IN SOME WAYS, it's going to be difficult for the Kevin Kolb-led Eagles offense of 2010 to improve on the production of the Donovan McNabb-led Eagles offense of 2009.
After all, the Eagles finished fifth in the NFL in scoring last season, putting up a franchise-record 429 points. When all was said and done, they finished a respectable 10th in passing yards (255.6 per game) and 11th in total offense (357.9 yards per game).
But there were a lot of other less-impressive numbers that provide a much more revealing glimpse into the shortcomings of McNabb and the offense last season.
* The Eagles clearly were a big-play offense. A league-high 18 of their 41 offensive touchdown drives were four plays or fewer. But too often, if they didn't get to the end zone quickly, they didn't get there at all. They had just 14 TD drives of seven plays or more the entire season. The result: The Eagles finished 29th in the league in time of possession (28:15), which took its toll on their injury-ravaged defense as the season went along.
* The main reason their time-of-possession average was so low was because they couldn't convert on third down. The Eagles finished 23rd in third-down efficiency (36.2 percent). None of the nine teams that finished below them managed to make the playoffs. The cumulative record of those nine teams: 39-105.
* The Eagles finished tied for 23rd in red-zone offense, converting just 48.1 percent of their trips inside their opponent's 20 into touchdowns. None of the eight teams ranked below them made the playoffs. Just one - the 7-9 Bears - managed to win more than six games. McNabb finished 17th in the league in red-zone passing, completing just 45.3 percent of his passes inside the 20.
* McNabb had one of his better statistical seasons last year, but careerlong accuracy issues continued to plague him. He finished 20th in the league in completion percentage (.603). Just one quarterback made it to the postseason with a lower completion percentage. That was Jets rookie Mark Sanchez (.538). But he had the benefit of the league's top-ranked ground game.
* The Eagles' seasonlong problems at sustaining drives not only was evident in their time-of-possession average, but also in their first-down total. They finished 19th in first downs (18.1 per game). Of the 13 teams that averaged fewer, just one - the Jets - made it to the postseason.
So, now that McNabb is gone and Kolb is the new starting quarterback, what can we expect from the offense this season?
Well, there is little doubt that the offense will be different with Kolb at the helm. Both Kolb and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg already have acknowledged that. You play to a quarterback's strengths. McNabb's was a big arm. Kolb's is accuracy.
The Eagles likely will become a more traditional West Coast offense this season, heavier on short and intermediate routes like slants and curls and crosses that will give receivers more yards-after-the-catch opportunities than the deeper patterns the Eagles used when McNabb was behind center. Doesn't mean they won't throw the ball deep. Just means they probably won't throw it deep nearly as much.
"The yards after the catch are going to be a big part of our offense," Kolb said during the postdraft minicamp. "I know this group [of receivers] will make the plays if I give them the chance to do so."
The Eagles' young receivers are looking forward to working with a rhythm passer who is going to hit them in stride a little more often than McNabb did.
"Because of how accurate he is, we're going to be able to catch the ball in stride and do something with it," said wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. "Now that he's behind the center, I definitely think there are going to be more opportunities for those types of [yards-after-the-catch] things."
In fairness to McNabb, it should be pointed out that the Eagles were a pretty good yards-after-the-catch team last year when he was the quarterback. They finished eighth in the league in yards after the catch. Almost half of their passing yards - 2,151 of 4,380, or 49.1 percent - came after the catch.
Brent Celek, who had a team-high 76 receptions, finished third among the league's tight ends in yards after the catch, with 447 (of 971 receiving yards). The only tight ends with more YAC were the Colts' Dallas Clark (526) and the Chargers' Antonio Gates (520). Only Gates averaged more YAC per reception than Celek (6.6 to 5.9).
DeSean Jackson, who had six touchdown catches of 48 yards or more last season, finished 24th overall and 10th among wide receivers in yards after the catch, with 420 (of 1,156 receiving yards). But his YAC percentage (.363) was considerably lower than many of the wideouts above him, including the Patriots' Wes Welker (.544), the Giants' Hakeem Nicks (.535), the Broncos' Brandon Marshall (.470), the Cowboys' Miles Austin (.464) and the Packers' Greg Jennings (.434).
Maclin finished 68th overall in YAC (266 of 762 receiving yards). Slot receiver Jason Avant was 91st (215 of 587).
Celek thinks all of the Eagles' receivers will see their yards-after-the-catch numbers increase with Kolb as the starter.
"Kevin's accuracy is going to be the biggest factor [for more yards after the catch]," Celek said. "If you get it there accurately, the guy can catch it and turn upfield. If it's not [accurate], you've got to turn your body and it slows you down and the defense can catch up quicker. Getting the ball out fast and getting it to you in a position where you can cut up the field quickly is what it's all about."
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