Being in the role of a "playoff spoiler" isn't the desired place to be at this point in the 2012 season, but it's where the Eagles are and there is nothing to be done except go out and try to win football games.
To that end, head coach Andy Reid's decision to start running back LeSean McCoy -- out for a month with a concussion -- on Sunday, barring any setbacks at practice between now and then, raised a strong reaction from some Eagles when it was announced.
Why, the feeling goes, risk further injury to McCoy? Why not wait until next year with the best offensive weapon the Eagles have?
There are many reasons to back Reid on this and to understand why starting McCoy, regardless of how much work he actually gets, is the correct call.
To understand the scenario fully, let's back up a bit. McCoy was injured in the November 18 meeting between these teams when he was tackled after a 7-yard gain on the first play following the two-minute warning with the Eagles trailing 31-6. Reid was questioned why he would continue playing McCoy with the game out of reach, understandably so. The decision cost the Eagles their best offensive player and opened up the conversation -- accurate or not -- as to whether McCoy would be more prone to concussions in the future.
In the time that McCoy was out, rooke Bryce Brown dazzled with two huge games, two less-productive outings and some inconsistent ball security which sounded the alarms in some circles about his future as a big-time running back, even though he clearly has a huge amount of talent.
Now McCoy has been cleared medically to play, and Reid indicated on Wednesday that McCoy will, indeed, start against the surging Redskins. Left unsaid is how much McCoy will play and how many touches the Eagles will give him, and that's what we're here to discuss.
The Eagles have an obligation to play their best players in every game, and particularly in those that mean something for the NFL's post-season picture. You can argue, with substance, that the Eagles rested players back in the days when they were preparing for the playoffs, and that's true. Not one time that I can recall, though, did the Eagles sit healthy starters when the opposing team had a playoff spot on the line, so the integrity of the game was preserved. As I remember, anyway, the Eagles were roundly questioned for their tactics, primarily as it related to keeping their starters "sharp" for the playoffs. It turned out that Reid made the right call by sitting his starters as the Eagles coasted into the post-season in the early part of the 2000s.
Two, the Eagles want to give quarterback Nick Foles another piece in an offense that he could very well be running in 2013. No knock on Brown, who should have a very promising future, but McCoy is a proven Pro Bowl player whom the Redskins must account for in both the run game and in the passing game on Sunday. Foles gets back tight end Brent Celek and now McCoy, so he's got a couple of additional weapons to work with, and to establish a rapport with, as the offense looks to generate some positive momentum for next season.
Three, McCoy *wants *to play against the Redskins. He is a football player and, by golly, he wants to be on the field. These players have a limited career, and they want to maximize their time and enjoy the competition and the camaraderie of the game. It's no fun for any player to watch from the sidelines.
Fourth, why not give us a sneak peek, perhaps, at how a McCoy/Brown tandem might work in the backfield. I'm not sure this would be a true preview, because McCoy hasn't played in five weeks and he isn't likely to get his usual 15-25 touches, but it's a chance to see the two of them on the field and in the backfield in the same offense.
Yeah, they were 1-2 early in the season prior to McCoy's injury, but that was before Brown showed how talented he was and how good he may be in the future. Prior to Brown's back-to-back breakout games against Carolina and Dallas, nobody suggested that the signature of the Eagles' offense in the future, starting now, would be the running game.
Certainly, everyone agrees that is the way it should be from this point forward: Run the ball to set up the pass, not the other way around. Play to your strengths, and in the case of the Eagles' offense it is a ground-based attack that features a lot of talent in McCoy, Brown, Dion Lewis and Chris Polk.
Speaking of Polk, by the way, he's likely to get some reps in the backfield for the first time this season, sharing time with Emil Igwenagu at fullback. Stanley Havili has hamstring injury that leaves him very questionable for the game, so the rookies have to pitch in.
It's not an ideal situation but it is, as they say, what it is. The Eagles are in the role of spoilers. They have a home crowd on Sunday, and they have the goal to win the game. So why not go win it? Play the best players who are healthy enough to play.
Naturally, there are some of you who might suggest that Michael Vick should return to the starting lineup now that he's been cleared to play. It's a fair conversation, and my answer would be two pronged: 1. Foles has played well enough to keep the starting job, and the offense has averaged 6.5 points more in each of the last four games than in the previous 10 games and; 2. Vick is just now returning to practice after missing nearly two months with a concussion. He's not ready to be a starter, no matter the circumstances. Vick just isn't all the way back physically, not yet.
McCoy is, though. He spoke after practice on Wednesday and talked about how he wants to get back on the field. And that's where he will be on Sunday as the try to play the role of spoiler to their division rival. It's the right move for now, and for the future.