Todd Pinkston. James Thrash. Freddie Mitchell. Torrance Small. Antonio Freeman.
These are just some of the names that were the Eagles’ leading receivers from 2000-2003, until Terrell Owens arrived before the 2004 season to take the offense to unprecedented heights. Despite the underwhelming list of names to catch passes from quarterback Donovan McNabb, those teams won no less than 11 games each season, won 3 out of a possible 4 division titles and reached the NFC Championship Game 3 times.
While the Eagles’ defense was certainly elite during that time under Jim Johnson and led by Hall-of-Famer Brian Dawkins, the offense wasn’t exactly a liability. Donovan McNabb was able to thrive in Andy Reid’s West Coast Offense, still a relatively new concept at the time. While many point to Reid not running the ball enough as a play-caller, there’s also no denying how much Duce Staley, Correll Buckhalter, and eventually Brian Westbrook helped out McNabb early in his career. Elite offensive line play also allowed Reid’s system to flourish and McNabb to join the NFL’s elite. While McNabb’s own personal greatness helped him to get the most out of a lackluster group of pass catchers, Andy Reid constructed an offense around the abilities of what he had.
Fast-forward way ahead to December 2017. The Eagles, their high-flying offense, and magical 11-2 season came crashing down as leading MVP candidate Carson Wentz was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Backup QB Nick Foles was tasked with picking up the pieces and trying to lead the offense to something remotely close to what it was with Wentz for the remainder of the season and into the playoffs. However, Foles was and is a far different quarterback from Wentz. After a strong performance in his first start in New York, Foles struggles mightily his next two outings – Christmas Night vs. Oakland and for a quarter vs. Dallas – while trying to replicate what Wentz did.
After the Dallas finale in 2017, Head Coach Doug Pederson had two weeks to try and figure out what to do. His quarterback was lost. The offense wasn’t working. Some fans and media figures were even debating starting third-string QB Nate Sudfeld for the team’s Divisional Playoff game in two weeks.
Pederson took those two weeks and orchestrated brilliance.
Foles had success in Philadelphia before. Everyone remembers the famous “27-2” season in 2013 where Foles and head coach Chip Kelly took the league by storm, with Foles throwing 27 touchdowns against only 2 interceptions and winning the NFC East. Many of Kelly’s offensive concepts were one-read, two-read types of plays where Foles could distribute the ball quickly and make quick decisions. Pederson sat down with Foles and implemented some of the offensive concepts he had success with, most notably “RPOs,” or run-pass option plays.
The result was an up-and-down performance by Foles in the Divisional Round but then two magical, historically amazing quarterback performances to win the Eagles their first Super Bowl in franchise history.
No one expected 3 of the top 5 Eagles offensive weapons to go down so early and at the same time. Surely the Eagles can’t run some of the plays they would like to with someone like DeSean Jackson on the field. But Doug Pederson has been here before and come out on top.
If Andy Reid orchestrated a productive offense around Todd Pinkston, James Thrash and company with Donovan McNabb leading the way at quarterback, certainly Pederson can get offensive production out of Zach Ertz, Nelson Agholor, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, and Mack Hollins with Carson Wentz leading the way at quarterback. Provided the offensive line can return to the elite level of play they displayed in Week 1, Wentz should be able to distribute the ball and carry out Pederson’s game plan while sprinkling in the “wow” that we have grown accustomed to.
No one plans for this type of injury situation. But the Eagles have a head coach who has been there, done that. This is the time for Doug Pederson to reach into the pockets of the 2017-2018 playoff magic. There’s still plenty of talent on the offensive side of the ball. It’s up to this coaching staff to maximize it.
By Chris Fioti