Shutdown Corner - NFL

In the first in a series of specific scouting reports, Shutdown Corner investgates whether the Philadelphia Eagles are in good hands with new starting quarterback Kevin Kolb(notes). With Donovan McNabb(notes) in the nation's capital and Michael Vick(notes) possibly on the outs, how can the Eagles ensure the success of the man they have designated as the the future of the franchise?

There were several things that prevented the Philadelphia Eagles from going to the Super Bowl last season. A torn ACL cost linebacker Stewart Bradley(notes) his entire 2009 season, and replacements were hard to come by until the team traded for ex-Rams defender Will Witherspoon(notes) in October. Whatever plans the offensive brain trust had for Michael Vick seemed to go awry; for the most part, Vick was less a "Wildcat" option and more a speedbump for every offensive drive in which he took part. Depending on what happens with Vick's current legal issues, he may not be on the team in time for the 2010 season. The Eagles scored just seven rushing touchdowns in the red zone (as many as little-known Cardinals running back Tim Hightower(notes) did all by himself), continuing a longstanding issue with short-area conversions.

Most of the blame for a season that ended in a 34-14 wild-card loss to the Dallas Cowboys fell on the shoulders of quarterback Donovan McNabb, which is something McNabb got used to a long time ago. (Perhaps the Eagles should have looked harder at a defense that allowed five straight scoring drives in the second quarter of that game). Despite his status as the best quarterback in franchise history (and a 2009 season that saw him throw 22 touchdowns and just nine interceptions), McNabb had seen the writing on the wall for a while. First, when the team drafted Houston quarterback Kevin Kolb in the second round of the 2007 draft, and second, when head coach Andy Reid benched McNabb in a Week 12 loss to the Ravens in 2008. Eventually, the Eagles wanted to see what they had in Kolb, and they cut bait with McNabb after the 2009 season in order to move forward with the man they perceive to be their next franchise quarterback.

But did the Eagles move too quickly in going to Kolb full-time? He was the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 300 yards in his first two starts when he took the helm early in 2009 as McNabb recovered from a rib injury. But in those two games, Kolb faced the moribund Kansas City Chiefs defense (in Week 3) and the defense of the eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints (in Week 2). The word on Kolb is that he will present more short-level accuracy than McNabb, but against New Orleans, he looked better throwing longer to his own receivers on a first-quarter touchdown to DeSean Jackson(notes) than he did throwing short on a fourth-quarter interception to Darren Sharper(notes).

The touchdown came on the Eagles' first drive, with first-and-10 at the Philadelphia 29-yard line. The Saints lined up with a three-man front and one of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' patented weird blitzes, with end Bobby McCray(notes) (93) in the slot where you'd normally see a nickel back against a twins receiver set like the one in this play. When McCray blitzed, that left Jackson with little interference on a deep post over the middle. While Kevin Curtis(notes) (80) cleared the left cornerback, Jackson headed upfield and made his break past linebacker Scott Shanle(notes) (58). Jackson then ran past free safety Darren Sharper (42) and beat strong safety Roman Harper(notes) (41) for the pass that Kolb hit Jackson with at the New Orleans 40. Jackson then ran all the way for the score. It was a great throw by Kolb, but he didn't have to beat coverage for his first NFL touchdown pass — he just had to wait for Jackson to beat that coverage. Had the Saints run a standard 4-3, or a nickel set, it could have been a very different story.

The first of Kolb's two fourth-quarter interceptions came with 1:10 left in the game and the Saints up, 41-22. The Eagles had the ball at the New Orleans 11-yard line, and they went three- wide with tight end Brent Celek(notes) (87) in the flex position against the Saints' compressed red-zone nickel defense. Kolb took the short shotgun snap with the intention of throwing a quick pass to Celek. Unfortunately, Kolb telegraphed the pass like a veritable Samuel Morse — he didn't look off at all — and Sharper used his veteran acumen to jump the route and take the ball back 97 yards for a touchdown. Short routes may sound simpler, but if receivers can make more happen on longer plays that take more time to develop, young quarterbacks can find more opportunities to be productive.

The jury's still very much out on Kevin Kolb — he'll have the benefit of Reid's West Coast Offense and talented receivers around him, but as it is with any NFL quarterback, he'll have to learn the subtleties of the game (like how and when to look off a smart defender) the hard way. Until then, the Eagles would do well to draw up plays with route complexity and personnel advantages. Making young quarterbacks create on the fly is usually a recipe for disaster.

Based on the Eagles' current offensive production and efficiency, and Kolb's familiarity with that system, Football Outsiders projects a 2010 season for Kolb that looks like this: 324 completions in 518 attempts (62.6 completion percentage) for 3,968 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. As Kolb learns to fool veteran defenders with his eyes, he'll be a better bet to keep those pick numbers low and the fantasy numbers high.

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