Second-round draft pick LJ Smith had a difficult time finding success in the Eagles offense, while undrafted Chad Lewis and now 5th-roound pick Brent Celek have made Pro Bowl seasons for themselves. The only possible explanation is the lack of respect from opposing defenses. No offense to the two of them, but neither Chad Lewis nor Brent Celek is a better athlete than LJ.
Celek was an offensive force to be reckoned with this season for a team record-setting offensive attack. While most astute Eagles fans are not totally surprised by his outbreak after seeing flashes of his talent last year when former Eagle LJ Smith was in and out of the lineup, it’s tough to think that anyone saw Brent’s (barely short of) 1,000-yard Pro Bowl season coming.
By all accounts, Brent is a very complete tight end, with a good reputation as a blocker and an emerging role as a dynamic pass-catcher. Celek does a good job of running his routes, and takes advantage of the opportunities created for him by the rest of his offense.
But think about how open Celek is when he makes most of his catches. Even the best route-runners can’t create that type of separation. The good thing for Celek is, he doesn’t have to create this space for himself. A large portion of it is done for him before the ball is even snapped.
Let’s take a look at it, putting ourselves in the shoes of the defense. Lining up against a potent Eagles offense, there are a lot of things to consider.
- QB: Donovan McNabb is a veteran quarterback with a good understanding of defenses. He needs attention from all around the defense, but if the front four can get pressure on him, he often becomes skittish in the pocket and is more likely to throw an errant ball that can be intercepted or at least predicted and defended reliably. With a weakened Offensive Line, the pass rush and any additional blitzers should expect to be especially effective against the Eagles protection schemes.
- RB: Whether it is perennial Pro-Bowler and explosive runner Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy the third-leading rookie rusher with over 900 yards on the season, or FB Leonard Weaver who has showcased some wheels to go along with impressive blocking abilities, the Eagles backfield is not to be taken lightly. At least one linebacker will be needed to contain the backfield, likely two.
- WR: DeSean Jackson is one of the top five deep-threat receivers in all of professional football. I like to call him the Allen Iverson of football. Between his slight build, electrifying speed and quickness, tattoo-laden body, and self-fulfilling cockiness, DeSean commands a lot of defensive attention, just like A.I. on the hardwood. Expect to commit the best corner on the defense as well as copious amounts of safety help over the top, or expect to get burned for a few 40+ yard touchdowns. Jackson must be a defensive focus on every play.
- WR: Jeremy Maclin is not nearly as fast as is DeSean Jackson, but he is not nearly as small either. Maclin’s speed is not a weakness, but it is his size, hands, and toughness that make him a valuable possession receiver. The 2001 Aaron McKie/George Lynch to Desean Jackson’s A.I., if you will. The other starting corner will be matched up primarily with Maclin, and it’s important that he is physical enough to match up, otherwise Maclin will match up very favorably with him.
- WR: Jason Avant is a very solid, professional slot receiver. He goes over the middle, takes big hits, and most importantly does not drop passes. To continue the 2001 Sixers metaphor, you might call him the Tyrone Hill here. It’s a pretty ugly set of contributions that he brings to the table, but very useful. Not at all the first person you think of in terms of the Eagles, Avant is nevertheless a crucial cog in the Eagles offensive machine. Avant is going to occupy a linebacker and/or a safety (though safety help means single-coverage on one of the last two receivers).
To take account now, that’s the front four (at least) dedicated to containing McNabb; linebackers assigned to the running back(s) and/or Jason Avant; and the secondary dedicated to covering Jackson, Maclin, and helping on Avant or on the blitz. Somewhere in the midst of all of this is Brent Celek, at best matched up in single coverage with a linebacker. And can anyone blame a defense for ending up in this situation?
Let’s see, we have the most explosive WR in the league on one side; a big, quick, physical WR on the other; all to go along with a sure-handed slot man and a good pass-receiving backfield underneath.
So who are you not going to cover?
Come on, let’s be serious. No one is going out of their way to cover the big white dude that wasn’t even a relatively high draft choice, and has pretty average speed and bad enough hands that he led the league in drops for receivers whose team made the playoffs.
When the Dallas Cowboys figured out a way to successfully single-cover the receivers of the Eagles the past two weeks, allowing for more complete coverage on Celek, the results were ugly for the Eagles and their fans. With the exception of one big-time deep ball to Jeremy Maclin, the Cowboys allowed next to nothing. With a lack of production coming from other positions, you would expect that Celek might be able to make up some yardage and energize the offense.
However, it was essentially the exact opposite.
With everyone else slowed to a halt, Celek did not find the cushions in the defense that were normally allowed for him, and was not able to come up with the same type of catches and yardage in a constrained pass-happy attack. While it is a credit to him that he takes advantage of the opportunities provided to him, Celek’s big numbers are more of a product of the explosiveness of the rest of the Eagles’ offense than of his own skill set.
Noteworthy other examples of the Brent Celek Theory:
- Todd Heap
- ND Kalu (defensively)
- Jason Kapono (dead-eye shooter and worthwhile contributor for good Heat/Cavs teams, bum for bad SIxers/Raptors/other teams)
- Eric Snow (never even remotely good without A.I.)
- Pat Burrell (deep drop in stats after leaving the protection of Howard and Utley)
Please feel free to disagree and/or add your own examples, as there are plenty of them inside and outside of Philadelphia.