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The Run Game Shall Lead Them

Posted Sep 10, 2013

Maybe the run/pass ratio will change, and at some point we will stop pinching ourselves over Chip Kelly's debut as a head coach, but this much seems clear: The running game fuels the offense ...

Watching LeSean McCoy chew up the Redskins with 184 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 31 carries was as enjoyable as any Eagles offensive performance in the last many years. And in the hours that have passed since Monday night, the debate among the national media and fan perspective has raged: Can the pace at which the Eagles played offense against the Redskins continue through a full NFL season? What wrinkles will head coach Chip Kelly introduce from one week to the next to aid the cause? Can Michael Vick stay healthy?

And on and on it's gone. Fascinating stuff. The Eagles are the subject of national attention and conversation after Kelly's go-go-go pace shredded Washington in the first half of the road victory. A remarkable 11 million viewers watched Monday's game on ESPN, and it seems like all of them have offered an opinion of the Eagles' offense and Kelly's out-of-the-box methods.

For those of us who have gone through a lifetime of Eagles' offenses, what Kelly did was truly revolutionary because of the design of the attack, the variety of the formations, the confidence of the play calls and, yes, the incredible tempo.

At the same time, you are an Eagles fan, and you have seen offensive explosions before. You have come away from games saying, "The Eagles can be unstoppable on offense if ..."

And it's ended there.

Some mighty good offenses have come and gone through here, and there have been several electrifying players over the years. One piece that sets this offense apart from those in the last 20 years of Eagles football, at first glance, is the running game and the depth of talent and, more than anything, the commitment from the coaching staff that the Eagles are going to run the football.

Who is the last Eagles head coach who was truly committed to having the running game set up the rest of the offense? Dick Vermeil, anyone? It surely wasn't Marion Campbell, for he didn't have the tools or the offensive know-how to make it happen. Buddy Ryan was all about "five big plays" from quarterback Randall Cunningham to fuel the offense. Rich Kotite believed in a mix, but he was more passing oriented. Ray Rhodes ran the West Coast offense and, while he had Ricky Watters and a young Duce Staley in the backfield, Rhodes wanted to beat defenses with the passing game first.

Andy Reid? He had a tremendous offensive scheme and a lot of success, and through the years his offense benefitted from great backs like Staley, Brian Westbrook and McCoy, but nobody could reasonably argue that the run set up the pass in the Reid era.

It could be premature to say it after only half a calendar year, four preseason games and one game in the regular season, but it sure looks like Kelly's staple is the running game. He's an "equal-opportunity" offensive genius, and this is not to suggest that Kelly can be defined with his offensive tendencies, but I can't recall the last time defensive coordinators made stopping the Eagles' running game the first priority.

With this offense, the running game is the staple. With talented backs like McCoy, Bryce Brown and Chris Polk, the Eagles have as deep a trio as they've had in a long, long time. The threesome of Westbrook, Correll Buckhalter and Staley was outstanding, but I'm willing to say that McCoy is everything that Westbrook was, plus more durable and powerful, that Brown has more to offer than did Buckhalter and that Polk, while not quite at the same level as was Staley in his final NFL seasons, is an emerging talent who will be productive when given the opportunity.

Plus, the Eagles have an offensive line built to open gaping holes and a scheme that, when executed, offers huge seams in defenses through which to run.

There will come a time in the not-too-distant future when defenses sell out to clog the running lanes and dare the Eagles to beat them with the passing game. I'm not smart enough to go a whole lot deeper into the X's and O's, but it seems obvious that the only chance defenses have against the Eagles' offense is to try to slow McCoy, limit his cutback lanes and force quarterback Michael Vick to win games with his arm.

We're likely to see defenses throw up some daring schemes to attack the line of scrimmage and attempt to take McCoy's explosive runs out of the scheme. We're then going to see Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur offer a counter move, part of a fascinating chess match that coaches love.

Never before have I felt this confident that the Eagles can run the ball on any defense. It won't always be as it was on Monday night when the Eagles ran the ball 49 times and gained 263 yards, including some Vick scrambles as well as designed runs from him, but the foundation is here to have a running attack that should rank among the best in the league all season.

When is the last time you could say that, and at the same time have faith that the coaching staff believed the same thing and would actually commit to making the ground game go? There is a lot to marvel at with the offense, as the national perspective is debating, but for all of us who have watched the Eagles for so many seasons, the truly innovative part is that the Eagles have an offense that can run the ball from anywhere on the football field, at any time in a game, and have success.

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