At 2-4 the Eagles are going to have to thread a needle in their remaining 10 games to make the playoffs. Nine or 10 wins may be enough, but they have to be wins in the division and over rivals in the wild card hunt. So, obviously, this week vs. Dallas is as big as it gets.
I've always felt the criticism of Andy Reid over run/pass ratio was a bit oversimplistic and exaggerated and situations (and personnel) often dictated that they pass more. But the best plan going forward now is to run the ball more. Why? Put simply, a better run/pass balance minimizes the number of hits Michael Vick takes, while also maximizing the number of touches given to their best player so far in 2011– LeSean McCoy. Plus, more running plays can hide some defensive weaknesses by reducing the number of snaps for the defense.
Perhaps I'm stating the obvious, but we don't need to overthink things here.
Yes, I know with the weapons in the passing game, running the ball 25-30 times is about as appealing to Reid as a salad, but at this point it's a necessity. Below is a breakdown of the Eagles play selection and the number of opponents' total plays per game so far. Passing plays include all called passing plays (sacks and QB scrambles) and running plays exclude kneel downs.
Week 1 vs St. Louis – 41 called passes/21 called runs, 66 total plays for Rams
Week 2 vs Atlanta - 42 called passes/25 called runs, 61 total plays for Falcons
Week 3 vs NY – 37 called passes/35 called runs, 51 total plays for the Giants
Week 4 vs SF – 56 called passes/12 called runs, 61 total plays for 49ers
Week 5 vs Buffalo – 46 called passes/14 called runs, 63 total plays for Bills
Week 6 vs Washington – 37 called passes/32 called runs, 53 total plays for Redskins
As you can see, more running plays for the Eagles means less total offensive plays for the opponent. Simple, effective. With the fluky big plays allowed and their abysmal short yardage offense, the Giants game is a bit of an aberration, but otherwise, the formula was relatively successful for the Birds. Last week vs. Washington should the offensive blueprint going forward.
You may recall, when faced with similar situations in 2003 and 2006, the Eagles did adjust and run the ball more. They started 0-2 in 2003, with a weaker defense than in the past (no Douglas, no Trotter, injuries to secondary) and McNabb playing poorly with a thumb injury. That's when they put Brian Westbrook in the starting lineup and used the three-headed monster with Westbrook, Duce Staley, and Correll Buckhalter the rest of the season– with much success. And then again in 2006, McNabb was lost for the year with a knee injury in week 10 and the defense was playing poorly. So they decided to start running the ball more with Westbrook and Buckhalter. That allowed Jeff Garcia to manage the game, which limited the number of defensive snaps.
The adjustments worked.
From the point they made these tweaks, they ended both regular seasons on a combined streak of 17-2 (12-2 in 2003 and 5-0 in 2006). I don't know if the 2011 Eagles are capable of putting together that kind of streak in their last 10 games, but if they do, it will likely be because they are running the ball more often. And, you know, keeping Vick alive.