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Intro-Duce-ing the run

Greater emphasis on ground game excites Staley

Duce Staley (left) and head coach Chip Kelly watch during training camp. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Duce Staley (left) and head coach Chip Kelly watch during training camp. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)Read more

THERE ARE a lot of things about Andy Reid that annoyed the hell out of Eagles fans, but nothing got their blood boiling more than his obsessive love for the forward pass.

"You win in this league by throwing the football," Reid would say every time someone questioned a lopsided pass-to-run ratio.

It's hard to argue with the overall results. For the most part, his way worked. Big Red has more wins than any coach in Eagles history. In 14 seasons, he guided the Birds to nine playoff appearances, six division titles, five NFC Championship Game appearances and one trip to the Super Bowl. But there always has been a sense that the Eagles might've been even more successful - maybe even won a Lombardi Trophy or two - if only Reid had been willing to run the ball more.

That includes many of the guys who played for Reid.

Duce Staley, who played five seasons for The Mustachioed One, still gets dyspeptic every time he reflects on Reid's refusal to run the ball in the second half of the Eagles' 14-3 loss to the Carolina Panthers in the 2003 NFC title game (just six carries in the final 25 minutes).

"I remember when I played, saying to myself, if you want to be around in January, you've got to run the ball," said Staley, who is in his first year as the team's running backs coach. "And when I left here and went to Pittsburgh, boy, that was so true.

"Some people think this is a game of yards. Others, including me, believe it's a game of inches. The people that have the mentality that it's a game of inches, they run the ball. The people that have the mentality that it's a game of yards, they throw it."

Judging by his run-centric play-calling at Oregon, it would seem that Chip Kelly also believes football is a game of inches.

Because he favors spread formations and because his teams averaged an astounding 44.7 points per game in his four seasons as the Ducks' head coach, people that rarely watched Oregon play think Kelly must be yet another passing fool.

But his offense at Oregon was first and foremost a run offense. The Ducks ran the ball 62.5 percent of the time under Kelly.

That sort of run percentage isn't realistic in the NFL, where just three teams - the 49ers, Seahawks and Redskins - had more run plays than pass plays (pass attempts plus sacks) last season.

But it's pretty clear that the Eagles are going to have a more balanced offensive attack under Kelly than they ever did under Reid, who had a run percentage higher than 45 percent just once in his 14 seasons with the Eagles (45.6 in '02).

"Trust me, I'm licking my chops," Staley said. "I'm a running backs coach and I'm licking my chops for my running backs because that gives them an opportunity to go out there and show their skills."

In '03, the three-headed monster of Staley, Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter combined for 1,618 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns.

This year, they have LeSean McCoy, who rushed for 1,309 yards and 17 touchdowns 2 years ago, second-year man Bryce Brown, who rushed for 178 and 169 yards in back-to-back games against the Panthers and Cowboys, respectively, last season, and former Cowboys first-round pick Felix Jones.

They'll be running behind an athletic offensive line that is getting All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters, center Jason Kelce and right guard Todd Herremans back from injuries that sidelined them for all or much of last season. Many think the Eagles could have one of the league's top ground games this season.

"You look at the backfield I have, what I'm trying to instill in them is the challenge we had between myself and B-West and Buck," Staley said. "We challenged each other. Who wants to be No. 1? Go get it.

"And that line. Athletically, we've got guys with tight end feet. [Rookie right tackle] Lane [Johnson] was a tight end. So was Jason. Feetwise, when you come out and watch them do some of the drills, they do them better than some of my running backs.

"I'm excited about the line play. I'm excited about the offense as a whole. What we do up front and putting our guys in position to make plays."

Most spread offenses are pass-centric, but not Kelly's. He likes to spread defenses out, then attack the gaps with the run.

"That's what makes it exciting," said Ted Williams, who is coaching the Eagles' tight ends this season after spending the previous 15 years in charge of the running backs.

"Most defenses in the NFL, they don't design themselves to stop the pass. They design themselves to stop the run. A good friend of mine, [former NFL defensive coordinator] Willie Shaw, once said that every time he put in a pressure package, it was designed to deal with the run. He said if you're not gap-sound, they'll eat you alive."

Williams acknowledged that Kelly places a higher priority on the run than his former boss, Reid, did.

"I think running the ball is really important in Chip's offense," he said. "Probably more important than in a West Coast offense. I think there's an excitement about that because of all the good running backs we have. And they're all going to get used."

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur spent nine seasons on Reid's staff. Grew up in the West Coast offense. Ran it when he became the offensive coordinator in St. Louis. Ran it when he became the head coach in Cleveland. Now he's helping Kelly implement some West Coast principles into his offense.

Asked about the seemingly dramatic difference in run-pass philosophy between his old boss and his new one, Shurmur said, "Andy believed in doing what you have to do to win football games. Some of that has to do with what you're good at on offense and what you believe in.

"I can't speak to the criticism outside the building to whether he should've run the ball more or not. I think we all do what we have to do to win football games."

Shurmur said he expects there will be games where Kelly's Eagles throw the ball a lot too, and others where they run it.

"I think there will be games where we'll throw more than we run," he said. "If the game plays out right and you get ahead by a lot of points early, then typically, you might run the ball a little more in the second half.

"I've always kind of looked at it by halves when looking at the run-pass ratio. You'd like to get ahead of a team. And when you're ahead, that allows you then to control the clock a little bit more by running the ball in the second half."

That was always Reid's rationale as well. But the numbers didn't jibe. From 2000 through 2012, the Eagles' pass-run numbers in the second half of games really weren't much different than the first-half numbers. They ran the ball 39.2 percent of the time in the first half and 42.4 percent in the second half.

Staley said he understands why fans want the Eagles to run the ball more.

"This is a hard-nosed city," he said. "Rocky. It loved players like Jerome Brown, Ricky Watters, Reggie White. First thing that comes to mind is toughness.

"People remember a guy running with a shoe off for a first down, or running for a first down with his helmet off. You remember the toughness."

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