Some Wednesday morning thoughts:
* Eagles fans would be wise to keep their fingers crossed that Brett Favre stays retired and doesn’t sign with the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings are a good quarterback away from being a legitimate Super Bowl contender and possibly leapfrogging over the Eagles and Giants as the best team in the NFC. The big question there obviously is whether Favre, who will turn 40 in October, still is a good quarterback.
For 3 months last season, he certainly was. Completed 70.7 percent of his passes and threw 20 TD passes in his first 11 games with the Jets, who got off to an 8-3 start. Not so much in the last 5 when he had just a .560 completion percentage and threw only 2 TD passes and 9 interceptions. The Jets won just one of those last 5 games.
A big reason for Favre’s late-season ineffectiveness was injuries to his elbow and shoulder. He didn’t have surgery to repair either. Whether his elbow and shoulder can hold up for another full season at his age remains to be seen. But if he decides to unretire now, he’d at least have the better part of three months prior to the start of training camp to get his arm ready for the rigors of potentially playing 19 or 20 games.
I can guarantee you one thing. If Favre does play for the Vikings this season, he’ll be told early and often by head coach Brad Childress to ditch his gun-slinging ways. The former Eagles offensive coordinator doesn’t suffer interceptions well. He believes ball protection is one of the most important qualities in a good NFL quarterback, which is why he’s so fond of Donovan McNabb, who may not be the most accurate quarterback to come down the pike, but owns the second best interception percentage in NFL history.
``(The football) is what everybody’s fighting over,’’ Childress told me years ago when he was with the Eagles. ``You don’t want to go three-and-out. You don’t want to punt everytime. But if you never give up the ball without a kick or a score, you’re going to be in every game you play. If you check the winning percentages of teams that win the turnover battle, it shows pretty graphically the cost of a giveaway.’’
That was pretty evident last January in the Eagles’ 26-14 playoff win over Childress’s Vikings. The Vikes were down by just two points, 9-7, late in the first half when their quarterback, Tarvaris Jackson, had a pass picked off by Asante Samuel that he returned 44 yards for a touchdown.
Ball protection obviously never has been Favre’s strong suit. He’s never has had any fear of throwing the ball into double or triple coverage. Sometimes it’s paid off, sometimes it’s backfired.
He averaged an interception every 29.9 attempts during his career. By comparison, McNabb has averaged one every 47.8. But he proved two years ago with the Packers that he can cut down on the gun-slinging when he puts his mind to it. Asked by coach Mike McCarthy to play it a little closer to the vest, he threw just 15 interceptions in 535 attempts, or one every 35.7 passes, which was one of the best interception marks of his career.
* In DeSean Jackson, Kevin Curtis and now, Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles have 3 quick-cutting wideouts who can cause opposing defenses major yards-after-the-catch headaches running the slant route. That’s the good news. The bad news is throwing the slant never has been one of McNabb’s strengths.
The Eagles’ wide receivers caught an impressive 197 passes last season. For the first time in the Andy Reid era, they had 4 wideouts with at least 30 receptions (62 by DeSean Jackson, 33 by both Kevin Curtis and Hank Baskett and 32 by Jason Avant. But they caught just 11 touchdown passes and were terribly unproductive in the red zone.
Let me rehash some numbers that I first gave you in a column the week after their NFC Championship Game loss to Arizona. Eagles wideouts had just 27 red-zone receptions last year. Of those 27, catches, 15 – as well as all 8 of their red-zone TD catches – came in 4 games – v. San Francisco in Week 6, v. the Giants in Week 10, v. Arizona in Week 13 and v. Cleveland in Week 15. The Eagles converted 15 of 27 red-zone opportunities into touchdowns in those 4 games.
In the other 15 games, the Eagles were 19 for 45 (42.2 percent) in the red zone, including 8 for 23 in their final 7 games (including the playoffs). Eagles wideouts caught just 7 – that’s right, 7! – and 2 touchdowns in those last 7 games. Both of those TDs came against the Browns. So, if the Eagles are going to be more effective in the red zone this season, they’ve got to get better production inside the 20s from their wideouts.
``We need to be more consistent catching the football in the red zone,’’ Andy Reid said Sunday in his final minicamp news conference. ``Everything is tighter (in the red zone). That end line becomes the 12th man, so defenses are playing a little bit tighter in there and that makes it tougher to catch it. You have to be able to use your big bodies in there and do a good job with them.’’
* The interesting aspect of the Eagles acquisition of Ellis Hobbs is that the odd man out of the competition for the starting right corner job between Hobbs and unhappy incumbent Sheldon Brown is that the loser really is going to find himself the odd man out.
The nickel job won’t be a consolation prize to the loser. Joselio Hanson has a lock on that job. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson loves the way Hanson plays inside in his nickel package and has no intention of taking him off the field.
The fact that the Eagles gave Hanson starter’s money to stay with the Eagles on the eve of the free agency signing period, only solidifies his hold on the nickel job. So, whomever doesn’t get the starting job falls all the way down the depth chart to No. 4 corner. Brown vs. Hobbs clearly is going to be the most interesting battle of training camp.