Eagles gain an edge with Maclin back in lineup

Posted: September 29, 2012

If the Eagles' passing plays far outnumber their running plays again in Sunday night's game against the New York Giants, their rationale should at least seem sounder. Jeremy Maclin is expected to be in the lineup at Lincoln Financial Field.

Maclin is back at practice with fellow starting wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Even Riley Cooper, out since July with a broken collarbone, is practicing. For the first time since the Eagles first put on pads in training camp, they have their full arsenal of wide receivers. And it comes just in time, since they will face the defending Super Bowl champions - a team with an injured secondary.

"We want to bounce back from last week and prove we're a better team than that," Maclin said. "What better way to do it than prime-time TV at home?"

Maclin said that if the game had been on Thursday, he would have played. Cooper might still be one week away, but he's at least a possibility. And though the party line is that the other receivers ably stepped in for Maclin, the Eagles are clearly a different offense with him in the lineup.

"Really, you've got a job to do," Jackson said. "When he's out there, it definitely helps. But when he's not out there, you've got to do your job. So you can't really look at it that way."

Maclin, who had a bruised hip, dismissed a question about whether last weekend's game would have been different had he played. The proof, though, was on the field. Damaris Johnson was the Eagles' leading receiver, and opposing defenses would prefer that Johnson try to beat them rather than see Jackson, Maclin, or Brent Celek open. Maclin's presence - and, more important, more time for Michael Vick - could allow Jackson to beat defensive backs for the deep passes that are a staple of the offense, when successful.

"They're not going to always happen," Jackson said. "We're trying to get them. Of course, teams are keying on that, but we've still got a job to do."

The vexing part for Eagles fans was not that the passing plays didn't work on Sunday but that they were called in the first place. The Eagles maintained their pass-happy profile even with injuries at wide receiver and on the offensive line, running only five rushing plays in the first half. Vick has attempted the third-most passes in the NFL even though he is 29th among the 32 starting quarterbacks in passer rating.

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said he has reviewed Sunday's play-calling several times, and noted that the limited number of first-quarter plays (nine) and the number of snaps in the hurry-up offense late in the second quarter (11) skewed the total. Mornhinweg defended his play calls, but also said in hindsight that he would have called the game "a little differently."

The Eagles insist that they build their game plan based on the opponent, but they also have insisted each week that they could beat the opponent downfield in lieu of rushing the ball. The Giants already are weak at cornerback, with three of their top four corners on the injury report. However, the Giants have a fearsome pass rush that could make it difficult for the offensive line to give Vick time.

"Philosophically, I don't care as much about balance in any particular game," Mornhinweg said. "If we have to run the ball 50 times to win the game, that's what we'll do. If we have to pass the ball 50 times, that's what we'll do. Now, if you take the whole season, you'd rather somewhere around 60/40 - you're usually going to be a little higher, 60 to 65 percent passing."

If the Eagles are successful in the passing game, the complaints about the ratio likely will fade. And with Maclin back, Vick will have more reliable targets. Despite an offense that ranks No. 5 in yards per game, the Eagles know the criticism is present - and it's up to them to calm those concerns.

"The fact is, we are 2-1," Maclin said. "The way people are talking around here, you'd think we are 0-3."

Contact Zach Berman at zberman@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

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