May 16, 2007

Run Eagles Run


Posted May 15, 2007 - 12:43 PM

I remember prior to the one Packers Super Bowl Championship season under Mike Holmgren, that the head coach came out at the start of the training camp that season and proclaimed that they were going to run the ball on everybody. He said this with MVP quarterback Brett Favre lining up behind center. Holmgren had been frustrated year after year by the Dallas Cowboys and their power running game. Holmgren and the Packers dedicated themselves to the run that season, a young Dorsey Levens ran for over 1500 yards, and the Packers dominated the league and won a Super Bowl Title. Maybe last year's stretch run by the Birds reminded Reid of that training camp and the emphasis on running the football.

With last season in the rear view mirror, the most recent draft concluded and last weekend's mini-camp completed, you can see that the Eagles are emphasizing running the football much more now, than they have in the past.

Nothing teaches better than practical knowledge. For years fans and media types clamored for Andy Reid to get a big back to work along with Brian Westbrook, as well as begging him to not rely so much on the passing game. It fell on deaf ears, until Donovan McNabb went down with a knee injury and the Birds had to rely on weak-armed veteran quarterback Jeff Garcia to lead the Birds to victory. Andy Reid saw what the running game did for the offense, as the Eagles put together a five-game winning streak, which allowed them to capture another divisional crown.

Big Red seems now to be convinced that a running game can bolster the Birds already potent air attack, when Donovan McNabb gets back under center. He had to remember the way Holmgren emphasized the run during the Pack's Super Bowl year. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who took over calling the plays a year ago, concurs. Marty's decision to center the offense around Westbrook was the decision that turned the 2006 season around. He's brought a new way of thinking to the Eagles and most importantly he has the trust of Reid.

You can see their new thinking most of all, when you examine what they did in the draft. The Eagles selected two big backs in Penn State's Tony Hunt and Hawaii's Nate Ilaoa as a testament to that new mindset. They also drafted a big physical tight end in Brent Celek, who may be more of a blocker than pass receiver. You'd have to be blind to not see that the Eagles are a different team from the standpoint, that they have now made more of a commitment to the running game. No longer do they plan on throwing the ball 40 to 50 times a game. They're much more interested in passing it 30 to 35 times a game and running it a bit less, say 30 to 35 times. They'll keep the throwing under 55% and the running over 45%.

It makes sense because of the team's strengths. In the past Donovan McNabb had to carry the offense on his back. People try to point the finger at McNabb when the Eagles lost the Super Bowl to New England but Donovan threw for nearly 400 yards and three touchdowns despite not having much of a run threat, as Westbrook was held to a little over 40 yards on the ground. The Eagles didn't emphasize running the ball during those days and that's why they could afford to line poor run blocking Hank Fraley up at center and smallish guard Artis Hicks. Richard Seymour destroyed both of them and that put the entire weight of the offense on McNabb.

That has changed dramatically because the Birds present offensive linemen are all big and physical, especially in the interior. With All-Pro Shawn Andrews at right guard, power blocking Jamaal Jackson at center, and big physical Todd Herremans at left guard the Birds are as big and physical inside, as anybody in the league. There's no question that they now have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. You can see that they plan on using it.

The new offensive mentality will place more importance on the abilities of Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter. Buck told the media this weekend, that Marty let him know he's going to get more carries. That makes sense because I don't think the Birds want to hand the ball off to the diminutive Westbrook, any more than they did a year ago. That's why Correll was informed of his new role, and that's why Hunt and Ilaoa were picked up in the draft. It's also why they didn't mind letting Garcia go and resigning the lesser priced A.J. Feeley as their backup quarterback. I think wisely realize Feeley can be just as effective as Garcia if he's given the same rushing attack to hide behind.

I like this new Eagles mentality because by building a strong running game, they're also putting themselves in position to battle the big, physical AFC teams, if they're fortunate enough to get to the Super Bowl. Now with a new found running game, which has both speed and power components, they can take pressure off of McNabb and ask him use the deep throwing arm and playmaking ability only a few times a game under optimum conditions.

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