Behind Enemy Lines: Philly struggling rushing

As long as Andy Reid has been their coach, the Philadelphia Eagles have been a pass-first offense. Reid never has made a secret of the fact that he believes you win in the NFL by throwing the ball. But while his team annually is in the bottom third of the league in rushing attempts and in the top third in passing attempts, the Eagles usually have been pretty effective when they have run the ball.

Just twice in the Reid era have the Eagles averaged fewer than 4.3 yards per carry - in '99 (4.1) and '05 (3.9). Not coincidentally, those are the only two losing seasons they've had under Reid.

Through five games this season, though, the Eagles are averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, which is the fourth lowest figure in the league, ahead of only Arizona (3.3), Cincinnati (3.3) and New Orleans (3.2).

It doesn't figure to improve much Sunday when the 2-3 Eagles travel to San Francisco to face the 49ers. They will be without their bread-and-butter running back, Brian Westbrook.

Westbrook, who missed the Eagles' Week 4 loss to the Chicago Bears with an ankle strain, fractured two ribs last week in a 23-17 loss to the Washington Redskins. He finally was ruled out Friday and won't play in Sunday's game.

His backup, Correll Buckhalter, is expected to start. Buckhalter had just two carries for no yards against the Redskins, but rushed for 66 yards on 16 carries the week before when he replaced Westbrook against the Bears. He also had 43 yards on 10 carries after replacing Westbrook in the Eagles' Week 3 win over Pittsburgh.

"There are a few things we need to get better at, and that's one of them," Reid said when asked about his struggling ground game. "We've got to do a better job. I've got to make sure I call the right plays against the defense (the 49ers) are going to play and make sure everybody executes those plays properly."

The Eagles were turned back in two critical goal line situations in both of their losses to the Bears and Redskins. Trailing by four late in the fourth quarter against the Bears, they failed to punch the ball in from the one-yard line on three consecutive run attempts.

Last week, they had a second-and-one at the Washington two midway through the fourth quarter and couldn't pick up the first town. On the first, Westbrook was stopped for no gain. On the second, he was thrown for a three-yard loss when a run to the left side blew up after tight end L.J. Smith lined up on the wrong side.

"We haven't really executed as well as we would like to be executing at this point in the season," said Westbrook, who rushed for 1,333 yards last season, but has just 194 and is averaging 3.6 yards per carry this season.

"I think it's one of the things that we have to go back and put some more emphasis on and spend some more time on. Everybody knows we are more of a passing team. But we have to put some more emphasis on the run and try to take care of the running part as well."

Injuries haven't helped. Not just Westbrook's, but also Pro Bowl right guard Shawn Andrews, who will miss his fourth straight game Sunday with a back injury. He's been replaced by third-year man Max Jean-Gilles.

"Max has done a fine job," Reid insisted. "That's not the issue there."

One thing that is an issue is the lack of an effective blocking fullback. The only fullback on the roster is Tony Hunt, a running back who had little blocking experience until the Eagles switched him to fullback two weeks before the start of the season. He hasn't been very effective.

In fact, on that third-and-one play last week, Hunt wasn't even in the game. Defensive tackle Dan Klecko -- the Eagles signed him last March to play fullback then abandoned the idea in the spring -- lined up at fullback on that play and got blown up by Redskins defensive end Andre Carter.

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But Klecko, who was moved from defensive tackle to fullback earlier this week, will be the Eagles' starting fullback against the 49ers after seeing more time at the position in practice this week.

Klecko will replace Hunt, who has been moved back to running back. Hunt was moved to fullback two weeks before the start of the season and has struggled learning to block.

When the Eagles signed Klecko as a free agent in March, they moved him from defense to offense. But after watching him at fullback in their first post-draft minicamp, they decided to move him back to defensive tackle.

Klecko has played well as part of the Eagles' defensive tackle rotation. He had two sacks in the first five games. But with the Eagles' ground game struggling, they are hoping he can give provide help as a blocker.

"He's a big guy who will hit you," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "He is familiar with our offense from the offseason. I think he has a chance to help our football team in some specific ways."

Asked if Hunt will get a chance to carry the ball, particularly since Westbrook won't be playing, Mornhinweg said, "There's always that possibility. I believe he got it one time last week. Now that he's back at the halfback spot, we'll see."

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Rookie wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who is the team's leading receiver with 23 catches, had just one catch for 8 yards in Sunday's loss to the Redskins.

He ran a sloppy slant route in the second quarter that resulted in a near-interception by 'Skins cornerback Carlos Rogers. Quarterback Donovan McNabb attempted 16 more passes after that. None went in Jackson's direction.

"I think it's important that we get everybody involved," McNabb said. "I've been trying to continue to spread the ball around. It's going to be a difference every week of who your leading receiver is or who is getting more opportunities and things of that nature."

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The Redskins converted 11 of 19 third-down opportunities against the Eagles' defense last week. In the Eagles' three losses, their opponents have converted 24 of 46 third-down chances (52.2 percent). In their two wins, two of 23 (8.7 percent).

The Eagles didn't blitz a lot on third down because the Redskins' run success on first and second down kept them out of obvious passing situations.

"It's a lot harder to blitz when it's third-and-three, third-and-four, third-and-five," defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said.

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McNabb called a team meeting Monday, a day after the Eagles suffered their second straight loss and fell to 2-3.

Asked why he called the meeting, McNabb said, "We've lost two games back-to-back that we shouldn't have lost. The Dallas game (a 41-37 loss in Week 2), I felt like we shouldn't have lost that game either. I just tried to let everybody know that it's easy for us to sit and say we could be undefeated right now or we should be 4-1. But we're not. In order for us to correct that and put these four or five games behind us, we have to do it right now. Guys have to dig deep and challenge themselves."

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The Eagles went into last week's game against Washington owning the best run defense in the league. They had held their first four opponents to 2.6 yards per carry and 53.8 yards per game. But the Redskins rushed for 203 yards, including 145 by Clinton Portis.

"We got our ass kicked," defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said when asked for an explanation. "We didn't do a great job up front. Especially in the second half (when the Redskins rushed for 131 yards). Simple as that. We took away their wide receiver (Santana Moss, who didn't have a reception), but did a lousy job against the run. We just got mauled. We didn't get off blocks. The linebackers and our front four. Simple as that."


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