Week 8 was a welcomed sight to the sore eyes of Eagle nation. Michael Vick and the Eagles dominated every facet of the game. While there were plenty of things to like about the offense, certain elements stood out.
Andy Reid’s philosophy has often been backward in the passing game. Instead of working the shorter, higher percentage passes early in games to soften a defense; Reid often opts for a plethora of deep balls. On Sunday, with Dallas playing two safeties 30 yards off the line of scrimmage, the Eagles were forced to work underneath. This was a blessing on two levels.
First, it forced the Eagles to speed up the passing game. Instead of dropping Vick deep in the pocket and praying he’d get enough time to heave the football 40 yards downfield, the ball was out of Vicks hands within a few seconds. The offensive line played well because the passing plays were quicker and more conducive to a line still finding itself as a unit.
Secondly, the deep safety play of Dallas forced Vick to look for Brent Celek. Vick has been wonderful since taking over in Week 1 of 2010, but one thing he’s failed to do on a regularly basis is find Celek. Celek is a weapon in the middle of the field. He has good hands, nice speed, and is a nightmare for smaller defensive backs to tackle. His size and physicality allow him to get open quicker against tight coverage where as DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin cannot. To fully reach the unit’s potential, Vick needs to utilize Celek more often in the middle of the field. Doing so will help free Maclin and Jackson on the outside for those deep throws Reid adores so much.
Working the ball to Celek wasn’t the only unusual wrinkle unveiled by the Eagle offense on Sunday night. No sir. The most obvious deviation from a typical Reid game plan was the commitment to LeSean McCoy. McCoy’s 30 carries were the most by an Eagle running back this season. In fact, Sunday marked the second consecutive week McCoy set a new career high in carries. Furthermore, McCoy’s 28 carries in Week 6 and his 30 this past week were the most rushing attempts by an Eagle running back since Brian Westbrook got the rock 33 times against the New York Giants on December 7, 2008. That’s not a misprint. If something felt different about the Eagles’ last two outings, it’s because it’s been three whole years since we’ve seen a running back handle a workload like this. Hold on. I’m giving Reid a standing ovation. …. Ok, that was nice.
McCoy is an unbelievable talent. He’s unquestionably one of the top five backs in the NFL. In fact, as an all around player, he’s probably the best. Matt Forte may be a better receiver, and Adrian Peterson and/or Arian Foster may have more refined running styles, but when evaluating the total package, McCoy is the clear number one choice. Reid is starting to notice as well.
Reid’s commitment to a more balanced approached wore down Dallas’ undersized defense and slowed its pass rush. Obviously, McCoy won’t have the same success every weekend, but a commitment to the running game improves the passing game, relieves pressure on the offensive line, and gives Vick more opportunities to find Jackson and Maclin downfield. There’s no doubt Reid knows this. Despite his reputation as a pass-happy coach, Reid often trusted Brian Westbrook to carry the offense late in the season when passing conditions were less than ideal. Sunday proved Reid is beginning to have (or already has) that same trust in McCoy. If McCoy is grinding away at defenses for over four yards a pop and Vick is working Celek into the offensive mix, the Eagles will be a difficult offense to contain. Once teams start dropping safeties to help contain McCoy and cover Celek, the Eagles will find more opportunities to exploit the deadly speed of Jackson and Maclin.
The Eagle offense is finding its groove. And with the proper commitment to McCoy and Celek, the Eagles could soon be an offensive juggernaut. That is, if they aren’t already.
[Before we get ahead of ourselves and reserve travel packages to Indy, let’s not forget these three things:
1. The Eagle defense benefited from a stellar offensive performance on Sunday night. Had the Eagles not jumped out to an early lead, Dallas probably would have relied on its running game more. In their limited attempts, the Cowboys were able to hit big plays on the ground. Obviously, this isn’t as big an issue if the Eagle offense is clicking, but there will undoubtedly be games, especially as the weather begins to deteriorate, where the defense must bail out the offense. And you can be sure that, unless facing a large deficit, teams will run against the Eagles.
2. With Arizona, Miami, Seattle, and Washington still left on the Eagles schedule, it’s hard not to credit the Eagles four wins. But, if Week 8 taught us anything, there are no easy wins in the NFL. Parity still reigns supreme. Climbing out of 1-4 hole to reach the playoffs is a daunting task, so don’t expect an easy road, even against the NFL’s basement dwellers.
3. The Eagles are just a Michael Vick injury away from joining the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.]