Four downs with the Eagles Part 1: Offense

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We're trying something a little different this week to preview the 49ers-Eagles matchup.  Over at Bleeding Green Nation, Jason does something called Four Downs.  It is basically four questions about the opposing team's offense and four questions about the opposing team's defense.  Jason was kind enough to answer my questions.  We'll have four downs on offense today and four downs on defense tomorrow.

NN: In what I'm guessing is a weekly tradition, Brian Westbrook remains questionable.  Although I don't think it will make much difference to the porous 49ers run defense, what are the big differences between Westbrook and Buckhalter in terms of what skill sets they bring to the table?

BGN: Well it's night and day really. Buckhalter doesn't have the shifty, "stop start" ability Westbrook has when he gets in space. He's also not nearly the receiving threat Westbrook is, although he's become pretty decent in that area. More than anything it's just that playmaking knack. Westbrook, like your boy Gore, just has that knack for making a big play or turning something into nothing nothing into something. Buckhalter, while a solid back who has performed well when asked to, simply doesn't have that same knack.

NN: Desean Jackson is a fan-favorite out in the Bay Area thanks to electrifying performances at Cal.  He's exploded on the scene for the Eagles and aside from last week has been a solid, if not spectacular threat for you guys.  How has the view of Philly fans changed (or maybe it hasn't changed) since draft day?  What has his role been in the passing game and is it changing as Eagles receivers get healthy?

BGN: Desean has been a real revelation. Who would have thought that the 7th WR taken in the draft would be having the biggest impact (although Eddie Royal may have an argument there)? I think most of our expectations for him in his rookie year were that he'd make a big impact in the punt return game but that it would take a while for him to work in as a WR. Lucky for Desean, the Eagles lost both of their top WRs in camp and it gave Jackson the opportunity to play a ton in preseason, where he really shined. He's really carried that performance into the regular season and has been a huge part of our offense.

As for his role, he's started on the outside in the position formerly manned by Reggie Brown. Brown has moved over to Kevin Curtis' position in his absence. Desean has also been heavily used with end arounds, both as a decoy and a ballcarrier where he's done very well. He runs really great routes and has a real knack for finding holes in coverage. We all expected him to be mostly a deep threat where he uses his speed to get behind defenses, but his biggest imapct has really been when he's found holes underneath coverage and gotten yards after the catch.

NN: The 49ers have had issues getting a pass rush.  Can you tell us what the Eagles offensive line, and pass protection as a whole brings to the table?

BGN: They've done a reasonably good job protecting McNabb, but pass protection has been somewhat up and down. Basically they've played well against teams that struggle rushing the passer and have given up a few sacks to teams that can. They've really been a unit that's been tough to figure out. I'm not sure if this is a trend worth nothing but it could be interesting to 49er fans... 3-4 teams have sacked McNabb 7 times in two games while 4-3 teams have managed just 3 sacks in three games (and all three came in one game). That said, the 3-4 teams were Dallas and Pittsburgh who get after the QB well anyway. So whether they struggle with the 3-4 or Dallas and Pitt (who is tied for the league lead in sacks with us!) are just good remains to be seen.

NN: Every year it seems like somebody is trying to run Donovan McNabb out of Philly.  And yet, he bounces back with consistently solid performances.  Can this team win it all with the offense it currently has (and of course factoring in a healthy Kevin Curtis)?  People bitch about not getting to enough Super Bowls, but is that something McNabb should be blamed for, or is it something deeper?  I don't think I buy the idea of McNabb being a choker but it's more just general thoughts on my part.

BGN: I think McNabb has looked fine so far this year. He's healthy and been pretty confident... I certainly feel he's good enough to win with this group... but that said this group has got to include a healthy Brian Westbrook. He really makes this offense work. Without him for a long stretch, I'm not sure McNabb alone is enough to propel them to the playoffs.

Thanks again to Bleeding Green Nation for providing some knowledge.  I just emailed my responses to his offensive questions, so feel free to keep an eye out for it over at BGN.

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