A closer look at Sunday’s 31-23 loss to the Chargers:
* Look for either Quintin Demps or Macho Harris to be the Eagles’ primary kickoff returner this week against the Bears rather than Jeremy Maclin. Harris had two returns for 27 and 30 yards against the Charger, giving the Eagles their two best drive-starts on six Charger kickoffs. Maclin averaged just 18 yards per return on four attempts. His timing with his blockers was off and he didn’t seem to have any feel for finding a crease in the Chargers’ coverage. Maclin also made a poor decision on a second-quarter punt return, foolishly fair-catching a 61-yard bomb by Mike Scifres at the six-yard line that almost certainly would’ve bounced into the end zone. In his defense, he was only returning kicks because of injuries to Ellis Hobbs and Demps and was only returning punts because of DeSean Jackson’s sore ankle.
* One of the most impressive streaks in pro football probably is going to come to an end Sunday. Cornerback Sheldon Brown has played in 133 straight games for the Eagles, which just happens to be every game the team has played since it drafted him out of the University of South Carolina in 2002. But unless he makes a miraculous recovery from what appears be a fairly serious hamstring injury, he’ll be on the sideline this week for the first time in his pro career. The difference between Brown and a paycheck-collector like left tackle Jason Peters, who chose not to play Sunday because his sprained ankle still was sore, was evident in the third quarter when the already injured Brown returned to the game and tried to play. Unfortunately for him, he ended up injuring the hamstring worse.
* Right guard Stacy Andrews is getting absolutely no explosion on his run-blocks. He also got beaten in pass-protection on the Eagles’ last scoring drive. McNabb threw the ball away just as he was about to get sacked by Andrews’ man.
* Even though his line did a good job of blocking for him Sunday, it’s clear McNabb has little faith in the unit right now. He unnecessarily hurried several throws Sunday mainly because he doesn’t trust his protection. Perfect example: early in the fourth quarter, he missed a wide-open Leonard Weaver at the goal line because he rushed the pass even though no one was getting pressure on him.
* DeSean Jackson has done a good job returning punts this season. But he needs to realize he’s not in the Pac-10 anymore and is not going to be able to beat everybody around the corner. He needs to cut it upfield more often rather than always looking for the big-kill on the perimeter.
* The Eagles committed nine penalties in the game, but the one that might’ve hurt them the most was the offsides call on cornerback Ramzee Robinson on a third-and-2 play at the Eagles' 25 late in the third quarter. The Eagles stopped Darren Sproles for a 1-yard loss on the play, which likely would’ve brought Nate Kaeding on to try a 44-yard field field goal.
* Instead, the Chargers got a first down and scored on the very next play when Asante Samuel temporarily went brain dead and left wide receiver Legedu Naanee wide-open in the end zone. Naanee caught an easy 20-yard touchdown pass from Rivers that gave the Chargers a 28-9 lead.
* With Westbrook out indefinitely, expect teams to blitz the Eagles more frequently to take advantage of LeSean McCoy’s inexperience as a blocker. It’s probably going to force Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid to use fewer three- and four-wide receiver sets or use fullback Leonard Weaver more often in one-back sets. McCoy’s inexperience in blitz-pickup reared its ugly head again late in the third quarter when he failed to pick up safety Paul Oliver, who came through clean on a perfectly-timed blitz and nailed McNabb for a nine-yard loss.
Did You Notice?
* The excellent job tackles Todd Herremans and Winston Justice did in pass-protection against Chargers linebackers Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips. Merriman and Phillips, who had combined for nine sacks in the previous three games, had no sacks and one collective hurry against the Eagles.
* Right end Trent Cole lined up much of the game on the left side, matched up against right tackle Jeromey Clary rather than on the right side against the Chargers’ best offensive lineman, Marcus McNeill. The strategy didn’t really work, though. For the first time all season, Cole didn’t have a sack or a hurry. In fact, he had just one tackle the entire game.
* Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott rotated the ends in his base package pretty liberally Sunday, replacing Cole and Juqua Parker with Jason Babin and Darren Howard.
* Chris Gocong, who not only was making his first start at middle linebacker for the first time since high school, but also was in an unfamiliar role replacing injured Akeem Jordan in the Eagles’ nickel package, was slow to read Legudu Naamee’s Wildcat run on a second-and-10 on the Chargers’ second possession. He got blocked inside by center Scott Mruczkowski, giving Naamee a seam on the left perimeter where he picked up 10 yards and the first down. Two plays later, Gocong got beat by fullback Mike Tolbert on a pass over the middle. Gocong thought Tolbert was going to take his route to the outside, but he cut inside. LaDainian Tomlinson’s three-yard second-quarter touchdown run also went through Gocong’s gap. Gocong also was one of several defenders who couldn’t get off blocks on Tomlinson’s 20-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. I would guess he’s looking forward to returning to the strong side once Jordan returns and Will Witherspoon moves back to the middle.
* Jason Avant’s failure to pick up safety Steve Gregory on that doomed end-around or double-reverse of whatever it was supposed to be on the Eagles’ second possession. Jeremy Maclin, who ended up with the ball on the first-down play, was tackled for a six-yard loss. Then, instead of trying to set up a makeable third-down situation, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg called for a low-percentage downfield pass to little-used Reggie Brown, who was well-covered.
* Speaking of Brown, he wasn’t little-used Sunday. According to our calculations, he was on the field for 20 of the Eagles’ 71 offensive snaps Sunday, and played pretty well. He had two receptions for 36 yards. Had another 25-yard reception that was negated by a holding penalty on Todd Herremans.
* McNabb had Brian Westbrook wide open – and I’m talking WIDE OPEN – not once but twice on their failed goal-to-go drive at the end of the first half, but never saw him. On the first play, McNabb threw a hurried off-his-back-foot pass to DeSean Jackson over the middle that landed at Jackson’s feet, even though the quarterback wasn’t under immediate duress. On third-and-goal, with Westbrook open on the left side again, McNabb threw a dump-off to the right side to tight end Brent Celek. The play gained just two yards.
* Westbrook did a nice job of picking up linebacker Brandon Siler on a blitz two plays before his concussion. But Siler ended up sacking McNabb anyway when the quarterback inadvertently tripped over him while he still was on the ground.
* Rookie linebacker Moise Fokou added to his penalty total Sunday, picking up a dumb penalty for an out-of-bounds hit on LaDainian Tomlinson. It wasn’t a malicious hit, but Tomlinson clearly was out of bounds. Fokou has commited four penalties in the last three games, including two on special teams.
* The Eagles’ unsuccessful blitz attempt on a first-down play at their 40-yard line midway through the third quarter. They sent safety Quintin Mikell and linebackers Moise Fokou and Chris Gocong after Rivers and had defensive end Trent Cole drop back into coverage. But no one picked up Antonio Gates, who took a dump-off from Rivers and gained 20 yards before he was brought down.
* Maclin, who had six receptions for 76 yards and a TD, added to his list of big blocks against the Chargers. He had a downfield block on Gregory on Jason Avant’s 58-yard catch and run in the third quarter that allowed Avant to get the final 10 yards.
* The incredible one-handed catch by Avant for a 21-yard gain and a first down on a third-and-19 at the end of the third quarter.
* The Chargers curiously rushed just three defenders on McNabb’s 5-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Maclin. Maclin still managed to get open when cornerback Antoine Cason, who was covering him, left him alone to go cover LeSean McCoy.
Jason Avant’s leaping, acrobatic one-handed grab for a 21-yard gain on a third-and-19 pass from McNabb at the end of the third quarter. It was one of Avant’s career-high eight catches. Six of those eight grabs went for first downs. For the season, all but seven of his 23 catches have been for first downs.
McNabb’s Best Pass
Fourth-and-4 at the San Diego 28 with 8:34 left in the fourth quarter. With Chargers defensive tackle Alphonso Boone in his face, he drills a strike to tight end Brent Celek for a 17-yard gain and a first down to keep the drive alive.
If McNabb hadn’t hit Celek for a six-yard touchdown on a third-and-5 play from the San Diego 6 with 7:13 left in the game and the Eagles trailing, 28-16, would Andy Reid have sent out David Akers rather than go for it?
By the Numbers
* Three of the Eagles’ nine penalties Sunday were against their special teams units, bringing to 17 the total number of special teams penalties through nine games. The Eagles have committed 67 penalties overall. The three penalties on the special teams units were the second most of the season. They had five in the Eagles’ Week 2 loss to the Saints.
* McNabb’s fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Maclin and Celek were his first fourth-quarter TD throws of the season.
* The Eagles ran 43 of their 71 offensive plays Sunday out of three-wide receiver sets, either with one back and one tight (most of the time) or two backs. They used a four-wide receiver set 11 times and zero- (twice), one- or two-wide sets 17 times.