Getting It Done: A Look At The Offensive Line

Eagles coach Andy Reid is fond of saying that it starts up front, and his offensive line certainly is proving that this season. Until now, the offensive line hasn't gotten a lot of attention, but that's all starting to change.

The Eagles have clawed their way back from 5-6 oblivion to a 9-6 playoff qualifier that can clinch its fifth division title in six years with a win over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday. And their offensive line has been a big reason for the turnaround.

The unit, which is anchored by veteran tackles Jon Runyan and William Thomas and includes a talented young interior three of center Jamaal Jackson and guards Shawn Andrews and Todd Herremans, has helped the offense overcome the loss of quarterback Donovan McNabb and win four straight games, including three in a row on the road against the rest of the NFC East.

They completely dominated Dallas's 3-4 defense in a 23-7 Christmas Day road win that followed road wins over the NFC East's other two members, Washington and the New York Giants. To keep the Eagles' three-week road trip in perspective, remember this; it was just the first time since 1991 that the Eagles have won three straight games on the road in consecutive weeks, and marked only the third time in history that a team has managed to do it against division opponents.

"All of the players stepped their game up a notch," Reid said. "They knew what they had ahead of them going into these three games, and they stepped it up and did a nice job."

With their offensive line blowing open holes for running backs Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter, and protecting McNabb's replacement, Jeff Garcia, the Eagles racked up 426 yards in total offense against the Cowboys.

They've frequently had their problems against 3-4 schemes in the past, but had few problems with the Cowboys' front seven. They rushed for 204 yards, their second biggest ground output of the season, and gave Garcia the time to complete 15 of 23 passes and average 10.3 yards per attempt.

"We're just following our leaders, man," Jackson said. "Our leaders are Brian Westbrook and Jeff Garcia. Those guys put it on our backs and believe in us. We're not going to let them down."

With Garcia at quarterback, Reid and Mornhinweg have relied a little more on the ground game than they did when McNabb was healthy. And that's been perfectly all right with the big boys up front.

The Eagles' 42 carries against the Cowboys were the most by the offense since 2002. In the last two games, they've run the ball 72 times for 365 yards. That's 5.1 yards per carry.

"The coaches are being real generous," Jackson said. "We like to move the pile. We feel we have an advantage when we're running the ball. That's our mindset up front."

They dominated the Cowboys right from the start, marching 89 yards on 13 plays on their first possession for a touchdown. Before the game was over, they would have two more double-digit-play scoring drives.

"We just wanted to come out and be physical," Jackson said. "That was our main goal. We know what kind of defense they are. We know what kind of team they are. They're one of the most physical teams we play. But we showed them that we can be physical too."

Notes From The 'Nest...

  • LB Dedrick Roper suffered an MCL sprain in his knee playing special teams. He'll have an MRI this week, but is very questionable for Sunday's game against the Falcons.
  • S Brian Dawkins continues his torrid production. His interception against the Cowboys was his third in four games. He also has a sack, two hurries and two forced fumbles in those four games.
  • TE L.J. Smith injured his foot early in the Cowboys game, but returned to play later. He should be fine for this week's game against Atlanta.
  • CB William James didn't play Monday because of a calf strain. It was the second straight game James has missed. It's uncertain whether he'll play against Atlanta.
  • DE Jerome McDougle did not get on the field against the Cowboys. He's been playing only a couple of snaps a game for much of the season, and likely will be released after the season.

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