Donovan McNabb has repeatedly scoffed at suggestions that his second-half benching in Baltimore last November had anything at all to do with his improved play after that.
But the bottom line is that he’s played some of the best football of his career since Andy Reid sat him down that day.
And if he wants to go to his grave believing the same thing would’ve happened if he hadn’t gotten benched, well, that’s his prerogative. But I just don’t happen to believe it.
He rebounded four days later with a 27-for-39, 260-yard, 4-touchdown performance in a season-turning 28-point Thanksgiving night victory over the Cardinals, and, with a few exceptions, has played at a high level ever since.
In 14 regular-season starts since the Baltimore game, including Sunday’s 27-24 win over Washington, McNabb has completed 62.5 percent of his passes, averaged 7.31 yards per attempt and thrown 24 touchdown passes and just 7 interceptions. The Eagles have won 10 of those 14 games.
Once again Sunday, the Eagles’ most popular formation was the three-wide receiver, one-back, one-tight end set.
Thirty-six of their 67 offensive plays were run out of the 3-1-1. They ran 8 other plays out of 4-wide receiver sets, but had to discontinue that after DeSean Jackson got hurt in the third quarter and they were left with only 3 healthy wide receivers – Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and Reggie Brown.
The Eagles ran the ball fairly effectively out of the 3-1-1 set. LeSean McCoy had 76 yards on 17 rushing attempts against the Redskins. Twelve of those 17 carries and 52 of those 76 yards came out of the 3-1-1 set, including his longest run, a 19-yarder on his first carry of the game. He had 19 yards on four carries out of the Eagles’ 2-wide receiver, 2-back, 1-tight end formation and 5 yards on one carry out of a 2-wide, 1-back, 2-tight end set.
Fullback Leonard Weaver rushed for 44 yards on 6 carries against the Redskins. Forty-two of those yards came on 5 carries out of a 1-back, 2-tight end set. His only carry that didn’t come out of that set was his two-yard over-the-top dive for a first down on a fourth-and-one play in the first quarter. That were in a 2-wide, 2-back, 1-tight set on that play.
Did You Notice?
* The Eagles defense was in what they call their ``heavy’’ or ``buffalo’’ nickel package on that third-and-2 play at the 11-yard line on the Redskins’ first scoring drive. Because it’s not an obvious passing situation, the Eagles had Joe Mays in the game as one of their two nickel linebackers, along with Will Witherspoone, rather than Tracy White, who is better in coverage. The Redskins exploited Mays’ coverage shortcomings on the play as Jason Campbell completed a 10-yard pass to Antwaan Randle El at the one-yard line behind Mays. They scored on the next play on a one-yard run by Campbell.
* Chris Gocong didn’t stay in his lane on the Eagles’ game-opening onside kick, which created the gap that Quinton Ganther ended up running through.
* The nice blocks by center Jamaal Jackson and Nick Cole on Leonard Weaver’s 18-yard first-quarter run.
* Michael Vick should have scored on his second-and-goal run on the Eagles’ first possession. His blockers had set up a nice seam to the right, but he didn’t see it and took it inside to the left. He was stopped at the one after a four-yard gain. The Eagles ended up having to settle for a field goal.
* The chorus of boos late in the first quarter following Asante Samuel’s missed tackle on Redskins wide receiver Devin Thomas. Despite the fact that he weighs about a hundred pounds soaking wet, Samuel seems to think that he can bring ball carriers down simply by running into them.
* On a third-and-9 play early in the second quarter, the Eagles had safety Quintin Demps covering wide receiver Devin Thomas on the outside. Demps had to give Thomas a big cushion, which he took advantage of for a 12-yard completion on a slant route.
* The confusion between Macho Harris and Jeremiah Trotter on Santana Moss’s 4-yard touchdown catch early in the second quarter. Moss lined up in the slot with Harris covering him. But Harris backed up just before the snap and gave Moss, who ran a quick slant, a clean release. Harris seemed to think he was going to be getting inside coverage help from Trotter.
* Victor Abiamiri, who opened the season as the Eagles’ starting left defensive end, has been used almost exclusively as a nickel tackle since returning from a knee injury. Juqua Parker has gotten most of the snaps at left end.
* Winston Justice’s first game after signing his new contract extension wasn’t exactly one to write home about. He had a costly false-start penalty on third-and-goal at the Washington 5 late in the first half that effectively stalled the drive. He also got called for a hold earlier in the first half on a deep pass to Jeremy Maclin. Justice’s fingerprints also were on McNabb’s fourth-quarter interception. It was his man – Redskins defensive end Chris Wilson -- who hit McNabb’s arm from behind and caused the pick. Wilson was initially chipped at the line by tight end Brent Celek, then picked up by Justice, who blocked him wide but failed to stay with him, allowing him to get to McNabb.
* How many Eagles defenders had missed tackles on Fred Davis’ 29-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter. How about four? Macho Harris, Quintin Demps, Will Witherspoon and Quintin Mikell all failed to bring him down before he finally was knocked out of bounds by Tracy White. And that doesn’t include Asante Samuel, who thought Davis had been pushed out of bounds earlier and turned his back on the play. Keep in mind, this is Fred Davis, we’re talking about. Not Tony Gonzalez or Kellen Winslow or Jeremy Shockey or Chris Cooley. Fred Davis. He also had a 10-yard touchdown catch.
* The nice job cornerback Sheldon Brown did of beating a block by Davis and blowing up a screen to wide receiver Devin Thomas for a three-yard loss just before Samuel’s second interception.
* On Quinton Ganther’s 13-yard run in the third quarter, Jeremiah Trotter was slow to get off a block by Redskins right guard Edwin Williams, which created a running lane for Ganther.
* Rookie LeSean McCoy reminds me of former Eagle Duce Staley in the way he seldom goes down on first contact.
* If the Eagles are going to use Michael Vick as a runner, they need to get him outside in space. Because it has become painfully obvious that he doesn’t have the instincts, feel or vision to find creases inside.
* The Redskins moved left end Phillip Daniels inside in nickel situations, where he got the best of Eagles right guard Nick Cole a few times. He beat Cole on the ‘Skins’ first sack of McNabb, and also batted down a McNabb pass in the second quarter after getting penetration against Cole.
* The Eagles didn’t get much pass-rush pressure from their tackles Sunday, either in their base or nickel packages. They had just one sack and five QB pressures, all of which came from the outside. One of the reasons Jason Campbell was able to have some success was because he was constantly able to step up and avoid the outside rush of ends Trent Cole and Juqua Parker.
* Opposing pass-rushers are having far too much success getting penetration on left tackle Jason Peters, which is shrinking the pocket for McNabb. Andy Reid suggested Monday that a big part of the problem has been Peters’ injured ankle.
* McNabb’s interception early in the fourth quarter Sunday was his first pick in 7 games against the Redskins. His last pick against the ‘Skins was in a 17-10 loss on November 6, 2005. He had thrown 227 passes without an interception against them before the one on Sunday.
* McNabb completed 21 of 35 passes Sunday. But 3 of his 14 incompletions were deflections and 4 more were drops by his receivers (3 by Celek, 1 by Jeremy Maclin).
* Justice’s false start penalty Sunday was the 15th by the Eagles this season. Stacy Andrews leads the way with 4. Nick Cole and Jason Peters each have 3. Justice now has 2 and center Jamaal Jackson has one.
McNabb was sacked just twice Sunday for -2 yards. The first one was on a second-and-15 on the Eagles’ first possession of the second quarter. The Redskins rushed just four players. But Phillip Daniels, who lined up at left tackle, got penetration against Nick Cole, and Brian Orakpo, who lined up at right end, pushed left tackle Jason Peters back into McNabb, forcing the quarterback to step up, where he was tackled for a one-yard loss by left end Andre Carter.
The second sack, which came right before David Akers’ game-winning field goal late in the fourth quarter, was a coverage sack. McNabb rolled to the right on a third-and-6 play at the Washington 13. When he couldn’t find anyone open, rather than risk an interception, he slid for a one-yard loss.
To read our earlier report from Andy Reid's news conference, click here.