We've seen this before in the not-too-distant past. The Eagles of 2003 rotated three running backs who gained 1,618 yards on the ground, scored 16 touchdowns and carried the team to a 12-4 record in the regular season.
That trio -- Brian Westbrook (613 yards, seven touchdowns), Correll Buckhalter (542 yards, eight touchdowns) and Duce Staley (463 yards, five touchdowns) -- rotated throughout the season, stayed fresh down the stretch and saved an offense that lacked any true, down-the-field threats in the passing game. The backs did more than just run the football. The threesome combined to gain 2,465 total yards from scrimmage and score 27 touchdowns.
"We had the three-headed monster and we all had our touches and worked well together," Staley says now. "We all worked well together and understood what the coaches were trying to do. It worked for our offense."
Staley, of course, coaches the running backs on the current Eagles team that, collectively, are in a very nice groove at the midway point of this 2014 season. The combination of LeSean McCoy (622 yards, one touchdown), Darren Sproles (228 yards, three touchdowns) and Chris Polk (63 yards, one touchdown) have combined for 913 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. It's fair to say that the Eagles are pleased that Polk is healthy after a preseason and early-season battle with a balky hamstring and that Sproles has recovered from a sprained knee that sidelined him for a game and that the offensive line that early in the season missed three starters is now reasonably (minus right guard Todd Herremans) healthy for Monday night's game against Carolina.
All three backs bring different elements to the offense and together the group presents problems for defenses.
"That's the good thing about this depth. When you're building a good team, you've got to build depth, especially in football because anything can happen," McCoy said. "Sproles is such a special player. He has the ability to do anything from catching and running. And then you put the physical part of the game in with Chris, especially in short-yardage-type of downs. That's been his thing. He's a big back and he runs extremely hard. It's a nice matchup to have when we're all healthy, so if anybody happens to go down (McCoy knocks on wood) somebody can step in and play that role."
McCoy, obviously, plays the lead role here. He's just 444 yards away from becoming the franchise's all-time leader rushing playing in only his sixth NFL season. McCoy led the NFL in rushing yards and total yards from scrimmage in an All-Pro 2013 season, and while the start to 2014 was a bit of a struggle early, McCoy's numbers have picked up with 149 yards on 22 carries in the win over New York, 83 yards on 21 carries against the league's top run defense in Arizona and then 117 yards on 24 carries in the win over Houston in a game during which the Eagles ran for a punishing 190 yards.
McCoy has 622 rushing yards on 161 carries in eight games. The carries total might be a tad higher than is desirable, but with Polk not at full strength for most of the opening two months of the season because of the hamstring injury and then with Sproles missing in Arizona, McCoy has had to weather a heavy load against defenses coming in with the idea of stopping him, first and foremost.
As the Eagles make the turn for the second half of the season, though, all three backs are grooving.
"Having everybody fresh and ready to go into the game, depending on what the situation is really helps the offense," Staley said. "We're confident in every player we put out there. And when you're talking about LeSean, Darren and Chris, they all have special skill sets. To have that kind of versatility is something you want to take advantage of during a long season."
Polk's emergence is critical to the equation. He's a powerful runner at 5-foot-11 and 222 pounds and the Eagles can use him to gain some of the tough yardage between the tackles in the red zone and in short-yardage situations. Polk had a career-high eight carries for 50 yards and a touchdown against Houston.
If Polk can stay healthy and mix in his downhill style with Sproles' where-is-he? game and McCoy's make-defenders-miss skills, the Eagles can be formidable in the cold-weather games approaching.
"We're all a little bit different and I think that is what makes us such a good group," Polk said. "LeSean is going to make you miss, Darren is just so hard to tackle and I'm more of a power guy, a downhill runner. It's a competitive situation. You get your chance and you want to go out and produce. I see how those guys play and how they prepare and then the results are out there. I know I have to produce when I get my chance or I'm not going to get any more chances. So that pressure is good for all of us."
The offense has a new quarterback with Mark Sanchez taking over for the injured Nick Foles. The offensive line has four of its five starters from last year (minus right guard Todd Herremans, who is out for the remainder of the season with a biceps injury). The scheme is flexible and sound and proven to work.
There is every reason to believe that good times are ahead for the running backs here, a group that has as much talent, depth and versatility as any in the league.
"If they want to ride us, then ride us," Polk said. "There are so many options in this offense that we all know that when our number is called, we have to step up and do what the coaches want.. It's exciting. We can hit a defense in a lot of different ways."