MMQB Mailbag: Eagles look good in loss; spotlighting coaches' bad calls
The Eagles were tremendous last night. All that stood between them and beating the best team in football on the road was a botched Donovan McNabb-to-Brian Westbrook handoff with nine minutes left at the Dallas 33, trying to expand on a three-point lead. That's a once- or twice-a-year event, that kind of stupid play, and it shouldn't take away from what the Eagles showed the country in a scintillating football game.
Dr. Z might be right after all: The Eagles, if they stay healthy (and isn't that always the big thing with this team?), could come out of the NFC's power division, the NFC East, and make it to the Super Bowl. The three things that impressed me most about Philadelphia last night:
1. They can really play the run. Marion Barber's as tough an inside runner as there is in the NFL right now. His 18 carries last night: 1, minus-2, 1, 0, 1, 11, 0, 18, minus-2, 19, 3, 1, 2, 0, 1, 6 and 1 yards. Two-thirds of his carries went for two yards or less.
Three observations here. There's a reason Andy Reid has used so many high picks on the defensive line -- Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson most notably -- and that came out last night. The Eagles were not pushed around by one of the best lines in football. (Pass-rush is another issue, but run-defense was terrific in this game.)
There's also a run-defense reason why the Eagles signed Asante Samuel in the offseason, and in part it was to be sure they don't have to keep four and five defensive backs backpedaling at the snap of the ball. Sheldon Brown played strong against the run, three times tackling Barber, once for a two-yard loss. Clearly, the Eagles think they can leave great receivers on an island occasionally with their corners, and though it burned them last night on the couple of stop-and-go routes that Terrell Owens had, look for this to be a trademark of what they do this year.
And finally, as Reid said after the game, the Eagles just looked tougher last night. "We're a tough-minded football team, and that's important,'' Reid said. "I'm proud of the guys, man.''
2. Donovan McNabb played one of the best games I've ever seen him play. When McNabb went left and juked and tried to fight his way through two Cowboys on the sideline, I thought, "This is a confident quarterback.'' I mean, no longer must McNabb be thinking in the back of his mind that he needs to stay in the pocket and show everyone he can be the ultimate pocket passer. Sometimes the situation requires you to run for 10 yards, as he did on this particular scramble, and McNabb showed he's out there doing whatever it takes to win.
The command he had of the offense, the extreme confidence he showed ... I can't grade him down at all except for his bout of first-half wildness, when he threw the ball into the ground three or four times. We say it every year, but if McNabb plays 16 games, the Eagles are going to be really, really good.
3. Brian Westbrook. I don't care about his stats; don't even tell me what they were. The great thing about this guy is he can get splattered like a squirrel in the road by a Hummer on one play, then he's back to make a play the next. What must he feel like the day after a game? Remember Larry Brown, the old Redskins running back? You couldn't believe the abuse Brown took on Sundays, and then he'd be back, fresh, the next week, running over somebody.
Now that LaDainian Tomlinson is getting nicked, Westbrook, right now, is the best all-around back in football for my money. He's what Tiki Barber was for the Giants for the last three years of his career -- an indefatigable runner and receiver you could build an offense around.
The Eagles lost this game because they couldn't get pressure on Tony Romo. Period. They've got the terminally underrated Trent Cole and Chris Clemons to fix that, and it must be better. But I wouldn't worry. Cole's not going to be as invisible as he was last night.
One final point about the incredible NFC East: This division just might have the best three teams in football right now, with the Cowboys (still number one), Giants and Eagles. The only team through two weeks that I'd put in the middle of them is Pittsburgh.
Now onto your e-mails...
AN OUTRAGE IS BREWING IN BUFFALO. From Taylor, of Tonowanda, N.Y.: "Buffalo ninth in your Fine Fifteen? You have got to be kidding. They beat two playoff teams, one on the road. They've finally got a defense. What are you waiting for?''
The Bills are the one team I felt bad about at 4 in the morning Monday. [That's about the time when I get to The Fine Fifteen.] They might be better than I rated them, and we'll get a chance to see as the season progresses. But look at the schedule: Oakland at home this week, then at St. Louis and at Arizona, then the bye. The Bills could come out of their bye week 5-0, with the Chargers coming to Buffalo. What a game that would be. Imagine San Diego at Buffalo as the game of the week in the NFL. It's possible.