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Philadelphia Eagles: A Grounded Approach
Week 8 was a welcome sight to the sore eyes of Eagle Nation. Michael Vick and the Eagles dominated every facet of the game. While there was a lot to like about the offense, certain elements stood out.
Andy Reid’s philosophy has often been backwards in the passing game. Instead of working on shorter, higher percentage passes in early games to soften up the defense; Reed often opts for plenty of deep balls. On Sunday, when Dallas played two safeties 30 yards from the line of scrimmage, the Eagles were forced to work underneath. This was a blessing on two levels.
First, it forced the Eagles to speed up the passing game. Instead of dropping Vick deep in the pocket and praying for enough time to get the football 40 yards down the field, the ball was out of Vick’s hands within seconds. The offensive line played well as the passes were quicker and more apt to find the line still as a unit.
Second, a deep safety play by Dallas forced Vick to look for Brent Celek. Vick has been wonderful since taking over in Week 1 of 2010, but one thing he hasn’t been able to do consistently is find Celek. Celek is a weapon in the midfield. He has good hands, good speed and is a must for smaller defensive backs. His size and physical build allow him to get open quicker against tight coverage where DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin can’t. To fully reach the unit’s potential, Vick needs to use Celek more often in the middle of the field. That will help free up Maclin and Jackson on the outside for those deep throws that Reid loves so much.
Turning the ball over to Celek wasn’t the only unusual wrinkle exposed by the Eagles’ offense on Sunday night. No, sir. The most obvious departure from Reid’s typical game plan was the commitment to LeSean McCoy. McCoy’s 30 carries were the most by an Eagle running back this season. In fact, the week marked the second straight week McCoy set a new career high in career highs. What’s more, McCoy’s 28 carries in Week 6 and his 30 last week were the Eagles’ most run attempts since Brian Westbrook got rocked 33 times against the New York Giants on Dec. 7, 2008. That’s not a typo. If anything has felt different in the Eagles’ last two outings, it’s because it’s been three full years since we’ve seen a quarterback handle this kind of workload. Hold on. I give Reid a standing ovation….. Ok, that was nice.
McCoy is an incredible talent. He is undoubtedly one of the top five running backs in the NFL. In fact, as an all-rounder, he is probably the best. Matt Forte may be the better receiver, and Adrian Peterson and/or Arian Foster may have more refined running styles, but when evaluating the overall package, McCoy is the clear number one pick. Reid is starting to notice too.
Reid’s commitment to a more balanced approach wore down Dallas’ smaller defense and slowed its pass rush. Obviously, McCoy won’t have the same success every weekend, but the commitment to the running game improves the passing game, relieves pressure on the offensive line and gives Vick more opportunities to find Jackson and Maclin down the stretch. No doubt Reid knows this. Despite his reputation as a pass-happy coach, Reid often trusted Brian Westbrook to carry the offense late in the season when passing conditions were less than ideal. Sunday proved that Reid is starting to have (or already has) that same trust in McCoy. If McCoy catches the defense more than four yards and Vick pulls Celek into the offensive mix, the Eagles will have a hard time stopping the offense. Once teams start shedding safeties to help contain McCoy and cover Celek, the Eagles will find more opportunities to take advantage of the lethal speed of Jackson and Maclin.
Eagle offense finds its mark. And with the proper commitment to McCoy and Celek, the Eagles could soon be an offensive juggernaut. That is, if they haven’t already.
1. The Eagles’ defense benefited from a great offensive performance Sunday night. If the Eagles hadn’t jumped out to an early lead, Dallas likely would have relied more on their play. In their limited attempts, the Cowboys were able to hit big plays on the ground. Obviously, this isn’t as big of an issue if the Eagle offense clicks, but there will undoubtedly be games, especially when the weather starts to turn bad, where the defense has to bail out the offense. And you can bet teams will make runs against the Eagles, unless they’re facing a big deficit.
2. With Arizona, Miami, Seattle and Washington still on the Eagles’ schedule, it’s hard not to credit the four wins to the Eagles. But if Week 8 taught us anything, it’s that there are no easy wins in the NFL. Parity still rules. Climbing out of a 1-4 hole to reach the playoffs is a daunting task, so don’t expect an easy road, even against the NFL’s basement dwellers.
3. The Eagles are one Michael Vick injury away from joining the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.
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