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Ground Game Rushes Into Picture

Posted Dec 5, 2012

Some of the hyperbole has been outrageous, but fun to read and hear. Bryce Brown has been a dynamo in his two starts during a seven-day span, spurring analysts to make some ridiculous comparisons ...

I mean, look, I'll be the first guy to blow bouquets in Bryce Brown's direction -- come to think of it, I was, back in the summer --and he's been as dynamic as can be in two starts, but it's only two starts and it makes no sense to get too far ahead of the game.

However, it is fair to say that Brown has played his way into the conversation -- for the remainder of this year and for 2013 as well.

In fact, the opinion here is that the 1-2 combination of LeSean McCoy and Brown should be the bread and butter of the Eagles offense when the team puts its X's and O's in place in the days and months after 2012 ends. I know it's premature to look ahead, and normally I don't do that, but it's hard to resist given Brown's two explosive starts and the All-Pro skills that McCoy brings to the game.

The truth is, when you look at the whole of the roster, the Eagles are fairly loaded at running back. They kept four on the 53-man roster in September because they thought they had something special in the group. McCoy, we knew about. Prior to the concussion suffered against the Redskins three games ago, he was moving up the franchise's all-time charts, even if the production was more difficult to come by this season than in his previous three years.

McCoy is a tremendous talent, lest we forget that in the bright lights of Brown's back-to-back big rushing games. Shady is as Shady does, and he is the main straw in this drink of an Eagles offense. Brown, by virtue of a slow but promising start to his NFL career and now in the wake of his big games against Carolina and Dallas, appears to be a special talent as well.

Don't discount Dion Lewis, who has emerged just a little from the deep season-long fog in which he spent most of this season, or Chris Polk, the big-bodied rookie who hasn't had a carry all year. All four should get some strong consideration for a rotation of some kind in this offense looking ahead.

The Eagles have long taken the pass-early-and-run-with-a-lead method of playing offense, and it worked pretty darn well in the offense's best years from 2000-2004 and then again, at times, from 2008-2010. But an offense line that has been re-jiggered and has lacked continuity the last two seasons and in turn has had a domino effect on the performance at the quarterback position has to have altered the thinking of the coaching staff.

You play to your strengths, right? And there is nothing stronger in the Eagles' offense right now, and as we peek over the hedges into 2013, than a crop of running backs more talented and much deeper than any we've seen since the Duce Staley-Correll Buckhalter-Brian Westbrook trio of 2002. The Eagles may have lacked elite receivers back then, but they scored a lot of points behind a good offensive line, a solid tight end, decent receivers and a quarterback named Donovan McNabb who didn't turn the ball over and who got six points when the Eagles were in the red zone.

If Nick Foles is the team's starting quarterback -- and he is penciled in for the remainder of this season, with anything beyond that a huge question mark -- then the Eagles are wise to find their way to the running game and make it the bread and butter of the offense. The identity, if you will, for a team that has had trouble defining itself offensively the last couple of seasons.

I'm not suggesting that the Eagles abandon the passing game, or that they stop searching for ways to be as explosive as possible. Easy points are good points in the NFL, and I've always said that a passing game that gains yards in large chunks is absolutely essential in this league. An offense cannot live by ground game alone. Just ask the Minnesota Vikings, who have the best back on the planet, Adrian Peterson, and still don't score enough points. The Vikings just don't yet have the big-time passing game with second-year man Christian Ponder at quarterback.

The Eagles have a chance to dominate the line of scrimmage with a ground game that should, barring a major setback, get better and better. Brown is just learning the game, remember. He played in just 13 collegiate games and carried the football only 104 times before taking the unusual leap into the NFL draft. His start against Carolina was the first since he played in high school.

McCoy, my gosh, he's got a chance to become the all-time leading rushing in Eagles history once he gets healthy again and returns to the all-purpose yardage gobbler that he's been here. Lewis fell deep into the rotation in training camp and is just now seeing some playing time. Polk is a bruiser who is going to benefit from have a full year to get his body stronger and recover from a very busy college career during which he took so many hits that it damaged his draft stock.

Why wouldn't the Eagles make the running game the foundation of the offense? It makes every bit of sense, and it is a silver lining to glean from this 3-9 season. The Eagles can run the ball, by golly, and maybe, just maybe, they can run it as well as any team in the league with the talent they have in the backfield and the offensive line they have now and when all of the injured starters are healthy.

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