1. Cashing in
Philadelphia entered its preseason home game against Carolina on Thursday night seeking to increase its scoring efficiency. Though Philadelphia's 24-13 victory gave the Eagles a lift, the offense, especially early, failed to reach its ultimate goal. Last season, the Eagles finished in the top 10 in three noteworthy categories: Total offense (sixth at 358.1 yards per game), rushing offense (eighth at 123.4 yards per game) and third-down conversions (ninth at 42.4 percent). But that translated into only a ranking of 17th in points per game (21.0).
The trend continued against the Panthers. In the first half, the Eagles earned drives of 10 plays for 45 yards and 12 plays for 54 yards, and maintained possession for nearly 17 minutes. Yet, the offense did not score a point in the first half. In fact, the offense did not manage a touchdown until 6:41 was left in the game.
"Well, we did it again," coach Andy Reid said. "We moved the ball and had a chance to do a lot more in getting points. Last year it was red zone problems. Tonight we made mistakes that bogged things down. We've got more work to do there. We have to be more explosive."
2. Youth infusion
The Eagles use the preseason like all NFL teams, seeking to discern how much of their young talent should supplant the veteran core. This was an area the Eagles scrutinized heavily against the Panthers. They took a long look at rookie safety Quintin Demps (3 solo tackles, 1 assist, 1 pass defended) and believe he has the tools to become a force like their savvy veteran safety Brian Dawkins. They kept dialing and finding rookie DeSean Jackson and he was the game's most productive receiver with seven catches for 71 yards, with a long grab of 19 yards. Demps is a fourth-round pick from Texas-El Paso, Jackson a second-rounder from Cal.
Demps said: "I did some good things, some things not so well. I feel like I'm going up, not down. Overall, our 2's and 3's pulled this game out for us. That shows we have some depth and some good, young talent. It was all of the young guys' first experience in our stadium. It was a great experience."
Jackson appreciated the attention and the opportunity.
He said: "I got a lot of looks, a lot of balls, and I didn't make a couple of catches that I know I can make and should have made. It was a great atmosphere, especially for the young guys. We got a taste of the Eagles fans and we gained a lot of confidence about playing in the NFL."
3. Clean it up
Reid wants his team to play a cleaner, more efficient brand of football in 2008, but watched his club against the Panthers commit eight penalties for 85 yards. Too many, Reid said. Too many dropped passes, too, and a special teams blunder that resulted in Carolina's first points. Late in the first quarter, the Eagles reached the Carolina 16 and lined up in field goal formation. A fake field goal and shovel pass by holder Save Rocca that was meant for tight end Brent Celek was swiped by cornerback Richard Marshall, who returned it 78 yards down the sideline for a touchdown. The Eagles were intercepted twice. Playing in the rugged NFC East with the champion Giants, talent-stocked Cowboys and improved Redskins gives the Eagles little room for such sloppy errors. Reid knows this.
"It's about execution," he said. "We'll go back to work on that."
4. Wide out weapons
Quarterback Donovan McNabb reminisced recently about his Terrell Owens experience and said it could have worked out better and longer. It made some fans think that McNabb continues to long for at least one dynamic, Pro Bowl-caliber receiver. Reid has long insisted that the Eagles have what they need at receiver. Jackson added to a group led by Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown does provide encouragement for McNabb. The Eagles like the way Jackson is quickly grasping the offense and his initial burst. And sixth-year receiver Greg Lewis hinted that he is ready to step boldly forward. His 33-yard scoring catch from Kolb started the Eagles' fourth-quarter rally. Lewis ran easily past the Carolina secondary and finished the play by cradling the ball in the end zone with flair.
5. Backfield depth
Westbrook remains one of the league's top backs. But there is more. Correll Buckhalter has been a steady contributor. Lorenzo Booker is a back with plenty of wiggle who can be a threat on draws and swing tosses. Second-year back Tony Hunt was the star of the group against Carolina with a dazzling 51-yard scoring run with 2:15 left that gave Philadelphia its first lead in the game. Against Carolina, the Eagles ran it 22 times and averaged 6.3 yards per carry.
Eagles fullback Jason Davis said: "No matter who is back there at tailback, we have the types of back who can make first downs and make the big-time, long runs. We have a lot of confidence in our group and I think it shows."