By Michael David Smith
After Sunday's game against the Eagles, the following plays stick out as the most important in understanding how they beat the Falcons and in determining their chances against the Patriots in the Super Bowl:
1. The Eagles constantly change formations in an attempt to create matchup problems. This worked on their first possession, when defensive end Brady Smith was left covering tight end L.J. Smith. Brady knew he couldn't keep pace with Smith, so he held on for dear life and was called for defensive holding. Against the 3-4 Patriots, there's not much chance the Eagles will be able to capitalize on a tight end vs. defensive end matchup.
2. On Dorsey Levens' touchdown run, Freddie Mitchell lined up as a motion H-back and delivered a harsh cut block that knocked Brady Smith down. But Mitchell wasn't finished. With Levens stuck in a pile, Mitchell jumped into it, pushed forward, and helped Levens get to the goal line. It was one of the best blocking plays I've seen from a receiver this year.
3. One of the few times Donovan McNabb looked uncomfortable was on a third-and-12 when the Falcons' middle linebacker, Keith Brooking, lined up as a nose guard in a five-lineman defensive formation. When Brooking dropped into coverage, McNabb tried to run and Brooking stopped him for a two-yard gain. The Patriots will constantly shift defensive formations in the Super Bowl, so McNabb needs to be prepared.
4. On McNabb's touchdown pass to Chad Lewis, the Eagles had six offensive linemen on the field. That formation made the Falcons think run, and when they bit on McNabb's play-fake to Dorsey Levens, Lewis was wide open in the back of the end zone. The six-lineman formation has been used extensively by the Packers the last two years, and other teams are starting to see how effective it can be both at opening up the run and at bringing in the defense to open up the pass. Lewis caught another touchdown on a similar play in the fourth quarter, but that one was costly for the Eagles: Lewis broke his foot and will miss the Super Bowl.
5. When Mike Vick rolled right on third-and-7 on the Falcons' opening possession, several Eagles swarmed to that side to hold him to only two yards. The announcers wrongly credited Brian Dawkins, who was the first Eagle to get to Vick but missed the tackle. Credit should go to Corey Simon, who made the tackle. Throughout the day, the Eagles consistently had not just one man at the ballcarrier, but several.
6-7. With third-and-1 and the Eagles stacking nine in the box, the Falcons handed off to T.J. Duckett for no gain. The stop was made on a great play by Sam Rayburn, who cut through the Falcons' line to hit Duckett. On the next play (the last play of the first quarter, after an Eagles timeout), facing fourth-and-1, Duckett took a handoff and went five yards for a first down. The Eagles again had nine men in the box, but Rayburn was off the field, and with Fred McCrary laying a good block on Brian Dawkins, no one was able to stop Duckett. I have no idea why the Eagles took Rayburn out on the fourth down. They need to leave him in the game in short-yardage situations.
8. When Vick found Alge Crumpler for 31 yards, the Eagles rushed only four, and Vick had enough time to pump fake, which drew safety Michael Lewis away from Crumpler. For the most part, the Eagles' strategy of eschewing the blitz worked against the Falcons, but Tom Brady is a much better passer than Vick, and the Eagles can't afford to give him that kind of time.
9. Roderick Hood got downfield quickly on the opening kickoff and tackled Allen Rossum at the 20-yard line. David Akers deserves credit as the best kicker in the league, but Hood and Allen are also important reasons for the Eagles' greatness on special teams.
10-17. Chris Mohr punted three times into the wind. He averaged 20.3 yards on those kicks. He also kicked twice with the wind at his back. One was a 32-yarder and the other was a 37-yard touchback. Dirk Johnson punted twice into the wind, averaging 38 yards a kick. He punted once with the wind at his back for 39 yards. Mohr is known for getting good hangtime, which is an important skill, especially for a dome punter. But on windy days, punters who rely on hangtime suffer. Good punters adjust to the conditions. Johnson did that; Mohr didn't.
Coming next week: Plays that explain the Patriots.
Each week, Michael David Smith looks at one specific player or one aspect of a team on every single play of the previous game. Standard caveat applies: Yes, one game is not necessarily an indicator of performance over the entire season. If you have a player or a unit you would like tracked in Every Play Counts, suggest it by emailing Contact Us.