McNabb needs to have an MVP game

Here are the keys to victory for the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.

Originally Published: February 4, 2005
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It's been all about Terrell Owens all week, but it's still unclear how effective he'll actually be on Sunday.

So with Owens' availability still uncertain, here are five ways the Eagles can beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX, and Owens isn't one of them:

Donovan McNabb
GettyDonovan McNabb threw 31 TDs and only eight INTs this season.
1.
 Donovan McNabb has an MVP-type performance. For the Eagles to win, they need McNabb to be on the top of his game. The Eagles really don't have all of the weapons that have made McNabb so good this season. Tight end Chad Lewis has been a dependable receiver for McNabb during his entire career, but he's out with a broken foot. Terrell Owens will play but he won't be 100 percent, and it's not a lock for him to be able to last the entire game. He's less than two months removed from ankle surgery. Though he ran long routes, he may not have the explosion to make big plays. That puts all of the pressure on McNabb, and he has to respond. McNabb works well out of three- and five-step drops, but he will be throwing into a zone defense that could have as many six-to-eight players in coverage. The Patriots pass defenders will try to keep receivers in front of them and have an extra man around to make plays on the ball. What the Eagles can't afford is interceptions. McNabb almost has to have an interception-free game to win.

2.
 The Eagles have to find a way to get diminutive running back Brian Westbrook 25 touches. While McNabb needs to come up big, Westbrook is almost as important. This Super Bowl features two completely different types of backs. Westbrook is more of a finesse halfback like Dave Meggett or Tiki Barber. The Eagles usually don't like to pound the ball with Westbrook. The Eagles will run different screens and also line Westbrook up as a wide receiver. He's been the X-factor for the Eagles during the playoffs, and that won't change during the Super Bowl. Andy Reid did the right thing in resting Westbrook during the final two weeks of the regular season. He was fresh and strong during the playoffs. Don't be surprise if they overload him during this game. He averaged 19 touches during the two playoff games, but he'll need more Sunday. The Patriots will have linebackers or corners in zone trying to prevent Westbrook from being an effective receiver. The Eagles need to beat those schemes in order to win.

3.
 Jevon Kearse has to have a freak-like performance. The Eagles must have a big day from their defensive line and "The Freak" needs to be in the middle of it. After having a big game in the NFC championship at right end, Kearse will go back to left end and may have a favorable matchup against Patriots right tackle Brandon Gorin. Kearse is one of the game's best pass rushers and could be one of the potential MVP candidates if he can have a three-sack day. The Eagles have a deep defensive line with eight players in their rotation and can create formidable problems. The Eagles need good games from defensive tackles Corey Simon, Darwin Walker and Sam Rayburn to help against the run. If the Patriots overload the pass blocking on Kearse's side, Derrick Burgess needs to have a big game. Kearse and Burgess worked so well to contain Michael Vick. They will have to do more to stop Tom Brady. Brady gets rid of the ball quickly that he gives opposing defenses fits. In three- and five-step drops, Brady can release the ball before any of the ends can get to him. What the Eagles defense can't allow is Brady to use play-action fakes to Corey Dillon and get into a seven-step drop. Brady had 52 completions of 20 yards or more this season. Big plays win Super Bowls, and the pressure to stop that falls on the defensive line.

4.
 Corey Dillon can't gain 100-yards. This one is simple. If Dillon gets over 100 yards, the Eagles can't expect to win. Dillon is one of the game's best runners. He's the classic Super Bowl-type runner that usually comes out the winner. Dillon has an angry running style. He hits the holes in the middle of the field at full speed and bounces hard to the outside. Once he gets to the outside, Dillon has the NFL's best stiff arm. Defenders have to make sure they tackle Dillon low. If he gets that stiff arm into the defender, he can turn a 10-yard run into a 25-yarder or possibly a touchdown. Middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter has a lot to do with what type of game Dillon will have. Trotter is 260 pounds and creates havoc along the offensive line. Trotter can disrupt the blocking scheme by slamming into a center or blitzing into the backfield. Trotter has to focus on solid tackling and not let Dillon get downfield on running plays. He's an important line of defense that has to come through as he did during the two playoff games.

5.
 The Eagles Pro Bowl secondary has to have a Pro Bowl game. This may sound silly, but the Eagles secondary has to play up to that lofty level. The Eagles have three Pro Bowlers in the secondary -- cornerback Lito Sheppard and safeties Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis. Cornerback Sheldon Brown is the only one not going to Hawaii, and he probably deserved a spot, too. Still, this is a reasonably young secondary and this is the unit's biggest game. Sheppard and Brown can't slip up. Veteran cornerbacks Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent both played in a lot of big games and played well, but they're gone. Brown and Sheppard are different types of corners than their predecessors. Vincent and Taylor used their hands well to disrupt receiver routes. Brown and Sheppard cover receivers more with their feet. That gives defensive coordinator Jim Johnson the luxury of using more man-to-man calls, but Sheppard and Brown have to come through. The Patriots have quick receivers and Brady likes to go downfield more than he has in his past two Super Bowls. This secondary has to play like Pro Bowlers to win.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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