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Eagles have to be stubborn against Jets running game

SOME TOPICS, you find yourself writing about over and over and over again.

Andy Reid and the Eagles look to keep their playoffs hopes alive on Sunday against the Jets. (Alex Brandon/AP)
Andy Reid and the Eagles look to keep their playoffs hopes alive on Sunday against the Jets. (Alex Brandon/AP)Read more

SOME TOPICS, you find yourself writing about over and over and over again.

It isn't the same story, really. Each game alters the situation, changes the prism through which a strength or a weakness is viewed.

So we come once again to the topic of the Eagles and stopping the run. This, and Vince Young's quarterbacking, kept them from winning in Seattle a couple of weeks ago. The defense did better Sunday in Miami, more or less, stuffing the Dolphins early when the score was close, getting gashed a bit in the second half, when the Eagles had a big lead and were playing nickel, trying to avoid giving up big pass plays. Again, as in Seattle, tackling in space seemed to be a real challenge.

To keep their season alive this Sunday against the Jets, the Birds and their 30th-ranked red-zone defense will have to come up big against the No. 1 red-zone offense in the NFL. Though the Jets employ 6-5 wideout Plaxico Burress, who has six red-zone touchdown catches this season, Eagles defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said he thinks the key to New York's red-zone success is its running game.

The Jets are 22nd in NFL rushing yardage, but tied for sixth in rushing touchdowns. Their 13 touchdowns on the ground trail the Eagles by only two, despite the fact that the Birds, who rank third in NFL rushing, have run for 572 more yards.

"Great running game," Jenkins said. "That's going to have to be our big focus. If we can't stop the run, we can't get 'em into favorable down and distance . . . Anytime you can run the ball [near the goal line] and try to pound it in, it opens up a lot of possibilities for other things - boots, play-action, things like that."

Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said: "They try to run it [in the red zone] because they're a physical, smashmouth football team. That's what [Jets coach] Rex [Ryan] talks about, and that's the challenge for us. Our guys know that we have to stop the run and make them throw the football."

Jenkins, who said he expects to play despite a groin pull suffered against Miami, said the Jets run a sort of zone blocking scheme where they "stretch you out some, try to get you running sideways." It might be worth noting that the Redskins had that approach, and the Eagles handled that running game really well back in October; the quicker, smaller Birds tend to have more trouble with teams that run north-south.

Jenkins said the Jets try not to put quarterback Mark Sanchez in positions where he has to make big, risky throws to win - they try to limit his exposure. Sanchez has been sacked 28 times, the most in his 3-year career, and he has lost a career-high six fumbles this season, along with throwing 11 interceptions. He has a .568 completion percentage.

"They try to throw a lot of checkdowns; they don't take too many chances," Jenkins said, when someone asked about the fact that the top three Jets running backs have 66 catches for 681 yards.

"The backs get out pretty quick," middle linebacker Jamar Chaney said. "Us linebackers have to do a good job of hooking those guys up when they do release and come out for a pass."

The Eagles' defensive line is coming off its best game of the season - it generated seven of the Birds' nine sacks in Miami, stopped the Dolphins three times on fourth-and-1, and forced a field goal with a 3-yard loss on third-and-goal from the 2.

"Everybody was just in tune," defensive tackle Mike Patterson said. He said the line will build off that performance and this week will be the same way, "if not more intensified. Everybody's still excited."

Castillo didn't want to talk about it yesterday, but players have said Eagles coach Andy Reid showed the team boxing clips last week to emphasize toughness. Defensive end Darryl Tapp said the players saw a few rounds of one of the three Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward fights, "where they were really battling."

Patterson said the clips were "inspirational."

Castillo said it was "awesome to see all the guys excited" after the Miami effort, in which the Birds allowed only three first-half first downs and eventually knocked starting quarterback Matt Moore out of the game. Castillo said a big factor was having corners Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie back healthy, that the coverage helped stoke the sack total.

"The good d-lines, the quarterback hitches twice, and you're going to get there," Castillo said. "I know it, because I was on the other side of the ball" as offensive line coach, until this season.

Chaney said the depth of the Jets' running game is a big challenge, with Shonn Greene (207 carries, 868 yards), LaDainian Tomlinson (56 carries for 186) and Joe McKnight (40 for 132). "When you've got three backs, they stay fresh all the time," Chaney said.

One of the Eagles' biggest problems has been their youth (and quite possibly their talent level) at linebacker and safety. Castillo says that situation is getting better. Results have been mixed.

"I think experience helps them be more consistent," Castillo said. "As they see things, with certain linebackers and blocking schemes, and just being able to recognize the difference between a naked [bootleg] and a run is crucial. It'll be crucial this week with the Jets."

For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at

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