John Crist: I know Andy Reid runs a pass-first offense and Donovan McNabb is his best player, but why do the Eagles refuse to commit to the running game every year? In his prime, Brian Westbrook was one of the best backs in the league. Wasn't LeSean McCoy drafted to get the ground game going?
Adam Caplan: It's funny. Reid coached under Mike Holmgren when both were in Green Bay, and Holmgren, while he loved the passing game, still committed to running the ball consistently each week. Reid adopted his high-pass ratio many years ago here, and it has never been clear why he won't run the ball more. But if one takes a look at the backs he's had, you can start to understand why he doesn't like to run the ball. Reid likes smaller, faster backs that are versatile. He believes that a screen pass or short pass to the flanks is better than an attempt at running the ball. It's hard to argue with his success, but it puts an enormous burden on the quarterback to be consistently accurate – something that McNabb hasn't been.
Once Westbrook is done playing, which could be next season, McCoy will take over. But McCoy, while he's flashed talent, isn't nearly as fast as Westbrook was in his early years.
JC: McNabb is surrounded with his best cast of receivers since Terrell Owens came to town, with DeSean Jackson on every highlight reel and Jeremy Maclin playing well as a rookie. Aside from the speed these two have to burn, how has Philadelphia sprung so many big plays through the air?
AC: It's interesting. For whatever reason, Reid has decided to make this almost an all-or-nothing offense. Meaning either they look to throw it deep most of the time, or they have trouble moving the football consistently. I can't quite figure out why he's doing this, but part of it is obviously because of the speed from both young receivers.
Part of this small shift in philosophy has been a result of the absence of Westbrook this season. McCoy, while talented, hasn't been as consistent as needed, and his pass protection needs improvement. Reid has always loved the deep ball, but what has transpired this season has been a bit surprising. There's very little of a mid-range passing game with the Eagles this season, but tight end Brent Celek has been McNabb's safety valve when the big play down field hasn't been available.
JC: As usual, the Eagles can stop people: 9th in total defense, 9th in rushing defense and 10th in passing defense. How good of a job has Sean McDermott done replacing the late Jim Johnson? Can the Bears expect to see the same blitz-happy approach they've always faced in the past?
AC: McDermott has done a nice job so far and actually seems to be calling blitzes a bit more than Johnson has in the past. McDermott made some tactical mistakes in a few games, but for the most part, he's held his own. In recent games, he's had to shuffle the linebackers because of injuries and has had to find ways to manipulate the back end of the roster because of the lack of depth.
It will be interesting to see how McDermott chooses to call this game. Will he blitz more to force Jay Cutler into mistakes, or will he back off and just go more with coverage? I'm curious how he viewed Cutler's performance last week against the 49ers. The only thing that's a concern is that the Eagles have injury issues at cornerback, so he may have to take a more conservative approach.
JC: Much like Chicago did when Mike Brown left town, Philadelphia appears to have lost its heart and soul on defense with Brian Dawkins no longer patrolling the safety position. How has the team gone about replacing him, both on the field and in the locker room. He was quite a presence.
AC: It's been a major problem since Dawkins decided to sign with the Denver Broncos. They've tried rookie Macho Harris, who never played safety before. The Eagles drafted him with the belief that he would wind up playing safety and cornerback. However, he's clearly a work in progress at the safety position. Lately, they're trying former Cleveland Brown Sean Jones. Jones had only played strong safety for the Browns, but is playing free safety now for the Eagles. Most teams believe the strong and free safety positions are interchangeable, so Jones may not be playing too much out of position. Still, he doesn't provide the impact that Dawkins did.
While Dawkins became somewhat of a liability in pass coverage and was more of an in-the-box safety in recent years, he still was a solid starter. Jones has flashed potential but hasn't shown that he's an every-week starter that can make an impact.
JC: The Bears are 4-5 and desperate for a win at home. The Eagles are 5-4 and desperate for a win on the road. Which team in your opinion has been a bigger disappointment so far this season? Chicago was supposed to be a playoff team once again. Philly had legit Super Bowl aspirations.
AC: The Bears and Eagles have had really bad injury issues this season, so there's certainly a parallel between both of their disappointing results so far.
The Eagles, before training camp started, had perhaps the best looking roster Reid's had in his 11 years in Philadelphia. But the veteran coach has lost several key players on both sides for various amounts of time, and some have been lost for the season. Interestingly, both teams lost their starting middle linebacker to season-ending injuries. The Eagles lost Stewart Bradley, who some compared to Brian Urlacher, with a torn ACL back in early August. The offensive line, which was supposed to be the best the team has ever had, took a hit early on with the loss of right tackle Shawn Andrews (back). His brother, Stacy Andrews, has been disappointing so far. He's still coming back from an ACL injury.
As for the Bears, losing Urlacher, who is such a key component to their Cover-2 defensive scheme, is huge. And not having Pisa Tinoisamoa for most of the season has been a detriment to the progress of the defense. But perhaps the most important factor in Chicago's lack of success this season has been the play of Cutler. He was supposed to be a major upgrade to the quarterback position and bring stability. However, his inconsistency has really impaired the progress of the offense. So I think Chicago, despite some of the injuries, could be much better if Cutler was playing solid, consistent football. And it doesn't help that Matt Forte has regressed as a running back.
I'd have to call the Bears the bigger disappointment of the two teams.
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Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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