Some early questions about the Eagles are put to rest - for now

RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER LeSean McCoy hurdles Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall during the third quarter of the season opener.
RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER LeSean McCoy hurdles Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall during the third quarter of the season opener.
Posted: September 11, 2013

LANDOVER, Md. - The bloviating over Chip Kelly's Machine Gun offense will be, for the moment, inevitably incomplete.

After a mind-blowing performance outside of D.C., the real virtues and problems of his breathless scheme cannot be known for weeks, if not months; maybe years. Fair assessment requires even more polished execution by even more appropriate personnel, and that might be a season or two away; or, for Kelly, it might even be a job or two away. The blitz occasionally seemed to work.

Similarly, Bill Davis' hypothetically effective defensive theories remain effective in theory alone; again, for similar reasons, concerning personnel and repetition. Washington looked overmatched last night, but let Davis beat a team with a quarterback who took a preseason snap, then judge. Robert Griffin III couldn't pitch it accurately last night, much less pass it.

The opener, won, 33-27, offered clear looks at plenty of other fascinating individual issues:

Could Michael Vick resurrect himself a third time? Could incomparable LeSean McCoy exploit the scheme into an MVP run? Could DeSean Jackson, limited for 2 years, become relevant again; now, without a true No. 1 receiver across the field? Could Trent Cole play linebacker? Could Lane Johnson block better than, oh, say, Danny Watkins? Would Cary Williams be worth the headache? Would Riley Cooper be targeted?

Yes, yes, yes; five times, yes; and, twice, no.

Vick's resurrection seemed glorious immediately. He connected on 15 of 25 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions. Still, his borderline lateral, batted down and returned for a touchdown at the end of the first series, recalled the Vick who warranted a pay cut this season.

His snap throws behind fine protection recalled the Vick of 2010, and the second half of 2011 - the two previous periods when he had such fine protection. He also ran nine times for 54 yeards and a touchdown. Two of the runs were designed - and, of course, he was limping by game's end.

McCoy, simply, was at his Marshall Faulk-ian best. Setting him loose on well-rested defenders who have schemed to stop him is barely fair.

Giving him 31 carries (for 184 yards) yards and a touchdown . . . after opening the game with three gutting passes to other targets for 64 yards, in about 1 minute? That was not fair at all.

McCoy also appears to have learned how to read his blockers. Equipped thus, no player will benefit from Kelly's Machine Gun attack more than McCoy, who will find himself in open space more often than Neil Armstrong.

"It was kind of what we thought," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "You've got to be able to tackle McCoy. You've got to be able to tackle Vick . . . They executed well."

Jackson, slight and fragile, favors open space himself. Vick favored Jackson, as usual, since Jackson is, like Vick, the sort of player who can turn a mundane play into magic. That didn't happen, but Jackson did finish with seven catches, 104 yards and a touchdown, his best game in almost 2 years.

As the offense was built around the talents of McCoy, Vick and Jackson, so, to, was the Eagles' defense built around Cole - but Cole, as a defensive end in the four-lineman, three-linebacker scheme. Davis' attack looks most like a 3-4, which meant Cole had to learn to play outside linebacker.

He appeared to be a fast learner. He stuffed the run, he got into the backfield, he covered a safety.

In fact, on his first play as an outside linebacker, Cole shot into the backfield, wrapped his right arm around Alfred Morris' waist and popped the football loose.

On the next play, Vick, patient in a pocket impenetrably formed by Johnson, snapped a 25-yard touchdown pass . . . to Jackson, running free in the end zone.

Johnson, the fourth overall pick in April, followed Watkins as a latecomer to line play. He was a quarterback, tight end and defensive lineman in college before converting in 2011. A Canadian fireman, Watkins never even played football until he was 22; still, the Eagles drafted him in the first found in 2011. He never functioned well and they cut him in training camp.

Johnson last night showed much greater promise. McCoy's best-executed run of the first quarter, just before the 7-minute mark, gained 16 yards, directly behind Johnson's block.

However, Johnson whiffed on the sack of Vick a minute later. That was the aberration.

Williams, another newcomer, was even better.

The marquee replacement of last year's dysfunction at cornerback, the disturbingly combative player got a serious commitment from the Eagles. Williams' decisions to miss optional workouts, his scuffles in training camp and his fight last week with Cooper, during which Williams himself clearly used the N-word, cast him as a disruptive force.

In his Eagles debut, Williams was, indeed, a disruptive force. Comfortably ensconced in the defense, Williams smothered receiver Pierre Garcon on a deep route midway through the second quarter, then blitzed and crushed Robert Griffin III a couple of minutes later. His balletic interception - the nicest catch of the night by any player - gave the Eagles the boost to cruise to the finish line.

Washington had a last gasp midway through the fourth, but Williams (after missing the previous Washington scoring drive because of cramping) closed on Aldrick Robinson and batted way a fourth-down pass.

In the moment, Williams' fight with Cooper seemed trivial. Quietly, the team's biggest story of the summer - white receiver Cooper caught on video using the N-word and threatening to fight black security guards at a country music show - took a big step toward disappearance. Without incident, Cooper bore the Scarlet "N" where, ironically, the most racist nickname in sport pervades. Cooper even caught the first pass of the night, finishing with two catches for 14 yards.

None of these questions was fully answered. In the past, McCoy and Jackson have been targeted; Vick has imploded; young linemen have foundered; cornerbacks have disintegrated; Cooper might never be forgiven by everyone in the league.

Also, somehow, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan declined to throw at Cole, who still has never defended a pass in his pro football life.

But, for the moment, the available information favors the Eagles.


Email: hayesm@phillynews.com

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