PHILADELPHIA—After an awful tie with the Cincinnati Bengals and a disastrous loss to the Baltimore Ravens that led to the benching of quarterback Donovan McNabb, the Eagles made it to the 2008 postseason by winning four out of their last five games.
The Birds' formula for success during a playoff run that eventually led them to the NFC Championship game was a huge departure from head coach Andy Reid's pass-happy approach to play-calling. During the stretch of games that put Philly into the playoffs, they showed balance on offense.
In three of the four wins that clinched wild card berth, the Birds ran more than they passed. In each of those victories, the Eagles as a team rushed for more than a 100 yards.
With the new players the Eagles have brought in through the 2009 NFL Draft and through free agency, Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg need to maintain that approach that got them into the playoffs last season.
If the new Birds' personnel, especially the rookies, can be good enough to get some significant playing time, you're going to see an Eagles team that will utilize the running game enough to keep opposing defenses from sending the kitchen sink at McNabb.
Not only did the Birds not utilize their rush offense very often, they did a poor job of executing when they did run. In losses to the Chicago Bears, Washington Redskins, and New York Giants, the Eagles inability to convert on short yardage situations was the deciding factor.
At 6' 0", 242-pounds, Weaver is an experienced, legitimate blocking fullback in the way that converted fullback Tony Hunt and former defensive tackle Dan Klecko were not. It helps that Weaver, who played under Reid mentor Mike Holmgren, is familiar with the Eagles offense and understands his role.
“What they’ve asked me to do in terms of my job and what I’m expecting as a player is to come in and lead block and open up some holes for Westbrook. That’s my plan,” Weaver said in a conference call with the Philadelphia media last March.
“I saw where Andy Reid comes from, he comes out of Mike Holmgren’s offense and I looked at that and said that’s the same exact offense that we run, so it won’t be a learning curve, it will be an opportunity for me to come right away and be full steam ahead to play.”
The Eagles are hoping rookie LeSean McCoy can quickly learn the offense and pass block well enough to get some carries in the running game to take the load off Westbrook, who spent a lot of time in the training room last season because of several nagging injuries.
The thing McCoy will need to do to get on the field is to learn how to pass block. If he does that, you would like to think the Eagles will utilize him the running game, especially in short yardage situations.
The reality is the Eagles are going to need McCoy and veteran backup running back Lorenzo Booker to be reliable backups to the injury-prone Westbrook. If they want to keep Westbrook fresh and the chains moving on short yardage situations, McCoy and Booker are going to need some touches.
If the Eagles can be successful at running ball, the passing game can only get better, right?
Well, for one thing, the tight end position should be a reliable target and McNabb's safety valve when the outside receivers are covered. Brent Celek's emergence during the postseason made it easier for the Eagles to say goodbye to L.J. Smith who underachieved during his time in Philly.
During the playoffs last season, Celek caught 19 passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns—including two in the NFC title game. If he continues to improve, you will see the Eagles pass the ball to a reliable pass catcher, especially in red zone and short yardage situations.
The Birds will have some athleticism at the tight end position with rookies Cornelius Ingram (6' 4'', 245-pounds) and Eugene Bright (6' 4'', 255-pounds). If any of these players can get some quality playing time, McNabb will have additional weapons in the passing game.
If first-round draft pick Jeremy Maclin either breaks into the starting lineup or gets significant playing time to go along with DeSean Jackson, Hank Baskett, Jason Avant, and Kevin Curtis, the wide receiver position will finally be a position of strength rather than a liability.
Maclin will not only help stretch the field for the Eagles in the passing game, but look for Reid to throw in a few wrinkles that will utilize the speed of Maclin and Jackson. You will more than likely see a few more end arounds or maybe even the “Wildcat.”
If opposing defenses are worried about defending Eagles receivers, it's going to be easier for Westbrook to be even more dangerous in the passing game. What vaulted Westbrook into a threat that he has become over the years dates back to 2004 when Terrell Owens was the Eagles go-to receiver. The extra added attention on Owens put Westbrook in one-on-one situations with defenders that simply could not cover him.
With the speed the Birds have at the wide receiver position, it's logical to think the Eagles can just pass on almost every play. To the contrary, the Birds can be a more effective passing team if they can establish the running game in the way they did at the end of last season.
To make sure the Eagles become more of a balanced attack, the team signed former Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Stacey Andrews and former Patriots left tackle Jason Peters. The Eagles will move a now healthy Shawn Andrews, Stacey's younger brother, to the right guard spot.
While the Birds like to go airborne with the football, they have a big enough offensive line that would rather run block and play smash-mouth football. For the Eagles have a strong passing game, they're going to have to run the ball enough to keep teams off balance.