, but this matchup brings back nightmares. At least he won't see his old nemesis Umenyiora quite as much in this game. Tuck will line up across from Justice a lot of the time -- when he's not moving inside. Tuck and Umenyiora have taken these two losses personally, and they want to get as many hits on McNabb as possible. It wouldn't shock me at all if they combine for four or five sacks and a forced fumble in this one. I just don't like the Eagles' situation at left and right tackle right now. Jason Peters hasn't really settled into a good rhythm on the left side. And if he's not ready to go Sunday, Umenyiora will make him pay.

Believe me, McNabb's watched a lot of film of what the Saints did to the Giants. The Eagles' receivers might not be as good as the Saints' at winning jump balls but they have plenty of speed. If the Eagles' line is able to give McNabb enough time, you'll see either DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin running free at some point. The Eagles will find safety C.C. Brown on the field and try to throw right at him. Brown certainly can't hold up against Jackson and Maclin, but the real problem will be tight end Brent Celek. I think Andy Reid is starting to realize that he may have a Pro Bowl tight end on his hands. Celek is deceptively fast and he's doing a nice job of running after the catch. We may be watching a star in the making.

Eagles-Redskins: An instant classic?

October, 27, 2009
10/27/09
5:10
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

WASHINGTON D.C. -- On my way out of town, here are a few observations from the Eagles' 27-17 win over the Redskins:
  • What does it say about the Eagles’ situation at middle linebacker than Will Witherspoon can show up on a Wednesday and end up with an interception return for a touchdown, a forced fumble, a sack and eight tackles? Well, maybe it just says that Witherspoon needed a fresh start. He was on fire against the Redskins and we should give defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and safety Quintin Mikell a lot of credit for simplifying things for Witherspoon leading up to the game. By the way, Witherspoon’s big night also says a lot about the Redskins’ ineptitude on offense.
  • Before I forget, Redskins defensive end Andre Carter deserves mention for his sack, forced fumble and six tackles. He bit on a fake handoff to Brian Westbrook early in the game that allowed DeSean Jackson to take an end-around for a 67-yard touchdown, but Carter bounced back and was the Redskins’ best defender the rest of the way.
  • I thought Albert Haynesworth actually played pretty well last night. He beat several double teams and he had a sack and four tackles. You have to feel for the Redskins’ defense. At times, Greg Blache’s unit looks pretty strong, but they have to stay on the field way too long and the offense puts them in awful situations.
  • Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell told me late last night that it was his right Achilles’ tendon that was injured early in the game. On several plays, he needed to take off running but the injury wouldn’t allow him to do so. He felt like he could've gained 30 yards scrambling on a play early in the second quarter when Will Witherspoon stripped him from behind. "I pulled up to try to throw it to Santana [Moss] because I couldn’t run,” Campbell said.
  • Chris Cooley’s broken ankle is another huge blow to the Redskins’ offense. Cooley is Campbell's safety blanket and he’s one of the few weapons on the team. This should provide a great opportunity for former second-round pick Fred Davis. On Monday, Davis finished with eight catches for 78 yards.

How I See It: NFC East Stock Watch

October, 27, 2009
10/27/09
11:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Falling

 Manning
1. Eli Manning, Giants WR: It's been a pretty dramatic fall for Manning over the past two weeks. He struggled in a loss to the Saints and then he was turnover machine against the Cardinals. He appears to be too worried about making numerous pre-snap reads. The Cardinals appeared to have the jump on his snap count and they threw him out of rhythm. I think he's capable of snapping out of it against the Eagles on Sunday, but there has to be some concern right now. Where in the world are these delay-of-game penalties coming from? He just can't take those type of flags.

 Randle El
2. Antwaan Randle El, Redskins WR: The Redskins had just trimmed the Eagles' lead to 17-7 and then forced a three-and-out. For a moment, it almost looked like the Skins might climb back in the game.

But for no apparent reason, Randle El allowed a punt to bounce off his facemask. It was a huge mistake by a veteran player from the Redskins. I'd find someone else to put back there on punts. Randle El's just not sure-handed enough at this point.

 Manningham
3. Mario Manningham, Giants WR: When your team is desperately trying to get back in a game, you can't drop wide-open touchdown passes. Manningham's capable of making some big plays, but he's also shown that he can butcher the easy ones. He needs to concentrate more on catching the ball and stop worrying so much about the yards after catch (YAC).

Rising

 Austin
1. Miles Austin, Cowboys WR: Might as well just leave him here every week. His 421 yards and four touchdowns over the past two games is a remarkable achievement. Roy Williams is the No. 1 wide receiver in name only. Austin has emerged as Tony Romo's favorite target at wide receiver. He's really good at using his strength and balance to break tackles before taking off on long touchdowns. He brings a big-play dimension that Romo really needs. If Austin and Felix Jones get going at the same time, watch out.

 Ware
2. DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys WR: Let's give the man his due. He's now one of the highest-paid defenders in the game, but he won't lose his hunger. It appears that Ware is back to his unstoppable self. He picked up two more sacks in Sunday's win over the Falcons. I thought he played his best game of the season against Atlanta.

3. Will Witherspoon, Eagles LB: The Eagles' new middle linebacker played for the Rams at FedEx Field earlier this season. He played like a man who's just been granted a pardon from the Rams, because that's pretty much what's happened.
 Witherspoon
Witherspoon was remarkably active Monday in his first action with the Redskins. He said the linebackers had talked about stripping the ball.

Well, Witherspoon came through with a forced fumble Monday night. Signing Witherspoon might end up being one of the best pickups in recent memory. The Eagles desperately needed a linebacker -- and it appears that Witherspoon will be a good fit.

Mikell's deflection was a big play

October, 27, 2009
10/27/09
8:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
  Mikell

LANDOVER, Md. -- Trailing 7-0, the Redskins had a second down at their own 11-yard line late in the first quarter. Eagles safety Quintin Mikell came on a blitz but he was picked up at the line of scrimmage. As quarterback Jason Campbell attempted a short pass across the middle, Mikell shot his hands up in the air and deflected the ball into the waiting arms of Will Witherspoon, who returned the interception nine yards for a touchdown.

"I've had a few over the years," Mikell said. "It's something we work on in practice and it obviously paid off tonight."

Mikell, who replaced Brian Dawkins as the vocal leader on defense, is the one wearing a transmitter in his helmet. He receives the call from defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and then he relays it to new middle linebacker Will Witherspoon, who calls the play in the huddle. Some players across the league don't really like being in constant communication with a coach, but Mikell said he enjoys being able to hear directly from McDermott.

"I want to be the first to know that stuff," Mikell said.

He was called on to play in the box even more than usual Monday, which allowed him to have ongoing conversations with Witherspoon.

"I was astounded at how quickly he's picked everything up," Mikell said. "We have a lot different terminology than the Rams, but he's been able to recognize pretty much everything."

Eagles find a pushover they can handle

October, 27, 2009
10/27/09
2:40
AM ET
 
 Win McNamee/Getty Images
 Will Witherspoon made his presence felt in his first game with the Eagles, returning an interception for a touchdown.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

LANDOVER, Md. -- If you're trying to kick start your season, the Redskins are the ideal opponent. On Monday night, the Eagles needed less than two minutes to bury a team that is gaining ground on Al Davis' Raiders for biggest laughingstock in the league.

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It was the first game of a three-game stretch against NFC East opponents that could shape the Eagles' season. On Monday night, they were able to make enough big plays on both sides of the ball to cover up another ragged performance by the offense. On their fourth play from scrimmage, second-year wide receiver DeSean Jackson took the ball from Donovan McNabb on an end-around and sprinted 67 yards for a touchdown. The Skins' alleged speedster DeAngelo Hall watched helplessly as Jackson raced down the sideline.

For this Redskins team, a 7-0 deficit is pretty much insurmountable. The Eagles won the game 27-17 but the final score suggests this was a competitive situation. Well, it wasn't.

Jackson Five plays
The Eagles were far too dependent on the big play -- DeSean Jackson specifically -- against the Redskins, which will not fly against the tougher teams on their schedule. Due to the big play, the Eagles did not run a play in the red zone.
Category Jackson All others
Plays 5* 51
Yards gained 136 125
Yards per play 27.2 2.5
TD 2 0
* Includes 2 incomplete passes thrown his way.
Jackson, who's emerged as one of the most exciting players in the league, added a 57-yard touchdown catch late in the second quarter to give the Eagles a 27-7 lead. On the touchdown, Jackson used a stop-and-go route to get at least 10 yards behind Redskins safety Chris Horton.

The bad news for the Eagles is that they have only one game remaining against the Redskins. In Week 8, the Eagles return home to face a Giants team trying to break a two-game losing streak. Then they host a Cowboys team that showed signs of life in a 37-21 win over the Falcons.

There's still no way to have an accurate read on the Eagles, but Monday's win helped them get rid of that awful stench from the Week 6 loss to the Oakland Raiders. This team appears to have several weapons on offense, but it learned the hard way that you actually have to act somewhat interested to beat an inferior opponent.

"We wanted to get rid of that feeling," said tight end Brent Celek. "I never want to have it again. Hopefully we got it out of the way. We just can't afford to have it happen again."

The worst moment for the Eagles occurred in the first quarter when Pro Bowl running back Brian Westbrook took an accidental knee to the head after a 5-yard run. He was on the ground for at least three minutes as players from both teams huddled around him in prayer.

"I hoped he was OK," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "He wasn't moving at first. That worries you a little bit because you don't know exactly what happened. When a player isn't moving, that worries me."

Westbrook suffered a concussion on the play, but he was able to return to the sideline in the second half and Reid's hopeful that he'll return to the lineup soon. Without him, the Eagles' rushing game was stagnant. Rookie LeSean McCoy had 14 carries for 37 yards. It was so bad that Reid sounded thrilled that Michael Vick was able to take off on a 9-yard run out of the Wildcat formation. We were led to believe that opposing defenses would tremble with fear at the sight of Vick lining up for the direct snap, but so far the Eagles' Wildcat has provided only comic relief.

 
 Win McNamee/Getty Images
 Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell was sacked six times.
And speaking of comedy, Sherm Lewis made his play-calling debut with the Redskins. I'm hoping head coach Jim Zorn gave him the full play chart because Lewis fell in love with the same pattern to tight end Chris Cooley early in the game. The Redskins normally like to spread 17 points over several games, but don't let that explosive point total fool you. The offense was just as ineffective as always -- and the Eagles' defense had a lot to do with it.

Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell said he injured his right Achilles tendon early in the game -- and that made it impossible for him to run away from the Eagles' pressure. He was sacked six times and the Skins turned the ball over four times. Linebacker Will Witherspoon, acquired by the Eagles in a trade last Tuesday, returned an interception for a touchdown and forced a fumble in his debut.

The sheer joy of leaving a winless Rams team seemed to lift Witherspoon the entire game, although that's not exactly how he phrased it.

"There is some similarity to the scheme here," said Witherspoon of his time with the Rams. "And this locker room is great. They made sure I was prepared. For me, it's like starting the season again. The mindset was just to come in and play well. It's only going to get better from here."

Unfortunately for the Eagles, their real schedule's about to begin.

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