Philadelphia Eagles News

Thinking Out Loud About The Running Game

As the Mike Bell Watch continues -- New Orleans has until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday night to match the offer sheet Bell signed with the Eagles last week -- there is a piece of this puzzle that needs to be discussed. Bell is a 225-pound back, known for his slashing style between the tackles and not as much for the multi-dimensional skills that usually characterize running backs in this offense.

It is an interesting aspect of the acquisition to consider. Does adding Bell, should it happen, represent a subtle change in philosophy for the Eagles? The two backs the Eagles brought in for visits to the NovaCare Complex, Bell and Justin Fargas, are known for their physical style, rather than the elusive, make defensive-players-miss backs the Eagles have generally employed.

Think about the running backs of the Andy Reid era. Duce Staley had power, no question about it, but he also had nimble feet, great hands as a receiver and while he wasn't a home-run hitter with his speed, Staley made enough big plays to rank as one of the best backs in Eagles history, certainly when his all-around skills were taken into account.

Brian Westbrook played the role of the West Coast offense running back perfectly. He was probably the best receiving back the Eagles have ever had, and in his best days Westbrook was a good a receiver out of the backfield and moving around the formation as anybody in the league.

Correll Buckhalter pushed the 220-pound mark, and he could slash and dash, but he game was more about finesse than all-out power. Nobody who saw Buckhalter would call him a smash-mouth running back.

What we saw of LeSean McCoy as a rookie was promising, indeed, and his skills fit into the scheme perfectly. McCoy has tremendous versatility, a high football IQ and is going to get a lot of touches this year as he leads the running game.

I wonder, though, if Bell's potential arrival -- certainly, at the very least, the Eagles' interest in him -- signals some kind of shift, however slight it might be, in the running game for 2010. Leonard Weaver is a big back, and he showed last year how good he is with the football in his hands, and the common thinking was that if the Eagles needed a short-yardage gain, Weaver would get the football.

So why go out and sign a big running back to an offer sheet?

Well, the obvious reason is that the Eagles think Bell is a good football player and that he would be able to handle all parts of the scheme. Bell would back up McCoy and he would be asked to deliver in short-yardage and goal-line situations and, yes, when the Eagles want to pound a team and eat some clock in the four-minute offense late in games holding a lead.

I just wonder. I'm thinking out loud. Are the Eagles considering, in the big picture, developing more of a smash-mouth approach. A lot depends on the offensive line, of course, but if the Eagles can get more push from a very large projected threesome of Todd Herremans, Nick Cole and Stacy Andrews from left guard to right guard, wouldn't it make sense to try to ram the football down defense's throats with a 225-pound running back?

It's food for thought. The Eagles, I'm sure, considered the entire crop of veteran free agents, and they narrowed their visits down to Fargas and Bell. Even with a highly-considered draft class available in April, the Eagles signed Bell to an offer sheet rather than, say, take a speedster like Jahvid Best early in the draft.

I'm certainly not trying to convince anyone that the Eagles are making a radical turn in their offensive approach. The Eagles are going to throw the football, try to take a lead and then use the running game to control the line of scrimmage. The NFL is about throwing the football, and while Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg have as creative a scheme as there is anywhere, the cornerstone is the passing game. When you have DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek and Jason Avant catching the football, wouldn't you throw it a lot, too?

Yeah, of course. But the running game is important, and it must be improved over last year -- and for that matter, improved over the year before, too. The Eagles have to convert more third downs and score more touchdowns in the red zone. Having a big, strong, young running back will help.

Barring any last-day decisions by the Saints to match the offer sheet Bell signed, the Eagles will add a back with the stature and the style not all that familiar in this offense. What it means remains to be seen, of course. And it all could be moot if the Saints match the offer sheet.

But there is the question that begs to be answered: Does having a big, hard-charging running back mean, well, what for the Eagles offense?

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