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Eagles' run reliance due to wind, not philosophy

The question, posed in various forms, was: Why did the Eagles persist in handing the ball to Brian Westbrook even though the brilliant running back had gained only 9 yards on his first eight carries?


The question, posed in various forms, was: Why did the Eagles persist in handing the ball to Brian Westbrook even though the brilliant running back had gained only 9 yards on his first eight carries?

The answer, according to Andy Reid, was blowin' in the wind.

"We weren't going to be very successful throwing the football in that weather," the Eagles' coach said yesterday, a day after his team stepped out of character and ran, ran and ran its way to a 20-14 win over the New York Giants that vaulted it back into the wild-card playoff race.

The day after the Eagles' Thanksgiving night win over Arizona, Reid had said he was not going to bang his head against a wall trying to run the ball if it wasn't working.

"Say you are running the football and the first eight carries you average 1.2 yards, and you're throwing the football and averaging 10 yards per throw," Reid said after the 48-20 win over Arizona. "To me, you're probably going to throw the football a couple more times than you're going to run the football."

After his first eight carries against the Giants, Westbrook was averaging 1.1 yards. After their first four possessions, the Eagles had minus-3 yards on the ground in nine attempts.

One has to believe if it weren't for the wind gusts swirling through Giants Stadium, Reid would have concluded that the run wasn't working and would have had Donovan McNabb firing away with pass after pass. Even Westbrook said as much after he had a career-high 33 carries for 131 yards, including a 30-yard TD that came on his 10th carry.

Reid "was very committed to [the run], and I give a lot of credit to him because usually we're not that committed to it," Westbrook said after the game. "We always try to tell him 2 or 3 yards is not that bad, and we had a couple of carries where it was just 2 or 3 yards. But he stayed committed to it."

Reid stayed committed to the run because of the conditions. It is not likely he'll remain committed to it in the final three regular-season games. He has been a pass-first guy since he became the Eagles' coach 10 years ago, and like most football coaches, he is pretty intractable in his approach.

"Not really. No," he said when asked if the Giants game signaled a tactical change.

In 2006, after McNabb was lost for the season following the 10th game with a knee injury, the Eagles won five of their last six regular-season games with Jeff Garcia largely because they employed the running game to take some pressure off the quarterback. In the big Christmas Day win over Dallas in '06, the Eagles ran the ball 42 times and passed it 23 times.

The Eagles' pass-run ratio has often been a sore topic for Reid, as well as for Eagles followers, who scratch their heads after games such as the 13-13 tie with Cincinnati last month, when they threw the ball 58 times and ran it 18 times. Before winning the last two games, the Eagles were 5-5-1 and had 432 passes as opposed to 259 runs. In the last two games, they have run the ball 81 times and thrown it 69 times.

There are other factors in the revival of the run, of course. Banged up for much of the season, Westbrook has run like his old self in the last two games. Also, the Eagles never fell behind in the wins over the Cardinals and Giants.

Still, only two teams in the NFL have thrown the ball more than the Eagles, and 13 have run the ball fewer times. This season, teams that are most committed to running the ball - such as the Giants, Tennessee, Baltimore, Carolina and Atlanta - are among the most successful.

Running successfully in the last two games has helped the Eagles fight their way into the playoff hunt, but Reid was not saying whether he would continue relying as much on the ground game.

"I don't know," he said. "We'll see what happens. We're going to do what it takes to win the game. I think the fans just really want to win. They don't really care if we throw it or run it. They want to see W's."