HERE'S A PREDICTION: You'll see the Eagles try harder to establish the running game, particularly the inside running game, when they take on the Dallas Cowboys Sunday afternoon.
Maybe you've heard, that didn't happen in the season-opening loss Monday night at Atlanta. Eventually some outside runs opened up in the second half, and Chip Kelly says he counts some of the passes to backs as run plays (Remember how everybody used to love it when Andy Reid would say that after throwing the ball 52 times?), but DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews ended up with 13 yards on 11 carries, which is not a winning recipe going forward.
"The down linemen, we weren't getting much movement," right tackle Lane Johnson said yesterday. "We started going more outside zone, trying to put bigger guys on smaller guys in space. That worked well in the second half."
But Johnson conceded that the inside zone run "really is our bread and butter," and that teams are scheming up ways to stop it, something he expects to see continue from Dallas.
Monday's debacle ratcheted up the scrutiny on the Eagles' two new starting guards, Allen Barbre and Andrew Gardner, who entered training camp as question marks, then eased fears with strong preseason play.
"We thought both guards played well, and they graded out well for [line coach Jeff Stoutland]," Kelly said yesterday, to a highly skeptical group of reporters.
"We didn't call many runs. So I think it's a misconception to say that we didn't run the ball very well," Kelly said. "It's tough to evaluate the run if we aren't running it. We threw the ball . . . because we could move the ball very quickly down the field by getting the ball in the air, but that's not an indication of how - they were graded out as pass [blockers] and actually did a really good job of that."
Barbre, whose chief asset is his strength, seemed to get tossed around all night. Gardner was better, but he spent some time on the ground, including at the end of the biggest running failure of the game, when Mathews tried to hit the hole between Gardner and Johnson on third-and-1, the clock ticking down under 3 minutes remaining in regulation, only to be met squarely by linebacker Paul Worrilow. Mathews didn't get close to the marker. Then Cody Parkey missed a 44-yard, go-ahead field goal.
"In the preparation, we didn't think [Worrilow] was going to flow that fast," center Jason Kelce said. "We should've known, because they did that on the goal-line play .
"What we were trying to do is get a double-team on the nose, who crossed my face, with the back-side guard . If we had to do it again, I'd probably just go straight up to the 'backer and get him blocked, because, as long as we got a body on a body, we should be able to pick up a yard."
Kelce said linebacker Kroy Biermann kept him from getting out on Worrilow.
"Those slants by the front-side end weren't as severe on film," Kelce said. "And the nose guard slanting across my face wasn't as severe. [The Falcons] play up front a little differently than we've seen . . . They're much more of a penetrating defensive line, not reading. I think that threw us off, especially in the first half, with a lot of the run calls."
"I don't think we made the adjustment to what they were doing quickly enough," he said.
Dallas hasn't played the Eagles that way in the past. Obviously, it's possible the Cowboys will try to use some things they saw the Falcons do, but "it was not so much a specific scheme to stop what we do, more their style of defense," Gardner said. "I don't think it's a thing you'll necessarily see teams duplicate.
"Obviously, it's important that we come out and get the run established. That's something we hang our hat on, something we take a lot of pride in. We didn't live up to our standard last week."
Can they do that? Is it possible more and more teams are not being distracted by Kelly's tempo, and are figuring out ways to shut down the Eagles?
"No. I have full confidence in our offensive line, and the running backs on this team, to run the football," Gardner said.
"If we get [the inside zone] going, it opens up everything else," Barbre said. "A couple of missed blocks here and there [in Atlanta], the way they were playing it - they did a good job defending it. They played hard and they played well. They slanted quite a bit [changing the blocking angles] and did some games and stuff."
The line still doesn't have a ton of time working with Murray or Mathews, both of whom arrived in the offseason. Murray, who racked up 449 touches last season for Dallas, practiced sporadically much of the preseason. He and Mathews carried the ball only 11 times apiece in preseason games.
"I think it's always a work in progress," Barbre said. "They're getting more and more comfortable with it, and we are, too."
The other big o-line problem against the Falcons was penalties. Each of the five starters drew a flag, though the penalty on Johnson was declined because the result of the play was a 12-yard loss.
"We didn't play well enough to win the game. That's all there is to it. You can't come out as a team and as an offensive line and play the way we did early, and then try to make up for it later in the game," Gardner said. "The last time we played Dallas [a 38-27 loss at the Linc last Dec. 14], we did what we did vs. Atlanta this time, and when we made the comeback , it was too little, too late.
"I think everyone's cognizant of that, and it's something we're not going to do this time."
I GUESS "I have no idea" is not a valid option here, huh?
A week ago,in my head,I had Atlanta as a win and this game as a loss, because the Cowboys are pretty good and the Eagles would be playing on a short week.Then Dallas superstar wideout Dez Bryant and flashy rookie pass rusher Randy Gregory got hurt, and the Eagles lost, making this a must win if the Eagles don't want to reach talk radio DEFCON-5 before the leaves even turn.
Tony Romo is very capable of doing what Matt Ryan did Monday night. And I'm not sure the Eagles can sort out all their offensive-line problems in one shortened practice week. But the home team definitely needs this game more, has more to prove. It should be able to run a little, and throw long a bit more, with tough cornerback Orlando Scandrick also out. At home, maybe the Birds can outscore Dallas, even if Romo has a good day?
Prediction: Eagles 33, Cowboys 31.