Eagles Droppings 6/14: Kolb Needs McCoy To Run, McNabb On Young Eagles Growth and Two Underpaid Eagles
By Lance Epstein
Kolb Needs McCoy To Step Up:
In a recent article by Clifton Brown of The Sporting News, he discusses that it would be very wise for the Eagles to utilize their running game like a weapon. Unfortunately, he shows that history may not be on the side of new starting quarterback Kevin Kolb's since the running game has been a weakness for the club over the last couple of years.
Brown demonstrates a lack of commitment to the running game by only averaging 24 carries in 2009, which was only slightly better than the last four teams in the league in the Cardinals (22.8), Colts (22.9), 49ers (23.2) and Bears (23.3). Additionally, over the past two seasons, the Eagles have failed show any improvement as they finished 22nd in rushing in both 2008 and '09.
It is not all bad news for the Eagles since Andy Reid has been able to keep the Eagles atop of the NFC even with their struggles in short-yardage, the red zone and running out the clock to protect a fourth-quarter lead.
One of the reasons Brown believes the running game will be vital to the team's success this year is due to the transition in quarterbacks from Donovan McNabb to Kolb. He believes without an adequate running game, it will be tougher for Kolb to become an elite and starting caliber quarterback.
Furthermore, he has five questions that will determine if the Eagles can effectively run the ball in the upcoming season. His first question is whether McCoy can replace Brian Westbrook?
"McCoy had a nice rookie season, showing shifty moves and reliable hands as a receiver," Brown wrote. "His emergence made it easier for the Eagles to say goodbye to Brian Westbrook. However, McCoy will be asked to do more as the feature back from Week 1.
"If McCoy emerges as a 1,000-yard back, Eagles opponents will be forced to honor the run for the first time in a while. If McCoy doesn't produce consistently from week to week, the running game figures to struggle."
While McCoy lead the team in rushing in 2009 with 637 yards, he struggled towards the end of the year. He never had to play a full 16 game slate in college and a playoff game too boot. Even with McCoy as the starter, the combination of veteran Mike Bell, fullback/running back Leonard Weaver and rookie Charles Scott should help keep McCoy fresh.
This is a luxury the Eagles did not exactly have last year, which was the answer to Brown’s fourth question of "Is McCoy the only option for the Eagles?" In fact, Brown expects the Eagles to give the ball more to Weaver since he only had 70 carries in 2009 and averaged 4.6 yards per carry.
Brown also ponders whether the offensive line can open up holes for the running backs? Heading into the season Brown sees the offensive line as a giant concern for the team.
"This unit has serious question marks," Brown wrote. "Center Jamaal Jackson still is recovering from a torn ACL sustained late last year—and the line was much better with him than without him. Left guard Todd Herremans has a nagging foot injury, but Reid says he'll be ready for training camp on July 29.
"Guard Stacy Andrews was inconsistent coming off a '08 knee injury and struggled in his first year in the Eagles' system. Even talented left tackle Jason Peters, acquired from Buffalo last spring, did not play up to expectations. For the Eagles to run better, this unit must play better."
If the Eagles expect to beat the Cowboys or any elite team in the NFL, they must have the offensive line playing at a high-level. Last year against Dallas, Jay Ratliff ate the Eagles line alive. In addition, the Eagles could only mustard up 181 rushing yards in three games whereas Dallas piled up 453.
Another one of Brown's questions that has been the frustration of every Eagles fan for the last decade is "will Reid call enough running plays?" For years fans have pleaded and called into sports radio shows to constantly attack Reid for his lack of running the football. However, Brown thinks if Kolb is more accurate then McNabb [that's the reason he is now the starter], the team might consider throwing more.
"Picture the Eagles moving the ball more methodically downfield, relying on the short passing game and Kolb's ability to hit receivers in stride. The better Kolb plays, the more difficult it might be for Reid to resist putting the ball in the air—especially with weapons like DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek. Don't expect Reid to stick with a running game that doesn't get results," Brown wrote.
For fans, it would be a sight for sore eyes to see a quarterback hitting his wide receivers in stride and giving them a chance to score every time they touch the ball. On the flip side, Kolb does not have the arm strength that McNabb possesses. Unfortunately, Kolb has not proven that he can throw the ball 45+ times and last through the entire 16-game season. Also, in Kolb's limited time, he has displayed a tendency to be careless with the football.
Lastly, Brown asks will the defense be improved? If the defense can improve, it means that the Eagles offense can have more opportunities to score and thus a chance to improve the running game.
"The Eagles slipped on defense last season, surrendering 337 points—the most the team had allowed since 2005," he wrote. "A host of new players could play key roles, including rookie safety Nate Allen, rookie end Brandon Graham, end Darryl Tapp (acquired from the Seahawks) and linebacker Ernie Sims (acquired from the Lions)."
So the ultimate question becomes, will the Eagles running game be better? While the off-season acquisitions on defense have been nice there are still many question marks. Ellis Hobbs has not proven to be an established replacement for Sheldon Brown at right corner. Teams are going to attack him until he shows he is fully recovered from his neck injury and can make plays.
Moreover, Reid must learn to help his young quarterback out. He cannot allow him to throw the ball 45 times especially if the offensive line protects like they did last year. Kolb does not have the swiftness or experience to avoid sacks like McNabb, which could lead to more turnovers and even injuries if they throw too much. Reid needs to assist his young gunslinger, not get him destroyed.
All in all, the Eagles should hope the running game improves. With 12 premiere quarterbacks on their schedule, they will need to control the time of possession battle in order to get back to the playoffs.
McNabb Speaks on Potential Issues Facing Young Eagles Squad:
Over the weekend, Redskin and former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was in Philadelphia for his annual football clinic for kids. Before he left the city, McNabb had a message for the “young guns.” He is no longer here to inherit the boos from the fans.
"It not only happens with me," McNabb said to reporters. "It happens with Peyton [Manning]. It happens with Tom [Brady]. It happens with everybody. When you're the older guy, everybody talks about you. When you win, everybody talks about you. When you lose, everybody talks about you.
"And some young guys always want to get the credit -- until they get in the shoes where they're the ones getting the criticism. Then all of a sudden, people don't like the criticism. I can handle that; some people can't. Until they get hit with that type of buzz, then they'll realize the shoes that I was in. But, from afar, everybody wants to be who you are."
One of the younger players that certainly heard the criticism has been wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Jackson was completely shut down by Dallas cornerback Michael Jenkins in the final two games [all three games as a matter of fact]. The fans grew frustrated with his performance. More importantly, the fans appeared to get on his case about trash talking through the media days before the biggest games of the season for the Eagles then not showing up.
Besides Jackson, Kolb will squarely have to deal with this issue. He is now the successor to one of the most successful quarterbacks in Eagles history. If he comes up small, the fans will surely let him have it. Unfortunately, his career will always be compared to McNabb since he is the one that gave McNabb his exit out of town. Furthermore, if McNabb succeeds in Washington and the Eagles flounder with Kolb, he might have more criticism then McNabb ever faced.
Currently on Foxsports.com, John Czarnecki has listed the top 10 most underpaid players in the NFL. The first Eagle to make the list is wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who placed in at No. 9.
"He isn’t alone in this spot, because I easily could've mentioned the Cowboys’ Miles Austin and Chargers’ Vincent Jackson," he wrote. "Austin and Jackson have been offered restricted FA tenders of $3.1 million and $3.2 million, respectively, for this season. Jackson's set to earn $1.1 million, but he’s also a fine return man and a great deep threat. He has three TDs as a returner and had nine receiving scores last season to go with 1,156 yards."
Two spots higher at No. 7 was Eagles defensive end Trent Cole. While Cole, is being paid very handsomely, Czarnecki thinks Cole should be paid like an upper echelon of defensive end like Julius Peppers or Jared Allen.
"Some may barf with a $4 million player on the list, but Cole's had 34 sacks over the last three seasons and is just hitting his prime. Really, is Julius Peppers worth $16 million more than Cole, who's also way behind Jared Allen and DeMarcus Ware, let alone DT Albert Haynesworth? The Eagles know what they're doing with Cole signed up long-term and MLB Stewart Bradley earning $550,000 this season. Philly would be lost without these two defenders."
So, which player is more valuable to the Eagles? While Jackson is the player that stirs the drink for the Eagles offense, Cole might be the most overlooked player on the entire team. He has a relentless pursuit to the quarterback and is stout against the run. Needless to say, the addition of Brandon Graham might propel Cole into another level. Without consistent double teams coming his way, Cole might set new career highs in 2010.
Sitting in the top spot of underpaid players was New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker. He was followed by a close second in Titans running back Chris Johnson. In Czarnecki’s other article of the most overpaid players, there were four NFC East players that made the list -- Brandon Jacobs at no. 10, Eli Manning at No. 8, Roy Williams at No. 2 and Albert Haynesworth at No. 1.