Didinger: Bringing in Burress worth a try

Didinger: Bringing in Burress worth a try
February 29, 2012, 6:46 pm
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Plaxico Burress doesnt want to re-sign with the New York Jets and, frankly, they dont seem all that anxious to have him back. There arent a lot of NFL teams knocking down his door.

Burress will turn 35 in August. He couldnt beat most linebackers in a 40-yard dash. He has a well-documented trail of baggage that includes a stint in prison. He also has a history as a big-time playmaker.

Burress wants to play for the Eagles. He made that clear again in an interview with 97.5 The Fanatic this week, saying nothing else would make me happier. So if you are the Eagles what do you do?

I say sign him.

I dont have any illusions about what Burress is at this point in his career. He isnt the same receiver who averaged almost 20 yards a catch for Pittsburgh in 2004. He isnt the same receiver who dominated the NFC championship game in January, 2008 (11 catches, 154 yards) or pulled in the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl.

He is older and slower and he was almost invisible toward the end of last season as the Jets lost their final three games (including one to the Eagles) to fall from the AFC playoff race.

But if used properly, Burress could help the Eagles with his big body (6-5, 235), long arms and proven ability to make plays in the red zone. If he would accept what amounts to a supporting role third wide receiver and red zone specialist this could work nicely both for Burress and the Eagles.

If you look at the Jets red zone numbers, you see the Burress impact. In 2010, the Jets were one of the worst red zone offenses in football. They ranked 30th ahead of only St. Louis and Carolina. They scored 20 touchdowns on 50 trips inside the 20, a 40 percent success rate.

Last season, after adding Burress, they were the No. 1 red zone offense in the NFL. They scored 36 touchdowns on 55 red zone possessions, a 65.5 success rate. That is a dramatic improvement and Burress was a big part of it. He had seven red zone touchdown catches to rank among the league leaders.

But his impact went beyond those seven catches. It was how he made the whole offense better because of the way defenses had to account for him and his size when the Jets were inside the 20.

I saw it while watching tape prior to the Jets game against the Eagles. I paid particular attention to their red zone offense because it was the best in the league and it really did seem to revolve around Burress.

The Jets favorite play wasnt Burress on a fade or a jump ball. It was Burress on a post pattern. If the defense put one defender on him, it was almost automatic that quarterback Mark Sanchez would throw it there. It was an easy read: single coverage on Plax, boom, throw it. Burress would slant inside and use his size to block out the defender and it was an easy pitch and catch.

When teams began doubling Burress, it just created other opportunities. If they rolled two defensive backs that way, it meant either Santonio Holmes or tight end Dustin Keller was one-on-one so Sanchez would throw it there. If the defense dropped a linebacker from the inside to take away the slant to Burress, it left a gap in the run defense and Sanchez could take advantage by running a quarterback draw. He had six rushing touchdowns last year.

Burress finished the season with 45 catches for 612 yards, which are hardly big numbers. He did not have more than 79 yards receiving in any single game. But he did score eight touchdowns overall and thats more than any receiver on the Eagles and twice as many as DeSean Jackson.

Burress would be a short-term, low-risk, affordable option for the Eagles. It is not a coincidence that when a team has a short quarterback Mike Vick is closer to 5-10 than his listed 6-0 and smallish receivers, they have trouble finding each other inside the 20. Down there, the field shrinks and the game resembles a lot of big bodies crammed inside a phone booth. Good luck finding a DeSean Jackson in that mess.

But Plaxico Burress is a guy who stands out in a crowd. He always has.

In 2000, the Eagles considered drafting Burress but chose defensive tackle Corey Simon instead. Last year when Burress walked out of prison wearing a Phillies cap, there was a lot of talk (including some by Vick) about bringing him here. Again, it didnt work out.

Now?

I think its worth a try.

E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net

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