It is not a 50/50 split in the run/pass game for the Eagles and, factually, for most (all?) NFL teams. You need to make big plays to win in this league. You need to gash a defense and get to the end zone in a hurry, or at least have that capability. The Eagles have a formidable challenge against a good Atlanta defense, so what is the best approach to making sure the offense functions? Throw the ball first and run it second ...
I'm not suggesting that the Eagles ignore LeSean McCoy. Quite the contrary, in fact. He is my team MVP through five games of this season and at this point is the most indispensible player on the offensive side of the football. I want to see McCoy get 25 touches a game -- 18 rushing attempts, 7 catches each week sounds about right.
But if there is the logic out there that the Eagles should "shorten" the game because Kevin Kolb is starting at quarterback and because King Dunlap is playing left tackle against veteran standout John Abraham, well, I don't necessarily agree. I'm interested in what Rich Kotite did many moons ago in a loss to Tampa Bay (14-13, 1991 season) -- hand the ball off to Heath Sherman 35 times (he gained 89 yards) -- and try to play small ball with a production-challenged offense.
The Eagles, despite the injuries and the inconsistency up front this year, may be as balanced as they have been in many seasons. They have a running threat in McCoy, who is averaging 5.4 yards per carry. They seem to have more confidence in dialing up the ground game than they have had in a couple of seasons.
But what really makes this offense go is the passing game, and in putting the ball in the mitts of the receiving threats on the team. Yeah, I know that DeSean Jackson needs to get his mitts on the ball more, and he has been questioned about it all week and maybe that will get him jacked up to prove that anybody who thinks he is unable to wriggle free from coverage is completely wrong. I don't care who has the football. I just want to see Kolb made his reads quickly and get rid of the football accurately and in a timely fashion.
Where the Eagles have really come a long way this season is in the screen game. It was a devastating part of the offense when Brian Westbrook was in his prime, but that phase of the offense seemed to shrink just a little bit in the last couple seasons. Maybe it was Westbrook. Maybe it was the offensive line or the quarterback or whatever. The screen game -- to McCoy, to Jason Avant, to Brent Celek, to Jackson and Jeremy Maclin -- has to be a staple of the offense.
Is there a good numerical ratio for the Eagles? Andy Reid always talks about 60 percent passing and 40 percent running, and that is just about where the Eagles are right now -- 59 percent passes, 41 percent runs. There are other variables to consider -- quarterback scrambles, kneel-downs, etc. But the ballpark number is a fair one for the Eagles through five games.
With Atlanta's very fast and aggressive defense waiting on Sunday, the Eagles need to maintain some kind of balance. They can't go all one-sided in this game. But they also can't roll up the sidewalks and try to pound, pound, pound, because that is not what they do best.
What to look for early? I think Kolb comes out throwing the football and trying to integrate Jackson into the plan. I think McCoy gets a steady diet of touches. I think the Eagles help Dunlap, but not to the point where they cripple the rest of the blocking scheme, because Atlanta is going to send blitzes off of Abraham and challenge the rest of the protection.
The Eagles must remain aggressive, but they also have to be smart. Doesn't it seem more logical to have Kolb on 3- and 5-step drops rather than opening with a deep drop and giving Abraham and Co. a chance to tee off? We'll see what Reid and Marty Mornhinweg have in mind when the game begins.
Reid has enormous trust in his players, which is why he is going with Dunlap and a consistent game plan. Dunlap is here for a reason. He practices against Trent Cole every day. He has seen a premier pass rusher for three seasons. Dunlap will battle and he will be physical and he will make Abraham earn his paycheck.
The rest of the offense has to play its best game of the season to overcome this Atlanta defense. This is an excellent test for the team and for the offensive philosophy minus a couple of key players.
*NEWS, NOTES AND A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND THAT *
Chad Hall made his mark with a catch and a third-down conversion on Sunday night and he played a handful of other snaps well. What you didn't see was Hall coming free late in the half and being wide open for a touchdown had Kevin Kolb had the chance to see him and get the ball down the field. It appears that Hall is going to hang around. For how long, we don't know. But he is an example of a player making the most of his opportunity.
- Bring a no-longer-used cell phone, battery or accessory to the game on Sunday as part of Verizon Wireless' Hopeline program, which benefits victims of domestic abuse across the country. It is a worthwhile cause. Please help, both at the game and by donating online.
- Victor Abiamiri is eligible to practice next week, and then the Eagles have three weeks to decide whether he is ready to join the active roster. Abiamiri can play inside and the end position. Is he ready to go after his microfracture surgery in the off-season? A healthy Abiamiri, and we have only seen him healthy in fits and starts here, would be a nice boost.
- Atlanta gets wide receiver Michael Jenkins back to help the offense. He has had a shoulder injury all season and now he returns to the starting lineup. The Eagles should have cornerback Asante Samuel on the field, too. Big help with Roddy White coming to town. White is a premier wide receiver in this game, even if not many people talk about him.
- Really interested to see what Bobby April does to improve the special teams coverage groups. He has been down this road before, so there isn't a man more qualified to improve the group.
- Falcons head coach Mike Smith, in an interview with the fine folks at AtlantaFalcons.com, had this to say about running back LeSean McCoy: "He is a very fast guy that can change direction and he is a good stop-and-start player, so it's going to be a little bit different in terms of how you approach the tackle and also how you pursue. You're going to have to change your angles of pursuit knowing that this is a guy that has the home-run speed."