Eagles Better or Worse: Running Backs

Eagles Better or Worse: Running Backs

We're going to play a game. Nobody knows for sure what to expect from the Birds this season. In fact, not many people are even sure whether this team got better or worse.

So let's break it down. We're running down the entire roster position by position, and asking whether the moves the front office made this off-season will result in immediate improvements, or if they've ultimately taken a huge step back. We begin at running back.

BETTER

RB1

Keep in mind, when we ask whether the Eagles are better off without Brian Westbrook as the starting running back, we're talking about last year's model. BWest is a shell of his former self. There was concern all last summer about his health, he wound up participating in only half of the team's games, and he lacked the big play ability that made him special, a 34-yard reception being his longest gain of the season.

Everybody appreciates what Westbrook meant to the offense in his prime, but nobody can make a reasonable argument that the Eagles are going to miss him too much in the present day NFL. His skills are rapidly diminishing, and he's an injury waiting to happen. The coaches only saw fit to give 36 one touch in last season's finale, perhaps sparing him any further physical strain before his release.

That's not to say LeSean McCoy will ever be as dynamic as Westbrook. In fact, it's probably unfair to expect that. Westbrook was a special runner who would patiently duck down behind his blockers, then suddenly squirt through an opening and take it to the house. He created mismatches in the passing game, and he was an incredibly talented pass protector, especially considering his size. He was dangerous in any and every situation.

McCoy may not ever become an elite weapon, and we haven't quite seen enough from him yet to determine what his ceiling is exactly. It's still safe to assume he'll be an upgrade as the fulltime starter though. He was solid enough in his rookie season that it should give him something to build on, and he's simply going to have more spring in his step than a back who turned 30.

Leonard Weaver

When we talk about Weaver having a better 2010, we're not necessarily speaking in conventional terms like developing as a player. The sixth year fullback is coming off his first All Pro season, so the Eagles appear to have already caught him right at his peak. However, he does have an opportunity to put up bigger numbers with increased touches.

Heading into their Week 8 tilt against the Giants, Weave had only carried a total of four times through six games up to that point. He exploded in that contest for 75 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown run, and for the remainder of the season he played a more prominent role in the offense. With an entire off-season for the coaches to design new schemes to get the ball to their fullback, who they happened to lock up for three more seasons, Weaver could shine even brighter.

Depth

The Eagles were in a tight spot at last April's draft. Westbrook's health status was a major concern, and his primary backup, Correll Buckhalter, was allowed to leave as a free agent. The organization absolutely had to draft a back, and they had to select one early, because there was a very realistic chance whoever it was would be pressed into action right from the jump.

That shouldn't be the case any longer. For starters, the club added restricted free agent Mike Bell from the Saints, and he actually led the champs in carries last season. Bell is nothing special, but he's a serviceable reserve who has rushed for over 600 yards twice in his four year career, and he's a bit of a bigger back that will show defenses a different look.

The Eagles also used their sixth round pick on Charles Scott. The 6-1, 234 lbs. back out of LSU is expected to compete with the less pedigreed Eldra Buckley for the final spot on the depth chart, and should he win, Scott could become a serious threat in short yardage or on the goal line.

WORSE

Intangibles

Whenever you lose a Brian Westbrook, even in what appears to be the twilight of his career, you're still losing something. Need a big play at the end of a game? Westbrook. Somebody who knows exactly the right time to release out of the backfield? Westbrook. A player who isn't too selfish to teach and help the younger players who are fighting for his job? Westbrook.

We hope he's passed down all of the lessons from his eight years in the NFL to Shady, but that's sort of impossible. He was a leader who had a natural feel for the game, and those are things you can't necessarily impart to another player. We're confident McCoy is going to do just fine. He's simply not experienced enough to do all of the little things BWest handled without fuss.

OVERVIEW

We probably won't be able to say this about too many other positions, but it's really difficult to project Eagles' running backs being worse anywhere at all. They went with youth at the feature spot, signed a capable change up/reserve back, added competition at the back end of the depth chart, and extended their all star fullback. That's basically everything they needed to do.

Grade: Better

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers off to conference title games after dramatic wins

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers off to conference title games after dramatic wins

ARLINGTON, Texas -- This time it was a catch, and another win for the Green Bay Packers.

Call it a "Half Mary" from Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers threw a 36-yard pass to a toe-dragging Jared Cook on the sideline, and Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired, sending the Packers to the NFC championship game with their eighth straight win while thwarting a huge Dallas rally in a 34-31 victory in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday.

The throw on the run from Rodgers to Cook -- confirmed on review -- wasn't nearly as debatable as Dez Bryant's famous catch that wasn't in the Cowboys' divisional round loss to Green Bay two years ago.

Cook kept both feet inbounds with a knee just above the ground out of bounds.

And it came after the Cowboys tied the game twice in the final 5 minutes behind rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in their playoff debut.

It was the third field goal of more than 50 yards in the final 1:38 -- two from Crosby and one from Dallas' Dan Bailey. And Crosby had to make the winner twice after Dallas coach Jason Garrett called timeout before the first attempt.

Rodgers, who sparked last week's wild-card win over the New York Giants with another Hail Mary before halftime, is headed to an MVP showdown with Atlanta's Matt Ryan next Sunday. It will be his third NFC title game -- all on the road.

Green Bay's win was the first by a road team after 12 straight home victories in the playoffs dating to last season.

The Cowboys (13-4) almost became the third team in the Super Bowl era to win in the playoffs after trailing by 15 points in the fourth quarter. The first was Dallas in 1972, when "Captain Comeback", Roger Staubach, rallied the Cowboys for a 30-28 win over San Francisco.

Instead, Dallas ended up with its fifth straight loss in the divisional round and a 21-year drought in trips to the NFC championship game.

Prescott got the Dallas rally going with a 40-yard touchdown toss in the first half to Bryant, the first playoff TD for the star receiver.

Then he set the stage for the first tying score on a 6-yarder to Jason Witten, also the first postseason touchdown for the 14th-year tight end.

Rodgers led the Packers to a go-ahead 56-yard field goal from Crosby with a big boost on a pass interference penalty against rookie Anthony Brown that wiped out an interception from Jeff Heath, whose pick earlier in the game helped Dallas rally.

The Cowboys answered with a 52-yarder from Bailey (see full recap).

Steelers hold off Chiefs to set up rematch with Pats in AFC title game
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Who needs to reach the end zone when you have Le'Veon Bell chewing up yards and the clock, and Chris Boswell setting an NFL playoff record with six field goals?

Throw in a stingy Pittsburgh defense for most of Sunday night, and a multitude of mistakes by Kansas City, and the Steelers' 18-16 victory sent them into the AFC championship game.

The Steelers (13-5) needed to hold off a last-ditch threat by the Chiefs (12-5) before advancing to face New England next Sunday night for a spot in the Super Bowl. The Patriots won at Pittsburgh 27-16, but Ben Roethlisberger was injured and didn't play.

Spencer Ware's 1-yard touchdown run took Kansas City within 18-16. The Chiefs at first converted the 2-pointer to tie it, but tackle Eric Fisher -- the first overall selection in the 2013 draft -- was penalized for holding. The next try failed.

With 2:43 remaining, Justin Gilbert misplayed the kick return and was tackled at the Pittsburgh 5. Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for 7 yards on third down and Pittsburgh then ran out the clock, securing a ninth straight victory for the Steelers. The Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since 1994, losing five in a row.

The scoring started furiously in the opening minutes, then the game became a kicking exhibition by Boswell, who also had six field goals in the regular season against Cincinnati. And Bell put on a virtuoso running performance, patiently finding holes and then exploding through them. He added a team-record 170 yards rushing to the 167 he had in a win over Miami last week.

The Steelers became first team to win a playoff game without a TD since eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC divisional round at Baltimore.

Using a no-huddle attack almost to perfection early on, the Steelers drove deep into Kansas City territory. But they bogged down inside the 5 and Boswell made a 22-yard field goal.

The Chiefs were just as efficient on a six-play march capped by receiver Albert Wilson lining up in the backfield, then slipping uncovered into the end zone for a 5-yard score.

Pittsburgh's answer came on a 52-yard heave to All-Pro Brown, who somehow was covered by linebacker Justin Houston. That led to Boswell's second field goal, a 38-yarder. He added a 36-yarder to cap a 14-play drive on which Pittsburgh again barely huddled.

A clean game up until then turned to, well, turnovers, on successive series. Bud Dupree pounded Alex Smith, whose pass shot high into the air and was caught by linebacker Ryan Shazier.

The Steelers got to the Kansas City 5, where Frank Zombo leaped to deflect Roethlisberger's throw, and All-Pro safety Eric Berry -- burned for 26 yards on the previously play -- picked it off in the end zone.

Boswell's fourth field goal, from 45 yards, made it 12-7 at the half. His 43-yarder, setting the franchise record for a postseason game and tying the league mark of five, came on Pittsburgh's first series of the second half. A 43-yarder midway in the fourth quarter gave Boswell the NFL record.

Kansas City's Cairo Santos got in on the kicking act with a 48-yarder to make it 15-10. At that point, 10 seconds from the end of the third quarter, the Chiefs were outgained 333 yards to 150 (see full recap).

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

NEW YORK -- James Harden had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in his 12th triple-double of the season and the Houston Rockets easily ended their first losing streak of the season by beating the Brooklyn Nets 137-112 on Sunday night.

Held to 105 points in losses to Minnesota and Memphis, the Rockets bounced back with 104 after three quarters and handed the Nets their 10th straight loss.

Eric Gordon led the Rockets with 24 points and Trevor Ariza added 23. Houston made 21 3-pointers and had five players with at least 16 points.

Houston shot just 40.8 percent during its two losses, well below its 46.8 season average, while being held nearly 10 points below its season scoring average. But the Rockets had no trouble bouncing back against the Nets, who allow an NBA-worst 114.3 per game (see full recap).

DeRozan leads Raptors past Knicks
TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan had 23 points, Norman Powell added 21 and the Toronto Raptors used a dominant third quarter to beat the New York Knicks 116-101 on Sunday.

DeRozan also had five rebounds and five assists before coming out late in the third quarter.

The Raptors improved to 27-13, taking the lead for good late in the first quarter. They led by 38 points in the third in winning their third straight game overall and fifth in a row against the Knicks.

DeMarre Carroll added 20 points, and Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 16 rebounds.

Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 18 points, Justin Holiday had 17, and Derrick Rose added 16. The Knicks are 2-10 in their last 12 to drop to 18-23 (see full recap).

Hawks stay hot by beating Bucks    
ATLANTA -- Kent Bazemore scored 24 points, Mike Dunleavy added 20 and the Atlanta Hawks beat the Milwaukee Bucks 111-98 on Sunday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 33 points and was a tough matchup in the paint for Milwaukee, which dropped 2 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Hawks in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta has won eight of nine. The Bucks have dropped three of five.

Dunleavy, in his second game since arriving in a trade last week with Cleveland, had his first 20-point performance since a first-round playoff game for Chicago on April 30, 2015.

Antetokounmpo has scored at least 30 points in eight games in a breakout season (see full recap)