The numbers say that offense hasn't been much of a problem for Andy Reid's Eagles. The yardage has always been there. The points have been there. Donovan McNabb's numbers are terrific during the course of his career.
Yet, there is a nagging perception out there that the Eagles absolutely must run the football more, more, more in 2009, and that with a big, strong offensive line and an accomplished fullback and some promising depth behind a very healthy Brian Westbrook, the Eagles have every reason to believe they can run the ball when they dial it up.
The Eagles counter by suggesting they need to be more efficient when they run the football, rather than simply changing the philosophy and becoming more of a power running attack.
One thing is for sure: The Eagles must improve in their situational running game. Too many times last season, the Eagles failed to convert short-yardage situations at critical points in games, and losses to Washington, Chicago and New York stick out like a sore running back.
Certainly, the Eagles should benefit from a younger, stronger offensive line. The proof comes when they line up and play on Sunday in September, but on paper the offensive line looks better equipped to move the line of scrimmage and to win the battle in smash-mouth football.
More than anything, the Eagles must demonstrate the confidence in the running game, something that had to be in question at certain times during the 2008 campaign. The Eagles leaned heavily on the pass at certain times during the season and ended up throwing the football 606 times and calling the run 427 times. Scrambles, kneel-downs and other statistical variables are not included in that number. The ratio of about 60 percent passes against 40 percent runs isn't ideal, but it is only a couple of running plays more per game than being in the 55/45 range that is more in line with the rest of the NFL.
The success of the running game is more important than the ratio. So is making sure Westbrook is right and ready for a heavy work duty. He was so visibly hampered by his knee injury last year that he was clearly not himself. Westbrook, who should become the franchise's all-time leading rusher this season (he needs 818 yards to pass Wilbert Montgomery) averaged only 4.0 yards per carry last year, nearly a yard off his career average. It made a difference. He wasn't healthy in that devastating loss in Chicago, and those two carries against the Giants in the nationally-televised game against the Giants pointed out the challenges of the offense up front.
So will the Eagles run the ball more? Yeah, if the blueprint Andy Reid envisions works out. He wants the Eagles to get out and make big plays and get a lead, and then he wants the running game to take over in the second half. Surely, of course, the Eagles have enough weapons in the passing game to merit a desire to spread the field and toss the ball around the yard.
The good news is that the Eagles should be able to throw the ball and pass it if the players execute the offense. There are many directions this offense can take, and the giddy perspective in these late-May days here is that the Eagles now have as versatile an offense as they have ever had. How that turns out, well, we'll see.
No question the Eagles must be improved running the football. And it would be great if they ran it more, because it would signify a team playing with a lead. Watching these practices since the draft has been enlightening in that, while there are tweaks and some creative twists in the offense, the tone of the attack hasn't changed. The Eagles are going to throw the ball more than they run it. They have the ability to make big, big plays in this offense, as they have done for the last decade.
Situational play is more important than the overall ratio of pass/run. Don't get stuck on a number that skews so easily. Instead, focus on what the Eagles do from week to week, and appreciate that they can change their personality so -- hopefully! -- effectively.
Westbrook needs his touches and he needs to make big plays. LeSean McCoy must build on the promise he has shown since April. Leonard Weaver must be the real deal at fullback, and the line has to live up to the hype.
Add it all up and, yeah, the Eagles are going to be a better running team this year. More? Maybe. Hopefully. It matters what the Eagles do in critical situations, rather than how the run vs. pass attempts stack up at the end of the game.