PHILADELPHIA – Donovan McNabb must wonder what it’s like to be Kurt Warner and have a choice of star receivers.
While Warner throws to Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston in Arizona, McNabb tosses passes to a bunch of no-names. Well, they’re only unknowns outside Philadelphia.
Most people watching the Eagles play the Cardinals in the NFC championship game Sunday will need a program to figure out who’s lining up at wide receiver for the visitors.
That scrawny little guy who looks like a ballboy is DeSean Jackson (No. 10). The scruffy one with the long, shaggy hair and thick beard is Kevin Curtis (80). Keep an eye on Jason Avant (81), too. You might see Hank Baskett (84) inside the red zone on a fade route. Who knows if Reggie Brown (86) or Greg Lewis (83) will see any action?
“I think we’ve got pretty good receivers,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said Friday. “We’ve got guys that play in this offense very well. They execute. They can catch the football and execute.”
Just don’t look for any of these guys on the NFC’s Pro Bowl roster. Heck, they hardly make fantasy football rosters.
This is nothing new for McNabb. Except for the 1 1/2 seasons Terrell Owens was here, he’s never had a stud receiver. Instead, McNabb’s targets have included guys like Charles Johnson, Torrance Small, James Thrash, Todd Pinkston, Na Brown and Freddie Mitchell. Donte’ Stallworth also passed through town.
Somehow, despite a pedestrian group of wideouts, the Eagles usually have a potent passing attack. Much of the credit belongs to McNabb. Of course, Reid’s infatuation with passing also helps.
“I’m partial to No. 5,” safety Brian Dawkins said. “When he’s healthy, he’s one of the best quarterbacks in this game. And then each one of the receivers brings different things to the table. For him to be able to spread the ball to each one of their strengths, it makes this offense a tough one to defend.”
McNabb set team records this season with 3,916 yards passing and 345 completions.
The Eagles ranked sixth in passing, and scored a franchise-best 416 points.
The team’s leading receiver was Jackson, a speedy-but- diminutive rookie generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds. Jackson looks much smaller in person, but he found a way to avoid getting hurt and made 62 receptions for 912 yards and two touchdowns.
Curtis, who missed seven games with injuries, had 33 catches. Baskett also had 33 and Avant caught 32 balls. McNabb also likes to throw to running back Brian Westbrook (54 catches) and tight ends L.J. Smith (37) and Brent Celek (27).
The Eagles led the league with eight players with 25 receptions, 10 with 250 yards, seven with two TDs and five different guys with 100-yard games. Guard Todd Herremans even got in on the action, catching a 1-yard TD pass on a tackle-eligible play.
See, who needs three 1,000-yard receivers such as Fitzgerald, Boldin and Breaston when you can share the wealth?
“We have some talented tight ends here. We have some talented receivers and running backs,” said McNabb, never one to knock his teammates. “When given that opportunity and you call plays for them, that gives them a better opportunity to be successful. It gains confidence for them. It gains confidence for the offensive unit.”
Jackson has the biggest upside of Philadelphia’s receiving corps. He had consecutive 100-yard games to start his career, quickly making defenses aware of his skills. He possesses the breakaway speed to be a deep threat and has the leaping ability to make acrobatic catches.
“He’s an exciting player,” Westbrook said. “His moves, his speed have been really exciting for me and other guys on the team.”
Curtis is sure-handed and tough, unafraid to sacrifice his body and take a hit for an over-the-middle catch.
Avant has developed into a first-down maker. Six of his nine catches in the playoffs have gained first downs, including a 21-yard catch on third-and-20 against the Giants.
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