Many of the questions that have surrounded the Eagles organization this off-season were answered in last night's 16-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
The first and most important issue was put to rest before the game even started, when Brian Westbrook signed a new contract extension and finally got the compensation he felt he deserves. Westbrook feuded with the Eagles publicly for months during the off-season, as he tried to rework his contract following an outstanding 2007 season where he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage. The terms and conditions of the deal are said to be lengthy and complicated, but the contract is rumored to be worth $21 million over three years. Even though Westbrook missed the game to review the contract, the Eagles have one less thing to worry about now that their best player is happy and focused solely on football.
Another positive sight for Eagles' fans was how much Donovan McNabb looked like the quarterback that took Philadelphia to four straight NFC Championship games. McNabb has been under scrutiny for the last few years after suffering numerous injuries that have limited his effectiveness, and he showed last night that he might have regained his Pro Bowl form. He led the Eagles on two scoring drives on their first two possessions, where he completed 10 of 13 passes for 97 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown pass to fullback Jason Davis. McNabb's passes were accurate as he hit receivers in stride consistently, and he showed the kind of decisiveness that was lacking from his game last year.
Although some people questioned his size when the team drafted him, rookie DeSean Jackson proved that he could be a factor in the Eagles' offense in the near future by making some nice plays when given the chance. Listed at 5-foot-10, 175-pounds, Jackson is small when lined up against most receivers in the NFL, but against a swarming Steelers' defense, he showed the hands, speed, and moves in the open field that could make him a legitimate home-run threat. He finished the contest with a game-high five catches for 51 yards, while appearing to fit nicely into Andy Reid's gameplan.
One question that is still up in the air after last night is if Brian Dawkins can get back to leading the Eagles' defense with his play more than his words. Dawkins has always been the team's emotional leader on defense, but he suffered a stinger last season that caused him to miss five games, and his play has regressed since then. The 13-year veteran let up a score on the Steelers' first drive of the game, when Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hit Santonio Holmes for a 18-yard touchdown pass. Dawkins was out of position when he came up to tackle Holmes on a short route, and he could not catch up to the Steelers' receiver until it was too late.
Andrew Pluta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org