Will the Eagles run more in 2010? This is a real interesting question, for a change. Normally this subject is more pipe dream than reality, sort of like me sitting through bad Kate Beckinsale movies and hoping that she'll jump through the screen so that we can hang out and watch old Eagles games together.
Andy Reid loves to throw the ball. Statistically, he throws more than any coach in NFL history. I wish I could tell you that's a good thing, but it isn't. The thing we have to keep in mind is that we're entering uncharted waters in 2010. Reid's track record is based on having a veteran offensive line in place, a veteran quarterback at the helm and a team that is built to throw.
The 2010 Eagles are somewhat different. The biggest change is obviously at QB, where Kevin Kolb takes over for Donovan McNabb. Kevin has a pair of starts as his track record. McNabb started more games than that as a rookie. Kolb has been part of the team for several years and his limited playing time isn't indicative of where he is in his development, but you can't ignore the fact that he's got a lot to learn.
Reid loves to put the game in the hands of his QB. How much will he do that with Kolb at the helm compared with what he did with McNabb? It is hard to say based on the starts from '09. In Kolb's first game he threw 51 passes. That total was greatly affected by us playing from behind for a lot of the game and all of the second half. Kevin threw 29 of his passes after hafltime. In the win over KC, Kolb threw 34 passes in the entire game. We had control of that contest and could really do whatever we wanted. It certainly doesn't seem as if Reid is shy about letting Kevin throw.
The passing game worked pretty well in both games. It will be interesting to see what Big Red does when Kolb struggles and the passing game is sputtering. Reid and Marty Mornhinweg, much to the dismay of Eagles fans, believed in letting McNabb throw his way out of a slump. Reid would liken it to a basketball game where stars shoot their way out of a slump. Will Reid have the same attitude with Kolb? Maybe down the line, but I think he'll be more protective of Kevin in 2010. Confidence is critical with new starters. You don't want to put too much pressure on them.
McNabb had a top-shelf O-line that gave him plenty of time to throw for most of his career. Tra Thomas was one of the best LTs in the league for a decade. Jon Runyan should have gone to multiple Pro Bowls, but his unpopularity with opposing players kept him out. The left guard spot was mainly filled by John Welbourn and then Todd Herremans, both outstanding players. The right guard spot was Jermaine Mayberry and Shawn Andrews until recent years. Both guys went to the Pro Bowl. Bubba Miller was the Center early on, but then Hank Fraley and Jamaal Jackson took over. Donovan got to play behind a talented, stable line most of the time. There were some occasional injuries, but generally we had one of the best blocking units in the league. That gave Reid the confidence to throw the ball as much as he wanted. Both Reid and McNabb trusted the protection.
In 2010 the line could return to form and be a strength, but there are some legitimate questions. Herremans' foot could turn out to be a problem and force him to miss time. Nick Cole struggled at Center last year when he took over for Jamaal. I'm hoping an offseason of practice will make a world of difference, but that isn't a sure thing. His main challenger is Mike McGlynn, who has only been on the field for a few snaps in two years. Right Guard Stacy Andrews was a bust last season because of his injury. He's healthy now, but there is no guarantee that he'll play at a high level. We feel good about our OTs, but Jason Peters is more fragile than we like and Winston Justice has to prove that 2009 wasn't a fluke. Will Reid trust that line with protecting a young QB 40 times a game?
The best way for the line to build cohesion and become confident is to let them fire off the ball and run block more than in other years. A good running game can get a line in a groove. That happened for us down the stretch in 2006. It was also true in 2002. Those are two of our best blocking performances. Let's hope Juan Castillo talks to Big Red more than usual about the importance of a running game.
I know some people are down on our group of running backs, but I think we've got good potential. Shady McCoy never looked great last year, but he was solid overall. He hit his peak about midseason and then faded some late in the year. McCoy will show us this year if he's meant to be a franchise back or just a solid part of a rotation. He was elite in college, but part of his game was making guys miss and going to the outside. You can't do that too much in the NFL. You need to be more of a N-S runner. McCoy got better about that as the season went along. Let's hope we see him hit the hole better this year.
Behind him you have a pair of runners with some size. Mike Bell came over from the Saints. He only averaged 3.8 yards per carry, but did get 172 carries and scored 5 TDs. Bell is a north-south runner that loves contact. He runs hard and wants to knock defenders on their butts. He's not here to be dynamic. We want Bell to be a good compliment to McCoy. The big back will attack defenders and the smaller guy will force them to chase him around. Rookie Charles Scott has looked good in the OTAs so far. He had a great Junior year at LSU and could be a good role player for us. He's like Bell in terms of size, style, and skill set. When is the last time we had a pair of backs that went about 230 pounds? That is very unlike Andy Reid.
Don't forget FB Leonard Weaver. He ran more than expected in 2009. The presence of Bell and Scott means that Weaver will be more of a blocker and receiver this time around. Still, we can lean on the Dream Weaver to run if we want. The idea that has me excited is Weaver (245 pounds) blocking for Bell or Scott (approx 230 pounds). That is a big, strong, downhill running attack that we haven't had in a while.
Big Red is still the head coach. The Eagles will continue to be a passing team. I'm certainly not trying to make anyone believe different. I do wonder if Reid will dial things back a bit and be more balanced for this season. The young QB and questions on the line are factors that Reid has to deal with. Signing Mike Bell and drafting Charles Scott are Reid's actions by design. He didn't go after a scatback like Lorenzo Booker. He didn't go after athletic projects that could be used to create match-up problems for the defense. Reid went for big runners. It is possible that Reid wanted these players mainly because he didn't like the other choices, but remember that Bell was a restricted free agent that Andy went after and that Scott made a pre-draft visit to Philly. That would indicate real interest.
If the Eagles do run more, enjoy it while it lasts. A team that has DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, and Jason Avant is built to throw the ball. 2010 would be an adjustment period for everyone. Kolb would have a chance to get used to starting. The line would have time to develop chemistry and gel as a unit. The backfield would also be put in the best position to succeed. We're talking about a 2nd year back, a free agent signing, and a rookie. You don't want those guys running pass routes or pass blocking as much as you want them running the ball.
Of course, Reid could say the heck with it and keep chucking the ball. The only way that young players will learn how to do what he wants is by playing that way in live games. Reid is awfully stubborn when it comes to his beloved passing attack. For now, we can hope. After all, if the Flyers can come back from down 3-0 to Boston, anything is possible, right?