Eagles must learn to run before they can soar

IRVING, Texas — The Eagles have one more chance to solve the Cowboys’ riddle on Saturday night, or their season, which began with Super Bowl expectations, will end well short.

Expect more involvement from rookie LeSean McCoy.
Expect more involvement from rookie LeSean McCoy.

Considering the Eagles were shut out, 24-0, at Cowboys Stadium last week, they must do plenty of things better to have a chance to win Saturday night. Many of them are simple, fundamental football tasks, but none will come easy against the fast and physical Cowboys.

1. Stop the run. The fact Dallas running backs Marion Barber and Felix Jones were both effective last week in the power rushing attack (91 yards each) threw off Philadelphia’s defensive plans.

"By them running the ball well, it basically killed us," Eagles safety Quintin Mikell said.

The Cowboys passed effectively off the success of the run and kept the aggressive Eagles off-balance, leading to big holes for Barber and Jones. On Saturday night, Philadelphia will work on getting defenders in better position to fill those lanes before Barber or Jones can run into the secondary.

"We need to get a lot more guys around the ball," Mikell said. "We have to tackle better and we have to get off of blocks better."

To that end, don’t be surprised to see some lineup changes, such as giving more reps to veteran run-stopping middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter on early downs.

2. Get out to a fast start. The Eagles didn’t quite get started Sunday. Looking at their talent and typical offensive prowess, getting a quick score this week would give the team confidence and much-needed momentum.

"Everybody says start fast, finish strong," Eagles running back Brian Westbrook said. "But there are going to be ebbs and flows to every game. Even if you start fast, you have to try to continue that throughout the whole game."

For all their big-play ability, the Eagles are at their best when Donovan McNabb gets into an early rhythm to where he’s consistently connecting with all receivers, methodically moving the ball downfield. When the base offense is working well, it opens up more opportunities to hit big plays.

3. Run the ball more. Most teams tend to abandon the run when staring at a 17-0 halftime deficit, and pass-first Andy Reid tends to fade it out in some games no matter the score.

The game’s outcome shouldn’t completely rest on McNabb’s arm, and the running game doesn’t have to be all about Westbrook, either. Expect speedy rookie backup LeSean McCoy and Pro Bowl fullback Leonard Weaver — both performed well when Westbrook was sidelined by concussions — to be more involved.

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said the Eagles wanted to run more last week, but the early deficit limited their options.

"We had a plan last week, and we tried to get back into the game," Mornhinweg said. "So we didn’t really get to that plan for the three backs that we have that carry the football."

There’s also the added dimension of Michael Vick, who didn’t play last week but is healthy enough to contribute Saturday night. Even if the Cowboys are prepared for the "Wildcat" offense, a fresh and versatile Vick still poses a challenge.

4. Get a spark from special teams. From kickoff specialist David Buehler’s touchback boots to solid punt coverage that gave the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson little room to operate on his returns, the Cowboys easily won the battle for field position last week.

A big return would allow the Eagles’ offense to operate with a short field, which could make the difference in what figures to be a much closer game.

Vinnie Iyer is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at viyer@sportingnews.com.

IRVING, Texas — The Eagles have one more chance to solve the Cowboys’ riddle on Saturday night, or their season, which began with Super Bowl expectations, will end well short.

Expect more involvement from rookie LeSean McCoy.
Expect more involvement from rookie LeSean McCoy.

Considering the Eagles were shut out, 24-0, at Cowboys Stadium last week, they must do plenty of things better to have a chance to win Saturday night. Many of them are simple, fundamental football tasks, but none will come easy against the fast and physical Cowboys.

1. Stop the run. The fact Dallas running backs Marion Barber and Felix Jones were both effective last week in the power rushing attack (91 yards each) threw off Philadelphia’s defensive plans.

"By them running the ball well, it basically killed us," Eagles safety Quintin Mikell said.

The Cowboys passed effectively off the success of the run and kept the aggressive Eagles off-balance, leading to big holes for Barber and Jones. On Saturday night, Philadelphia will work on getting defenders in better position to fill those lanes before Barber or Jones can run into the secondary.

"We need to get a lot more guys around the ball," Mikell said. "We have to tackle better and we have to get off of blocks better."

To that end, don’t be surprised to see some lineup changes, such as giving more reps to veteran run-stopping middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter on early downs.

2. Get out to a fast start. The Eagles didn’t quite get started Sunday. Looking at their talent and typical offensive prowess, getting a quick score this week would give the team confidence and much-needed momentum.

"Everybody says start fast, finish strong," Eagles running back Brian Westbrook said. "But there are going to be ebbs and flows to every game. Even if you start fast, you have to try to continue that throughout the whole game."

For all their big-play ability, the Eagles are at their best when Donovan McNabb gets into an early rhythm to where he’s consistently connecting with all receivers, methodically moving the ball downfield. When the base offense is working well, it opens up more opportunities to hit big plays.

3. Run the ball more. Most teams tend to abandon the run when staring at a 17-0 halftime deficit, and pass-first Andy Reid tends to fade it out in some games no matter the score.

The game’s outcome shouldn’t completely rest on McNabb’s arm, and the running game doesn’t have to be all about Westbrook, either. Expect speedy rookie backup LeSean McCoy and Pro Bowl fullback Leonard Weaver — both performed well when Westbrook was sidelined by concussions — to be more involved.

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said the Eagles wanted to run more last week, but the early deficit limited their options.

"We had a plan last week, and we tried to get back into the game," Mornhinweg said. "So we didn’t really get to that plan for the three backs that we have that carry the football."

There’s also the added dimension of Michael Vick, who didn’t play last week but is healthy enough to contribute Saturday night. Even if the Cowboys are prepared for the "Wildcat" offense, a fresh and versatile Vick still poses a challenge.

4. Get a spark from special teams. From kickoff specialist David Buehler’s touchback boots to solid punt coverage that gave the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson little room to operate on his returns, the Cowboys easily won the battle for field position last week.

A big return would allow the Eagles’ offense to operate with a short field, which could make the difference in what figures to be a much closer game.

Vinnie Iyer is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at viyer@sportingnews.com.

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