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It's Time For The Running Game To Shine

SEATTLE --Now is the time to rev it up on the ground for the Eagles. It is right for the Eagles to know they can turn and hand off to Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter and convert third-and-1 situations, and crash the football into the end zone and play the kind of smash-mouth football they are going to need to play from here through the rest of the season.

November has arrived. The weather is turning nastier every week. The Eagles are going to continue to emphasis the pass, because that is what they do and that is what they believe in, but they also know the offense won't be complete until they have the bread to go with the butter: They need a reliable running game. They need to know they can count on the ground.

We know the Eagles have already been hurt by deficiences in their short-yardage opportunities. The team can't go back and change the past, but they can make the future better. They can establish the line of scrimmage early in games and hold that confidence throughout a game. Certainly, having Westbrook back and healthy is an instant boost, and he showed that last week with his 167-yard rushing game. He is the go-to back here, and he is going to get his touches.

But are the Eagles at the point where they know they are going to bang out a yard on third down, or power the ball into the end zone from 2 yards out, or even gain that critical first down to run out the clock to end a game? Nope. There is work to be done.

In lieu of a "big back," a strategy the Eagles may very well re-visit at some point when they evaluate the success ratio of their short-yardage rushing attack, the Eagles have Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter running behind the hammer of 260-pound (give or take 10 pounds) fullback Dan Klecko and a big offensive line. The sze is there, even without the big body carrying the football. What the Eagles haven't had, at least from this vantage point, is the addytude required to win the wars at the line of scrimmage.

The offensive line bears responsibility, but so do the tight ends and the wide receivers and, yes, the fullback position. Certainly, the play-calling needs to be better on short-yardage plays. It is the most important phase of the offense that needs immediate improvement. It is a dire, urgent need.

And it is something that bears watching on Sunday against the Seahawks. Seattle's defense is small and fast and even without standout end Patrick Kerney, is going to chase down running plays from sideline to sideline. The Eagles need to go right after the Seahawks and punch them in the mouth and lean on the defensive front seven and create some running lanes. I want to see Westbrook and Buckhalter share time in the backfield -- if you are wondering about Lorenzo Booker and Kyle Eckel, the former hasn't played well enough to earn playing time and the latter hasn't been here long enough to see time -- and give the Eagles a little Thunder and Lightning feeling.

I understand the Eagles aren't going to line up and hand off 45 times on Sunday. But I would like to see them establish the running game early, rather than open with three running plays, as they did unsuccessfully in Chicago and then again in San Francisco.

When the Eagles played in Dallas, they marched 44 yards on eight plays to open the game, calling three running plays and five passing plays. Good balance. Good success.

It can be done. I don't know what the coaches are thinking, but they have to be aware of the shortcomings of the running game so far this season. I'm sure they are working on adjustments to make it better.

The Eagles are playing a game on Sunday that they have to win. We know that. Included in that mandate is to make the running game better. A few weeks ago the Eagles were really, really struggling on the ground. They had a good game running the football against the 49ers and then had a lot of success last Sunday against Atlanta.

The improvement must continue. It is something to watch on Sunday.


  • The Seahawks really have a lot of injury problems with Kerney out. Darryl Tapp could move from right end to left end, with first-round draft pick Lawrence Jackson at right end. Jackson had a big preseason and started early this year before he was benched. He has a lot of talent, but there is no question the Seahawks take a hit without Kerney. And both fullback Leonard Weaver and linebacker Lofa Tatupu are questionable after not practicing all week, and if the Seahawks are without those two players, they are really going deep into their roster.
  • I'm looking forward to seeing Brent Celek play on Sunday. I want to see how much he has developed and how much he has stepped forward in year two. Is he ready to be a starting tight end in the NFL?
  • Wide receiver Jason Avant is questionable. If he can't go, the Eagles are going to use Hank Baskett, Reggie Brown, Kevin Curtis and DeSean Jackson at the slot in different formations. The Eagles think all four are fine in the slot. I'm not sure how the team is going to divvy the reps at receiver.
  • Greg Lewis played the role of quarterback Seneca Wallace during the week of practice, so at least the defense is aware of how quick and elusive Wallace is at the position. Will the Eagles spy him? I don't know about that, but they have to contain his scrambles.
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