Rich Hofmann: Eagles can't run from their problems

Posted: October 26, 2012

YOU TELL LeSean McCoy about the deteriorating weather forecast for Sunday and his eyes widen playfully. "Thirty-five carries, brother," he says, drawing the intended laugh.

But there is an issue here. Yes, the Eagles need to run the ball more. And, yes, the Atlanta Falcons, this week's opponent, are a team whose numbers suggest a vulnerability to the run. But a bye week of self-scouting undoubtedly revealed something to Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg that he already knew: His running game has had more plays go for 0 yards or negative yards than any team in the NFL.

Fifty-two times in six games, they have failed completely - tied with Houston, although the Texans did it in seven games. Fifty-two. Last season was bad - 106 futile runs overall - but this is even worse. It is becoming an alarming number.

Amid the talk about turnovers and quarterback harassment and blown leads and fired defensive coordinators and all of other problems that stick out - so many sore thumbs, so little time - the 3-3 Eagles need to get this one fixed, too. To be able to run the ball better would help the quarterback, the offensive line and the defense - and everybody knows it.

They need to run a little bit more and - more importantly - they need to run a whole lot more effectively. Deep down, Mornhinweg knows it.

"We did a fair job down there in Pittsburgh and we accomplished some things we wanted accomplished," he said, referring to the Eagles' Week 5 loss against the Steelers. "Last week, we didn't. You have to give Detroit's front credit - they're very, very good there. However, we certainly have to execute better. And the lost-yardage plays . . . "

Sixteen of the worthless runs have come in the first quarter, also tops in the league. We all know that early struggles with the run game discourage Mornhinweg and head coach Andy Reid - but, given everything, they haven't practiced total abandonment. Leaguewide, when you take away quarterback runs from the total of run plays, and add them and sacks to the total of pass attempts, and do the long division, you see that the typical NFL team calls a running play 36.4 percent of the time. (Yes, it's that low; welcome to 2012.) The Eagles have called runs 32.4 percent of the time.

At least they're in sight of the average. That's something. But they have to get closer, and the only way they're going to get closer is if they start having more early success.

Still, six games is a decent sample of failure. Is this just how it's going to be?

"No," Mornhinweg said. "You can flip that. You've got to be consistent - that's the key. It's just that simple. Now, we do have a running back that moves and grooves just a little bit, so we would live with a little bit of it - but not like it is right now. We've got to be way more consistent there."

No Jason Peters (Achilles') at left tackle, no Jason Kelce (knee) at center - is it just that simple? Is McCoy trying to do too much as a result?

"On occasion," Mornhinweg said. "However, you don't ever want to take the feel and the eyes and the vision away from a back. Look it - we lost two good players. But we've got good players that are stepping up and playing. I would expect our run game to continue to get better. If we have that mentality - better every day, better every week - we'll be fine."

All of which brings us back to McCoy, he of the moves and grooves. When you ask him about doing too much, his basic answer is that excessive dancing was more of a problem in the past than this year.

So, what's the issue?

"Maybe guys might get pushed back," he said. "Or myself, trying to do too much at times. Not as much as last year - a lot of times last year, I would just try to do my own thing."

And: "I think any player, if he's bottled up the whole game, he's eventually going to try to do something. That's sometimes when turnovers come up. But I haven't been too bad this year."

And: "How about this: More times than none, it's probably better just to take the zero rather than try to make something happen. But there are times when you make something happen and everybody's excited."

Whatever the issue, come rain or wind or whatever, fixing it now might be the best way to take the pressure off of everybody.

Contact Rich Hofmann at hofmanr@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @theidlerich. Read his blog at philly.com/TheIdleRich, and for recent columns see philly.com/RichHofmann.

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