Reid Passes On Increased Ground Game

During the offseason, head coach Andy Reid repeatedly said he needed to run the ball more this year than he did in 2005, when Eagles running backs averaged just 18.8 rushing attempts per game. But that hasn't materialized.

The Eagles' pass-heavy offense has put up impressive numbers in their first eight games. The Birds are first in the league in total offense, first in big (20-plus yard) pass plays, second in passing yards and fifth in points scored.

Their quarterback, Donovan McNabb, is on pace for career-highs in touchdown passes, passing yards and yards per attempt.

Oh, yeah. The Eagles also are 4-4 and in the throes of a three-game losing streak as they head into Sunday's can't-afford-to-lose game against Washington.

Eight games into the season, the Eagles are 29th in the league in percent of pass attempts to rushes (59.6). The only three teams with more lopsided offenses are 2-6 Miami (62.2), 2-6 Tampa Bay (62.8) and 2-6 Detroit (64.6). Only the Bucs and the Lions have fewer rushing attempts than the Eagles' 189.

While the Eagles have racked up a lot of yards and a lot of points, their over-emphasis on the pass, along with slow starts in several games this season, has caused a dramatic time-of-possession imbalance that is putting a significant strain on a defense that isn't good enough to handle it.

The Eagles currently are dead last in the league in time of possession average (26:42). They've lost the time-of-possession battle in each of their last six games.

Because of Reid's fondness for the pass, the Eagles never have been a ball-control offense. They've had a bigger time of possession average than their opponents just once in Reid's seven previous seasons in Philadelphia.

But until last year, he always had a defense that could spend a lot of time on the field and still keep people out of the end zone. From 2000 to 2004, the Eagles never finished lower than seventh in points allowed. In four of those five seasons, they gave up more than 17 points in a game just five times. This year, it's already happened five times in the first eight games.

In the Eagles' most recent defeat -- 13-6 to Jacksonville before the bye week -- Reid called 43 pass plays and just 15 run plays even though the game was played in winds that gusted up to 40 miles an hour. McNabb ended up completing just 18 of 34 passes for 161 yards, 93 of which came on the Eagles' final two possessions.

"We probably should run the ball a little bit more," said running back Brian Westbrook, who is averaging 5.2 yards per carry this season, but has just 97 rushing attempts. "I think we have the guys who are able to do it. It's just a matter of doing it.

"Some games we can't because we're down a little bit. So we try to throw the ball a little more. But we can run the ball. We just have to call the (run) plays. And when we do call the plays, we have to make them work. When we don't make them work, coach kind of gets discouraged with it. So we have to make them work."

The Eagles have the biggest offensive line in the league. They average 331 pounds per man. But many scouts and analysts feel they're not athletic enough to be a successful run-blocking unit.

"We're capable of doing both," insisted 335-pound right guard Shawn Andrews. "We do whatever coach Reid calls, whatever (offensive coordinator) Marty (Mornhinweg) calls, and we go with it. We've just got to come out and throw the first punch. I think that's one of the big things that we're lacking. We wait to get behind and then fight back."

Notes from the 'Nest

  • According to Stats LLC, the Eagles lead the league in dropped passes with 27 in their first eight games. Wide receiver Reggie Brown and running back Brian Westbrook have been the biggest culprits with seven and six drops respectively. Each of them had two drops in the Eagles' last game, a 13-6 loss to Jacksonville. Said Westbrook: "We have to definitely tighten up on the dropped balls. I have had a few, all the receivers and tight ends have some, and everybody has a hand in dropping balls. It's going to be colder in the second half of the season, so the ball is going to be a little harder. So we have to be focused on catching the ball all the way, and make sure we catch the ball before we try to get yards after the catch."
  • In their last six games, the Eagles have had the ball for just 153:02, compared to 206:58 for their opponents.
  • It's uncertain whether cornerback William James (formerly Will Peterson) will be activated for Sunday's game against Washington. James, who hasn't played in a game since the second week of the '05 season, spent the bye week being force-fed Jim Johnson's coverage schemes. James is one of five cornerbacks on the Eagles' roster. The others are starters Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown, and backups Rod Hood and Joselio Hanson. Hood still isn't 100 percent after missing four games earlier this season with a heel injury. Hanson, who played in NFL Europe last spring, has been the team's nickel back since Hood got hurt, and has played pretty well. Andy Reid said "we'll see" Wednesday when asked whether Hood will return to his nickel back position this week. Hanson, who has played the nickel in Hood's absence, has played very well. In addition, Hood will be an unrestricted free agent after the season and it doesn't appear he'll be re-signing with the Eagles.
  • RB Brian Westbrook, who spent much of the first half of the season nursing a sore knee, averaged just 19.5 touches per game in the first half of the season. He wants to run the ball more in the second half of the season than he did in the first half, when he had just 97 carries in seven starts.
  • DE Darren Howard, who has been playing with a groin injury the last few weeks, hasn't had a sack in six of the Eagles first eight games.

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