The question hangs over Andy Reid like mold growing in a basement.
If anyone knows how it feels for LeBron James to be asked over and over again if he’s leaving Cleveland for Madison Square, it’s the Philadelphia Eagles head coach. Only unlike LeBron, Reid doesn’t enjoy the one relentless query that hounds him with the dogged persistence of a professional debt collector. In fact, he pretty much hates it.
So Andy, are you going to run the ball more this year?
Reid usually answers by arguing that the Eagles’ run-pass ratio gets blown out of proportion. He’ll insists that he doesn’t harbor some deep-seeded resentment of Woody Hayes’ old “three yards and a cloud of dust” offensive philosophy.
Eagle observers—and opponents—know better of course. The stats do not lie. The Eagles threw the ball on almost 60 percent of their downs in 2008, calling 606 pass plays to 427 runs. While that’s not completely out of line in a league that’s turned increasingly pass dependent (thanks in no small part to Bill Belichick’s New England reign), it’s left many Eagle fans frustrated.
Now, aggressive offseason moves and a widely praised draft have seemingly brought all the pieces together for the Eagles to put out the best rushing attack of the Andy Reid era.
The team’s brain trust traded for Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters—at the not-so-small expense of three draft picks. They signed Stacy Andrews to further bolster the offensive line. They used a second round draft pick on Pittsburgh tailback LeSean McCoy with the hope of finally providing a dangerous complement to spell Brian Westbrook, the team’s lifeline. They even brought in a true blocking fullback in Leonard Weaver.
Just don’t expect it all to make a huge difference. Not in play-calling philosophy. Not with Reid still the man in charge.
In the Eagles mini-camps, Reid has talked about throwing early to set up the run in the second half. The coach’s idea is that the team will rack up a lead by airing out the ball in the first half and then protect it by grinding down the clock with a steady diet of runs in the second half.
It sounds good. Until one remembers that this is the NFL, the one sports league where parity truly rules. This isn’t a game of Madden. How many blowouts do you think there are in the real NFL every year?
Eight of the Eagles’ 16 regular season games in 2008 were decided by nine points or less. Five of Philadelphia’s six losses came by seven points or fewer.
These are the games in which complaints about Reid’s run aversion inevitably follow.
Still, the biggest changes in the Eagles’ playbook for this upcoming season figure to come in the passing game. The addition of first-round playmaker Jeremy Maclin and his 4.48 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine will allow quarterback Donovan McNabb to look for the deep ball more often, even in the West Coast Offense.
Maclin and second-year receiver DeSean Jackson—who Reid says is playing faster this year now that he’s more comfortable in the pro game—still do not equal one Terrell Owens in his prime, but this is still arguably McNabb’s best set of targets since the TO 2005 Super Bowl run.
Expect Andy Reid to still turn to those wide receivers first and foremost.
“We’re striving to lead the league in rushing this year,” Reid cracked earlier this month.
The coach didn’t have to tell anyone he was joking. And Eagles fans still aren’t laughing.