Thanks to Jason from Bleeding Green Nation for answering these. If I may editorialize briefly (it's so unlike me), I credit Jason for providing insight only an ardent fan can offer. I did not know until now that McNabb bore some of the blame for the Eagles' pass blocking.
1) Roster-wise and statistically, the Eagles look like a very good team that's wildly inconsistent. What accounts for the unpredictability of Philly's performance?
I could give the simple answer and say it's a lot of things... but I'm going to go ahead and say that a lot of it has been due to inconsistency from Donovan McNabb. He's had moments of brilliance this year where he looks like the old Mcnabb. However there's other times where he holds onto the ball and takes needless sacks, he seems to miss open recievers, his accuracy has been questionable, and he's clearly not able to move like he once did.
I think the Patriots game revealed a lot of things. When McNabb sees the rush coming, his insitinct is to avoid it and buy himself time. In the past that's been great for him because he's been so elusive and it's really created some big plays. However, this year with him being slowed down while trying to recover from the knee injury that instinct hasn't served him well. He still looks to avoid the rush, but can't like he used to. On the other hand, when AJ Feeley sees the rush coming his instinct is to get rid of the ball before he gets hit. So everyone talked about how great the Eagles line look last week, but I think a lot of it had to do with Feeley getting rid of theball quickly and being decisive. Many of the sacks of McNabb this year have been due to him holding onto the ball too long and not seeing the field well.
2) I gushed about Brian Westbrook to the Field Gulls faithful, pointing out the scarcity of rushers with his receiving ability, the versatility he brings to an offense and how badly the Eagles pass blocking suffers when he's not able to work as an outlet receiver. Where would the Eagles be without him?
I don't want to even think about where they'd be without #36... Not only is he obviously a great player on the field, he's really grown into a real leader on this team. So his value goes beyond even the production he brings on the field. Plus, he's actually a fantastic blocking back. Not just for his size, he's just good period. He's as good at blitz pickup and chipping as any RB I've ever seen in an Eagles uniform.
The offense revolves around him even at the best of times... but especially this year when the QB has struggled at times. It really makes what he's done even more impressive. Absolutely every team we face game plans to stop Brian Westbrook first and foremost and he still makes plays.
3) Do the Eagles part ways with McNabb in the offseason? Does that mean they enter a rebuilding phase, or do they just need a productive offseason to retool and make another run?
I've been saying that the Eagles have already been in a re-building phase for 2 years now. They've been shedding themselves of aging veterans and replacing them with young guys for a while now. A good example this year was the cutting of Jeremiah Trotter. There's a few positons of age on this team, but otherwise it's rather young. Jevon Kearse lost his starting job and has even been deactivated at times this year, so that means the entire starting defensive line was drafted in the past 3 years. There's Brian Dawkins and Jon Runyan... but otherwise it's a young team. Plus, the Eagles have spent most of their extra cap room over the past 2 years locking up the young talent on the team. Doing so has left them with upwards of $30 million in free cap space next offseason.
As for the McNabb issue, I honestly don't know. I really truly believe it all depends on what happens over the last few games of the season. Like I said before, at times he's played well this year and at times he hasn't. He's been trying to get back from his knee injury and that's a concern, but frankly I'm not sure all his problems this year can be attributed only to the injury. Much of it will depend on what some other team offers the Eagles for him. I highly doubt they'd cut him. That said, this team needs better QB play if they want to be a contender in the next few years and eventually we're going to want to see what Kevin Kolb can do.
4) My opinion of the Eagles' pass blocking is something very close to awful. Is that accurate? And who's to blame?
I suppose I jumped the gun and answered this one in question one... I think the stats are very very misleading about the Eagles pass blocking. As I said, I put a ton of blame on McNabb. There's just been so many sacks this year he has taken where he's had a ton of time and just didn't find a reciever or didn't get rid of the ball. I don't think it's a coincidence that the Eagles offensive line only gave up one sack against the Patriots with AJ Feeley under center.
There was one game where the line was downright awful and that was against the Giants, but that was a game where we were missing starters on the offensive line and missing Brian Westbrook.
5) In what otherwise looks like a close matchup, special teams could play an important part in Sunday's contest. Philadelphia is now ranked as below average in every phase of special teams and 29th overall. How will the Eagles answer the Hawks top ranked punt and kick return units?
To their credit, I think the Eagles have realized that their special teams stink. So I expect them to play the Seahawks this weekend much like they did the Bears. They aren't really going to give many opportunities for returns. You'll see lots of hang time and lots of directional kicking. You'll probably see a whole of fair catches after sky high 35-40 yard punts. Even the kickoffs against the Bears where hit sky high to about the 15 or 20 yard line. They were able to completely neutralize Devin Hester using this method.
The obvious downside is that by doing so they give up 10-15 yards(if not more) of field position on every single kick. So if they do the same against the Seahawks as they did against the Bears, I doubt you'll see any big returns but you should be enjoying nice field position all day. Which, ironically is what a nice return would give you anyway... but it keeps them out of the end zone.