While the Philadelphia Eagles defense bore the brunt of the blame for the failed 2011 campaign, the offense was also at fault for many of the team’s shortcomings.
The Eagles finished with 38 turnovers, good second in the league. They were particularly awful in the red zone, where they Eagles continually turned over the ball. And when they didn’t turn the ball over, they were unable to get into the end zone, settling for chip shot field goals rather than touchdowns. Despite finishing as the No. 4 team in the NFL in total yards, gaining nearly 400 yards per game, the Eagles were too often unable convert those yards into points. And when they couldn’t score, they couldn’t win.
This was particularly evident in the five games Philadelphia lost when blowing fourth quarter leads. As much as we malign the defense for their part in giving up points, the Eagles offense frequently vanished in the final fifteen minutes. In those five losses against the Falcons, Giants, 49ers, Bears and Cardinals, the Eagles scored a grand total of three points (and those three points were the result of an John Skelton interception deep in Eagles territory).
The Eagles improved on this near the end of the season, playing well in the red zone over the final four games. But their late-season performances should not provide a false sense of security moving forward; as Jeffrey Lurie maintained, to believe wholeheartedly in that winning streak would be “fool’s gold.” The team must approach 2012 as if the Eagles are still need of help in the red zone. Because they do.
Enter Plaxico Burress. The Eagles briefly considered signing him last offseason, but ultimately decided they would not pay $3 million for a 30-something with major question marks (instead, they signed former Pro Bowler Steve Smith), and watched him sign with the New York Jets. He went on to total 612 yards and eight touchdowns, seven of which came in the red zone. Last year, the Jets were one of the best teams in the NFL in offensive red zone efficiency, and much of that can be contributed to the presence of Burress. And it’s not like he was playing with the Greatest Show on Turf or Air Coryell–the Jets offense was fairly mediocre, and was quarterbacked by none other than the legendary Mark Sanchez, of GQ fame.
Since Terrell Owens left after the 2005 season, the Eagles have not had a dominant red zone threat at the receiver position. Right now, all their receivers are around six-foot, with the exception of Riley Cooper, who has been underwhelming in his two seasons here. Brent Celek and Clay Harbor both qualify as red zone threats, but the former is unable to carry the load by himself, and the latter hasn’t been a real factor in the passing game. For years, Plaxico has torched the Eagles with big touchdown catches time and time again (including an incredible grab in a game this past December), and Philly fans know firsthand the impact he can have in the redzone.
In many aspects, Plaxico and the Eagles are a great match for one another. Burress and Michael Vick have been close for years, and Vick was responsible for lobbying to sign Burress last year. And despite Burress’s negative reputation following his prison sentence, he has never been a malevolent presence in the locker room; Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum said “he was a really good teammate.” And he would come fairly cheap too, and could be signed for perhaps even less than the $3 million he commanded last offseason.
Detractors claim that Burress, who will turn 35 in August, is old and nearing the twilight of his career. This may be true, but it is also why he would be such a great fit in Philadelphia. Outside of the red zone, Burress would only be the #3 or #4 receiver, allowing him to stay fresh and healthy, making him even deadlier inside the 20. For the most part, he would not be the primary or secondary option on most plays, allowing him to deal with less attention from the defense and putting him in position to make more big plays and touchdowns.
In Philadelphia, Burress would be a situational player, but an extremely effective one at that. There isn’t much downside to signing him; at worst you’re getting the same player from last season, one who will help improve the overall red zone efficiency of this offense. And if he breaks out like Michael Vick did in 2010, there’s no ceiling on the potential of the offense.
Plaxico would join a talented offense, which would allow him to not only play with less attention than he afforded with other teams, but draw attention away from the team’s other playmakers. And he would become the red zone threat that would allow the Eagles offense to finally blossom fully. In his interview, he stated, “I always say you can neutralize speed, but you can’t neutralize size.”
On a roster with so much speed, Plaxico Burress would become the size this team so desperately craves.