Monday, October 31, 2011
Eagles could be turning dangerous
By Dan Graziano
Nnamdi Asomugha and the Philadelphia defense held Dallas to just 267 yards of total offense.
PHILADELPHIA -- Stardom fits LeSean McCoy well, and the Philadelphia Eagles' running back is relishing his turn as the focal point of the offense. After racking up 126 yards on 28 carries two weeks ago in Washington, McCoy ran for a cool 185 yards on 30 carries here Sunday night in a dominating 34-7 Eagles victory over the Dallas Cowboys. But while McCoy is happy to talk when asked about his place among the best backs in the league ("I feel like I'm one of the elite guys," he said), he hasn't been lobbying the coaching staff for that increased workload. Considering the other guys around him, that just wouldn't feel right.
"I think it would be selfish for a player in this offense to ask for the ball more," McCoy said. "Because at any given time, anyone in this offense could go off."
On Sunday night, it felt as though everybody on the offense was going off. It also felt as though everybody on the defense was going off. The Eagles' smothering of a division-rival Cowboys team that went into the game with one of the league's top defenses and a slew of offensive stars of its own was a roster-wide beat-down that had everybody in the locker room feeling good.
"It was important for us to get these last couple of wins because it's helped our confidence," said cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, the headline acquisition from the Eagles' big run of offseason signings. "When you're not winning games, it can bruise you a little bit."
A 1-4 start threatened to do more than bruise the Eagles. It threatened to push them all the way out of contention. But the pre-bye victory over the Redskins slowed the fall. And the way they played in this post-bye victory over the Cowboys was an announcement to the rest of the league that the Eagles are not just still alive, but in fact as dangerous as they were supposed to be all along.
"The Eagles are back," cornerback Asante Samuel said. "The Eagles are back, and we're ready to play Eagle football. We did that on prime time so everybody could see."
That might sound like a lot of bravado for a 3-4 team. But the Eagles feel as though something very impressive has been building here for a while. They added all those new guys in the offseason. They hired new line coaches on offense and defense, made former offensive line coach Juan Castillo their new defensive coordinator, and installed complex new schemes for everybody to learn together all at once. The mistakes and breakdowns that showed up during their four-game losing streak were, they would have you believe, to be expected.
"We're doing the stuff we've been doing pretty much all year," Asomugha said. "But now we had a grasp of it a little more, and we're making up for the time we missed in the offseason."
It's true on defense, where Asomugha and the secondary played their best game of the season Sunday night. The defensive line, fully healthy again with the return of star end Trent Cole, pressured Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo all night. (Or at least during the 18 minutes of game time for which Dallas held the ball.) Jamar Chaney, clearly more comfortable as the middle linebacker than he was out on the strong side at the start of the season, made plays all over the field, and suddenly the linebacking corps doesn't look like the brutal liability it was during the losing streak.
It's also true on offense, where the line was fully healthy again with the return of left tackle Jason Peters. As the Eagles continue to work and practice in the new blocking scheme installed by offensive line coach Howard Mudd, the results show up in the form of huge holes through which McCoy can run.
"It's easy for a back to find a hole out there when they're pushing the defensive line back 5 yards on every play," McCoy said.
Yes, things are finally clicking for the Eagles, who are far from done and who are playing like a team that can beat anybody in the league when Michael Vick makes smart decisions and treats the ball with care, as he did Sunday. They remain two games behind the first-place Giants, who beat them in their only head-to-head matchup so far, but almost everyone in the league expects the Giants to come back to the pack a bit now that their schedule is turning brutal. The Eagles will have an opportunity to bury their poor start and still win the division, even though they know they're still not all the way out of their early-season hole.
"We don't have a winning record right now," coach Andy Reid said at the end of his postgame news conference. "As good as this game was, there's a lot of season left, and we've got to keep working and improving."
If they're going to improve off this latest performance, the Eagles are the most dangerous 3-4 team in the NFL.