Reid unlikely to change pass-heavy strategy

LeSean McCoy has rushed for 1,080 yards and seven touchdowns. His 5.2 yards-per-carry average is the best of any running back to rush more than 200 times in franchise history.
LeSean McCoy has rushed for 1,080 yards and seven touchdowns. His 5.2 yards-per-carry average is the best of any running back to rush more than 200 times in franchise history.
Posted: January 05, 2011

If Andy Reid were a tiger, passing before running would be his stripes.

There is no changing the Eagles coach's pass-happy philosophy. It's gotten him to this point - heading to the playoffs for the ninth time in 12 seasons - and for the most part it's hard to argue with his success.

But Reid's resume lacks a Super Bowl championship, and until he wins one he will be hounded by his run-pass-ratio critics. There was enough evidence this season to support his detractors.

When the Eagles lost, they passed much more than they ran. When they won, the ratio wasn't as extreme. If there is a game that begs - pleads - for a more balanced attack, it is Sunday's first-round game against the Packers.

The Eagles have come to rely on quarterback Michael Vick too often to bail them out, dropping him back to pass or scramble and make a play, and by the end of the season the workload had obviously taken its toll.

The argument goes: Why expose your quarterback to further harm - especially against a Green Bay defense that is susceptible to the run - when you have a Pro Bowl-caliber running back in LeSean McCoy and a competent complement in Jerome Harrison?

"Well, I think that's a threat for defenses," Reid said Monday when asked about Vick's running prowess. "That's one more thing they have to think about, and he sure has made some big plays that way, so I don't think that part will change. But again, McCoy's also a good runner and you saw Harrison [Sunday against Dallas] is a good runner. So we have other guys that can tag-team that with him."

McCoy isn't just any tailback, though. The second-year player has rushed for 1,080 yards and scored seven touchdowns on the ground. His 5.2 yards-per-carry average is the best of any running back to rush more than 200 times in franchise history.

McCoy barely made it past 200 with 207 totes. For the first time since Reid became head coach, he failed to dish out more than 300 total carries to his tailbacks. In 2002, the three-headed monster of Duce Staley, Dorsey Levens, and Brian Westbrook finished with 390 carries. In 2010, Eagles running backs had 291.

With each season, Reid has become less dependent on the run. While the numbers suggest a balanced attack in line with the league norm - 58.9 percent pass and 41.1 run - upon closer examination the difference is much greater.

Vick was credited with 100 carries this season, but in actuality he scrambled out of the pocket on the majority of those runs. Throwing away the meaningless final game of the season, Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, his partner in play-calling, dialed up pass plays 65.8 percent and run plays 34.2 percent of the time.

In the Eagles' 10 wins, the ratio was more even - 62.1 to 37.9. In their losses it was more uneven - 72.9 to 27.1.

Here are the percentage of pass plays in the Eagles' first five losses - Green Bay (75), Washington (67.6), Tennessee (68.4), Chicago (78.6), and Minnesota (75.4). Only in the two wins against the New York Giants - the latter a miraculous one - were the percentages higher (71.2 and 77.6).

Even when you take into account the fact that teams pass more than run when trailing, there is a marked difference. In the first half of games, when there is no need to pass if behind or run if ahead, the Eagles have called pass plays slightly more than runs in losses as opposed to wins - 67.3 to 66.3.

After the Vikings' loss last week, Mornhinweg was asked why the Eagles abandoned the run in the second half - they ran only six times after 10 first-half carries - even though the teams were tied, 7-7, at the break.

"I think in the first half it was 2.9," Mornhinweg said, referring to McCoy's yards per carry. "It just didn't feel like we were running the football. . . . It just felt like we didn't run it. We weren't running it very well early. Sure, you always go back and critique exactly what you did."

Maybe the critique of the Vikings game will be enough for Reid and Mornhinweg to slant their play-calling toward the run against the 18th-ranked Packers, who allowed 114.9 yards per game on the ground.

There are a number of other reasons why a few more handoffs to McCoy would make sense against Green Bay, and if they advance, against the Bears. The Eagles offensive line, at this point, cannot protect Vick consistently. The Packers were third in the NFL in sacks per pass play.

The Eagles defense cannot sustain being on the field more than necessary. An offense that can eat some of the clock would give an already taxed defense a few extra breaths. The Eagles have a breathtaking offense with as much big-play power as any in the playoffs. A few additional run plays isn't going to take this ability away.

Of course, that's like asking a tiger to throw a football.


Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com.

Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Jeff_McLane

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