Big plays have deserted suddenly punchless Eagles Print
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Thursday, 25 October 2007 00:35
NFL Headline News

 PHILADELPHIA (AP) -Reggie Brown sometimes wished that the Eagles would take their time on those breakneck drives last year in which all it took was three or four plays to score.
This year, it seems that the Eagles go three or four drives before they can even come close to a touchdown. Once they do drive near the end zone, the series usually ends without six on the board.
``We were going too fast. That was the problem last year,'' said Brown, a wide receiver. ``But I'd rather score too fast than not score at all.''
Pointing to botched returns or poor coaching decisions only accounts for part of the reason the Eagles are 2-4. An offense that was once one of the most explosive in the NFL has suddenly struggled to score.
``Right now, we're not going anywhere,'' Brown said.
Only once this season have the Eagles scored more than one touchdown in a game. Only once have they scored more than 16 points. Compare that to last season, when the Eagles scored at least 21 points in all but two of their games.
The reason is simple: The big plays have vanished.
The Eagles count big plays as rushes of 10 or more yards, pass completions of 20 or more yards and returns of 30 or more yards.
Their numbers: 21 rushing plays, 14 passing plays and only two returns meet that criteria, and those numbers are skewed by the 56 points scored in the Detroit win (seven rush, five pass).
The Eagles failed to complete a pass of at least 20 yards in losses to NFC East rivals Washington and New York.
While the Eagles appreciate Reno Mahe's sure hands, they also surely know he's not the kind of return man who will bust open a Devin Hester-type run. Same with Correll Buckhalter on kickoffs.
The Eagles have started only five drives past the 50 and their average field position at the start of a drive is about the 28-yard line. Sixteen times, Philadelphia started at or inside its own 20.
Starting almost every drive with 70 or 80 yards to go becomes daunting, especially when they're gaining yards in small bites instead of big-play chunks.
``It's tough, but you've got to be patient and real methodical,'' Donovan McNabb said. ``There are ways of taking shots, but you have to be smart with the ball.''
Throw in their well-documented struggles inside the red zone (six touchdowns in 20 attempts) and it's no wonder the Eagles are in last place.
``We kind of created a big-play offense across the league,'' McNabb said. ``People know that and, at some point, we're going to try and go deep and come up with a big play.''
At some point? What are the Eagles waiting for?
A combination of detrimental circumstances have led to Philly's offensive failure.
McNabb still isn't his old self nearly a year after knee surgery and has lost a startling amount of accuracy. The tight end production has been almost invisible with L.J. Smith bothered by a sore groin. And the wide receivers aren't the speedy, physical types who can stretch the field.
That leaves the running game, where Brian Westbrook boasts a sparkling 5.5 yards rushing per carry, but has only 89 carries. Most top tier running backs in the NFL are in the 110-140 range.
Against the Bears, Westbrook ran for 15 yards on the first plays of the game and then went into hiding. It's something the versatile back - who does lead the Eagles with 31 receptions - is used to.
``I would love to run the ball more,'' Westbrook said. ``I would love to get in a rhythm running the ball more.''
Westbrook leads the league in average yards from scrimmage (157.8). While that helps the Eagles out of some of the deep holes they start in, he does little inside the opposition's 20. His only two rushing TDs of the season are against the Lions.
``(Offensive coordinator) Marty (Mornhinweg) sees different things on the sideline than you do as a player out there,'' Westbrook said. ``I have confidence that he'll get the right plays in there.''
Minnesota could be a team ripe for McNabb and the receivers to have a big game against. The Vikings are last in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (282.5) to offset a defense that is second in the league against the run.
With the way the Eagles are scuffling against everyone, they'll take a win any way possible, even if all it takes is five field goals.
``It has to happen now,'' McNabb said.

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