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

Best of NFL: Redskins notch 1st win vs. Giants; Cowboys rout Bears

Best of NFL: Redskins notch 1st win vs. Giants; Cowboys rout Bears

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.  -- Dustin Hopkins kicked a 37-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter for his fifth of the game and the Washington Redskins avoid a near-disastrous 0-3 start with a 29-27 win over the penalty- and error-prone New York Giants on Sunday.

Kirk Cousins threw touchdown passes of 44 yards to DeSean Jackson and 55 to Jamison Crowder as the banged-up Redskins (1-2) handed new coach Ben McAdoo his first loss with the Giants (2-1).

Su'a Cravens ended the Giants' final drive with an interception in New York territory. It was Eli Manning's second pick of the quarter, with the other coming in the end zone by Quinton Dunbar after New York got to the Redskins 15 on a big play by Odell Beckham Jr.

This was a wild NFC East matchup that see-sawed the entire second half after Washington rallied from a 21-9 deficit (see full recap).

Prescott, Cowboys rout Bears on SNF
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dak Prescott led scoring drives on all four Dallas possessions in the first half before throwing his first career touchdown pass, and the Cowboys beat the Chicago Bears 31-17 on Sunday night to snap an eight-game home losing streak.

With his second straight win, Prescott doubled the number of victories the Cowboys (2-1) had in 14 games without injured quarterback Tony Romo over three seasons before the rookie fourth-round pick showed up.

Prescott's first TD pass was a 17-yarder to Dez Bryant for a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter, and he's up to 99 throws without an interception to start his career. Philadelphia rookie Carson Wentz has 102, and those are the two highest career-opening totals in NFL history.

Brian Hoyer had trouble moving the Chicago offense early with Jay Cutler sidelined by a sprained right thumb as the Bears fell behind 24-3 at halftime and dropped to 0-3 for the second time in two seasons under coach John Fox (see full recap).

Vikings stop Newton, snap Panthers' home win streak
CHARLOTTE, N.C.  -- The Minnesota Vikings keep finding ways to overcome injuries --and keep finding ways to win football games.

Sam Bradford threw a touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph, Marcus Sherels returned a punt for a score and the Vikings snapped the Carolina Panthers' 14-game home winning streak 22-10 on Sunday.

The Vikings put the clamps on Cam Newton, intercepting the league's reigning MVP three times and getting eight sacks, one of those resulting in a safety by Danielle Hunter. The eight sacks were the second-most ever against Newton.

"We have a great team -- the best team I have been a part of," said Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, who had three sacks. "We come from every area on the field and we get sacks."

Said Newton: "They were dictating to us after they got the momentum."

The Vikings improved 3-0 despite losing running back Adrian Peterson and offensive tackle Matt Kalil to injuries last week. They lost starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the preseason (see full recap).

Bills bounce back with win over Cardinals
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.  -- LeSean McCoy scored twice and safety Aaron Williams returned a botched field-goal snap 53 yards for a touchdown in leading the Buffalo Bills to a 33-18 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor also scored on a 20-yard run at a time the Rex Ryan-coached Bills spent the past week taking the brunt of criticism after opening the season 0-2.

The win also came on the heels of Ryan firing offensive coordinator Greg Roman and replacing him with running backs coach Anthony Lynn.

McCoy scored on 24- and 5-yard runs, and finished with 110 yards rushing after combining for just 117 in his first two games. Taylor had 76 yards rushing, including a 49-yarder, the longest by a quarterback in team history (see full recap).

Visit TicketIQ to discover the lowest prices on Eagles tickets anywhere, zone-level ticket data and seat views from fans just like you!”

Doug Pederson: For the Eagles, 'this was a good benchmark'

Doug Pederson: For the Eagles, 'this was a good benchmark'

On his way to the locker room following his team's stunning 34-3 victory over the Steelers, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson reacted, well, like you probably did.

Pederson had to be surprised by what had just transpired. After all, this wasn't the Browns or the Bears. This was the Steelers, who entered the game with the second-best odds behind New England, per Bovada, of winning the Super Bowl (the Patriots were first). 

And the Eagles didn't just beat them. They clobbered them.

But minutes later, when Pederson met the media for his postgame press conference, he tried his best to act like it was no big thing.

“I told the team way back in OTAs that it just takes a little bit of belief," Pederson said. "Belief in themselves. Trust the process. Believe in the coaches and the coaches believe in one another. That’s what they did tonight. 

"Am I surprised? A little. But at the same time, I know that locker room, I know those guys and I know what they are building. By no means have we accomplished anything yet. The season is still extremely young. But what they did tonight just proves that they are coming together as a football team.”

Yeah, yeah. Sorry, Doug. It's OK to be surprised. Scratch that. Make that stunned. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year. But now? Forget that. 

At least for the next two weeks. The Eagles are on their bye week and don't play again until Oct. 9 at Detroit. 

“It is still a young season, only three games. This was a good benchmark," Pederson said. "That’s a good football team, the Steelers are a great football team. They are going to be there at the end, they always are. Coach (Mike) Tomlin always has those guys ready to play. 

"But for our guys, it is just a little glimpse of that belief that I have been saying since the spring and summer. If they just do their jobs, I just feel that good things can happen. We just protect each other in that dressing room in there and keep coming to work everyday.”

Pederson is the only head coach in team history to win each of his first three games. It's only the ninth time the Eagles have started 3-0.

And of course, a big reason they've done so is their prodigy quarterback Carson Wentz, who became only the second rookie in team history to record a 300-yard passing game (Nick Foles is the other).

More impressively, Wentz now has attempted 102 straight passes without an interception, the longest streak ever begin an NFL career (per ESPN). Dallas'  Dak Prescott is at 99 after the Cowboys beat up the Bears.

But don't ask Pederson to admit he's amazed by Wentz or the fact he had the presence of mind to make plays like the riveting 73-yard TD pass to Darren Sproles (much more on that here).

“You know, you just put on his college film. Just watch him," Pederson said. "We exhausted his college tape and those were the plays that he made at North Dakota State. That play tonight was just a tremendous play by both he and Darren Sproles. Those are the types of things that we know he can do. He just keeps gaining confidence every single week.”

As does the defense, which kept one of the league's most potent offenses out of the end zone

"They just weren’t going to be denied," Pederson said. "They just weren’t going to bow their necks. They weren’t going to let them in the endzone. It just came down to our will versus theirs and I was just so happy with the way the guys played. Just a great team effort.”