Philadelphia Eagles News

Taking The 'Equal-Opportunity' Approach

Chip Kelly said it on the day he was hired as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. "It's an equal-opportunity offense," he said, describing the philosophy he would bring here after a successful era at Oregon. "I'll score points any way we can get them." It's an approach that holds true, more than ever.

The offense through three games, while it ranks second in the league in points scored and sixth in yards gained, is turned upside down from where it was a year ago. The rushing game has been on and off, averaging 108.7 yards per game after leading the NFL in 2013. Quarterback Nick Foles is on pace to throw for more than 5,200 yards.

Topsy-turvy.

And you know what? Nobody really gives a hoot around the Eagles, because the name of the game is finding a way to put the ball in the end zone and the Eagles have scored 34 points (27 by the offense), 30 points and 37 points in their three victories.

"It doesn't matter how you score, as long as you score," said offensive lineman Todd Herremans, the definition of versatility. He started the first three games at right guard and is on track to slide out and start at right tackle Sunday against San Francisco. "Knowing that we can do it in a variety of ways gives everybody a lot of confidence. Run or pass, it doesn't matter to us as long as we score."

The Eagles  have adjusted on the fly this season in the face of two things: Defenses have schemed with crowded fronts to concentrate their efforts on slowing running back LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles in the running game, and the offensive line has changed each week because of injuries.

Against Jacksonville, Sproles' 49-yard touchdown run between the guards on a fourth-and-1 play loosened up the defense and helped the offense get in gear, and the Eagles gained 145 yards rushing, mixed in some big plays in the passing game and overwhelmed the Jags in the second half. In Indianapolis, the offense moved the ball all night, failed to capitalize in the red zone early, and then torched the Colts late with the screen game and some big-gulp plays in the passing game to win.

By Week 3, it became evident that the strategy of defenses, at least that from Washington, was to make the Eagles drop back and throw the football and then unleash the pass rush and try to take advantage of the moving-parts offensive. The Eagles ran for only 54 yards on 25 carries, but quarterback Nick Foles stood tall in the face of pressure and lit up the Washington secondary for 325 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Several things stand out as the Eagles have gone through the weeks. One, despite not having consistent success running the football, they've stuck with it. They've had 33, 28 and 25 rushing attempts in the three games. Two, the variety of the skill positions has aided the cause. In Week 1, tight end Zach Ertz led the way with 110 receiving yards, and Jeremy Maclin scored the winning touchdown on a 68-yard catch and run against busted coverage. In Week 2, Sproles was unstoppable with 152 yards in the passing game, devastating the Colts in the screen game, and adding 26 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Last Sunday, Foles and his wide receivers had it going as the group tore apart Washington down the field.

Also, the Eagles have been able to get just enough from the offensive line to give Foles a chance to execute an ever-adaptable offensive scheme each week.

McCoy? He will get it going. He's been every bit as quick on his feet and elusive as he was last season when he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage, but the running lanes have been clogged and the cutback options have been limited. 

That brings us to Sunday's game. What's the offensive strategy? Where are the 49ers vulnerable? They have struggled rushing the quarterback, registering  just 4 quarterback sacks, Some key players -- linebackers Aldon Smith (NFL suspension) and NaVorro Bowman (knee injury), along with defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey (triceps injury)  and starting cornerback Tramaine Brock (toe) -- are not expected to play on Sunday. The first three players are definitely out and Brock hasn't practiced all week and is listed as questionable for the game.

While San Francisco's defensive numbers are solid, the 49ers rank last in the league in third-down efficiency, allowing offenses to convert 51.6 percent of their third downs. The number jumps to 61.5 percent when the eight penalties the 49ers have committed on third downs allowing opponents to stay on the field are factored in.

The chalk, then, says the Eagles will come out throwing the football against a defense that struggles in the pass rush and that won't have a starting cornerback on the field. The chalk isn't always right. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur teams up with head coach Chip Kelly on the game plan, and then Kelly makes the play calls on game day. He wants to see how the 49ers are playing it before committing to a strategy.

The ability to adjust on the fly in the face of so many injuries and adapt to the defense's approach, along with having some very skilled players who are well coached, has the Eagles at 3-0 and ranked second in the league in points scored. Another challenge waits on Sunday. And what the Eagles do on offense -- run, pass, and who is featured -- is truly anybody's guess. We won't know until the game is on and the Eagles find the best matchup on the field and look to exploit it in their favor.

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