For Kolb’s sake, Eagles must ramp up running game

LeSean McCoy made a name for himself as a rookie last season.
LeSean McCoy made a name for himself as a rookie last season.

PHILADELPHIA—For the past two seasons, the Eagles’ running attack has been more a weakness than a weapon.

The Eagles continued to feature a pass-reliant offense under Andy Reid, ranking 22nd in rushing in 2008 and ’09. They averaged 24 rushing attempts per game last season—and only the Cardinals (22.8), Colts (22.9), 49ers (23.2) and Bears (23.3) averaged fewer.

LeSean McCoy led the Eagles in rushing with just 637 yards. Former Eagle Correll Buckhalter actually had more yards with the Broncos (642) despite sharing Denver’s running duties with Knowshon Moreno.

The good news is the Eagles have been a perennial winner under Reid. The bad news is the Eagles’ running game has often struggled in three key areas: Short-yardage situations, the red zone and chewing clock while attempting to protect fourth-quarter leads.

The lack of a consistent running game also hurt the Eagles against quality opponents last season. In three losses to the Cowboys, the Eagles were badly outrushed (453 yards to 181 yards) and dominated in time of possession.

The Eagles have changed quarterbacks for ’10, trading Donovan McNabb to the Redskins and elevating backup Kevin Kolb. Will the Eagles’ running game make Kolb’s transition easier or tougher? Here are five questions that will help determine whether the Eagles run the ball more effectively this season:

Is McCoy ready for prime time?

McCoy had a nice rookie season, showing shifty moves and reliable hands as a receiver. His emergence made it easier for the Eagles to say goodbye to Brian Westbrook. However, McCoy will be asked to do more as the feature back from Week 1. His teammates say he is ready.

"He’s young, but he’s a pro," new Eagles back Mike Bell said. "You can expect a lot of big things out of him. I’d like to steal a couple of his moves. I like watching him run. He’s a like a basketball player playing football.

"He’s not going to shake you and run out of bounds. He’s going to shake you and lower his shoulder. That’s why I respect him."

If McCoy emerges as a 1,000-yard back, Eagles opponents will be forced to honor the run for the first time in a while. If McCoy doesn’t produce consistently from week to week, the running game figures to struggle.

Can the line open holes?

This unit has serious question marks. Center Jamaal Jackson still is recovering from a torn ACL sustained late last year—and the line was much better with him than without him. Left guard Todd Herremans has a nagging foot injury, but Reid says he’ll be ready for training camp on July 29.

Guard Stacy Andrews was inconsistent coming off a ’08 knee injury and struggled in his first year in the Eagles’ system. Even talented left tackle Jason Peters, acquired from Buffalo last spring, did not play up to expectations. For the Eagles to run better, this unit must play better.

Will Reid call enough running plays?

One school of thought says the Eagles will try to run more this season, hoping to take pressure off Kolb. However, if Kolb throws more accurately than McNabb, the Eagles actually might run less.

Picture the Eagles moving the ball more methodically downfield, relying on the short passing game and Kolb’s ability to hit receivers in stride. The better Kolb plays, the more difficult it might be for Reid to resist putting the ball in the air—especially with weapons like DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek. Don’t expect Reid to stick with a running game that doesn’t get results.

Is McCoy the only option?

Fullback Leonard Weaver averaged 4.6 yards per carry last season and probably deserved more than 70 carries.

"I’ve always been a guy that whatever the coach says, I do," Weaver said. "Of course, I would love to have a bigger role. But my job is to be ready when the coach asks."

Bell, signed as a free agent, led the Saints in carries last season (172) and will get the first shot to spell McCoy. Rookie back Charles Scott also will be given a chance to earn playing time.

McCoy was the only Eagles back to rush for more than 350 yards or two touchdowns last season. That must change.

Will the defense improve?

The Eagles slipped on defense last season, surrendering 337 points—the most the team had allowed since 2005. A host of new players could play key roles, including rookie safety Nate Allen, rookie end Brandon Graham, end Darryl Tapp (acquired from the Seahawks) and linebacker Ernie Sims (acquired from the Lions).

An improved defense will mean more opportunities for the offense as a whole, including the running game.

Clifton Brown is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at cliftonbrown@sportingnews.com.

LeSean McCoy made a name for himself as a rookie last season.
LeSean McCoy made a name for himself as a rookie last season.

PHILADELPHIA—For the past two seasons, the Eagles’ running attack has been more a weakness than a weapon.

The Eagles continued to feature a pass-reliant offense under Andy Reid, ranking 22nd in rushing in 2008 and ’09. They averaged 24 rushing attempts per game last season—and only the Cardinals (22.8), Colts (22.9), 49ers (23.2) and Bears (23.3) averaged fewer.

LeSean McCoy led the Eagles in rushing with just 637 yards. Former Eagle Correll Buckhalter actually had more yards with the Broncos (642) despite sharing Denver’s running duties with Knowshon Moreno.

The good news is the Eagles have been a perennial winner under Reid. The bad news is the Eagles’ running game has often struggled in three key areas: Short-yardage situations, the red zone and chewing clock while attempting to protect fourth-quarter leads.

The lack of a consistent running game also hurt the Eagles against quality opponents last season. In three losses to the Cowboys, the Eagles were badly outrushed (453 yards to 181 yards) and dominated in time of possession.

The Eagles have changed quarterbacks for ’10, trading Donovan McNabb to the Redskins and elevating backup Kevin Kolb. Will the Eagles’ running game make Kolb’s transition easier or tougher? Here are five questions that will help determine whether the Eagles run the ball more effectively this season:

Is McCoy ready for prime time?

McCoy had a nice rookie season, showing shifty moves and reliable hands as a receiver. His emergence made it easier for the Eagles to say goodbye to Brian Westbrook. However, McCoy will be asked to do more as the feature back from Week 1. His teammates say he is ready.

"He’s young, but he’s a pro," new Eagles back Mike Bell said. "You can expect a lot of big things out of him. I’d like to steal a couple of his moves. I like watching him run. He’s a like a basketball player playing football.

"He’s not going to shake you and run out of bounds. He’s going to shake you and lower his shoulder. That’s why I respect him."

If McCoy emerges as a 1,000-yard back, Eagles opponents will be forced to honor the run for the first time in a while. If McCoy doesn’t produce consistently from week to week, the running game figures to struggle.

Can the line open holes?

This unit has serious question marks. Center Jamaal Jackson still is recovering from a torn ACL sustained late last year—and the line was much better with him than without him. Left guard Todd Herremans has a nagging foot injury, but Reid says he’ll be ready for training camp on July 29.

Guard Stacy Andrews was inconsistent coming off a ’08 knee injury and struggled in his first year in the Eagles’ system. Even talented left tackle Jason Peters, acquired from Buffalo last spring, did not play up to expectations. For the Eagles to run better, this unit must play better.

Will Reid call enough running plays?

One school of thought says the Eagles will try to run more this season, hoping to take pressure off Kolb. However, if Kolb throws more accurately than McNabb, the Eagles actually might run less.

Picture the Eagles moving the ball more methodically downfield, relying on the short passing game and Kolb’s ability to hit receivers in stride. The better Kolb plays, the more difficult it might be for Reid to resist putting the ball in the air—especially with weapons like DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek. Don’t expect Reid to stick with a running game that doesn’t get results.

Is McCoy the only option?

Fullback Leonard Weaver averaged 4.6 yards per carry last season and probably deserved more than 70 carries.

"I’ve always been a guy that whatever the coach says, I do," Weaver said. "Of course, I would love to have a bigger role. But my job is to be ready when the coach asks."

Bell, signed as a free agent, led the Saints in carries last season (172) and will get the first shot to spell McCoy. Rookie back Charles Scott also will be given a chance to earn playing time.

McCoy was the only Eagles back to rush for more than 350 yards or two touchdowns last season. That must change.

Will the defense improve?

The Eagles slipped on defense last season, surrendering 337 points—the most the team had allowed since 2005. A host of new players could play key roles, including rookie safety Nate Allen, rookie end Brandon Graham, end Darryl Tapp (acquired from the Seahawks) and linebacker Ernie Sims (acquired from the Lions).

An improved defense will mean more opportunities for the offense as a whole, including the running game.

Clifton Brown is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at cliftonbrown@sportingnews.com.

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