He might not get a standing ovation this time for converting third-and-1 - Sunday's game is to be played at the Meadowlands, after all - but Kyle Eckel will continue to be a part of the Eagles' running-back mix, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said yesterday.
"He's earned the responsibility of playing a little bit," Mornhinweg said of Eckel, who made his Eagles debut last week against Arizona and gained 27 yards on six carries. Most notably, though, Eckel gained 2 yards on an early third-and-1 for a team that had seen its season derailed by repeated failures in such situations.
Mornhinweg was asked what made the Birds finally give Eckel a shot. He'd been on the roster since Oct. 21, learning the fullback and running back positions. All of Eckel's snaps against the Cards came as a running back.
Mornhinweg opted to avoid the obvious answer, which was "sheer desperation," with Tony Hunt cut and Correll Buckhalter out with a knee injury that is likely to sideline him again this week.
"We looked at him in practice and he looked pretty good," Mornhinweg said. "Shoot, he led the nation in rushing a couple years ago in college [at Navy] and then he showed well last week."
Eckel, born in Philadelphia and raised in Haverford, didn't want to venture an opinion yesterday on why the Eagles have had such trouble converting short-yardage situations this season. In the previous meeting with the Giants, at Lincoln Financial Field on Nov. 9, the Birds were driving, 1 minute, 55 seconds remaining, trailing by five. Brian Westbrook found no room on the right side on fourth-and-1 at the Eagles' 45, and the Giants got the ball back to run out the clock. It was another in a string of such failures for an offense that has ranked among the best in the league all year in many categories, except that elusive one called "getting the job done when it counts."
"Learn my assignments, hold onto the ball, and get the first down," Eckel said, when asked what he can do to change the team's fortunes there. "So far in this offense I'm still learning. I just want to continue learning, keep developing a spot on the team, and hopefully, tough out those yards that are needed."
Left guard Todd Herremans said teammates appreciate Eckel's intensity.
"Eckel's an animal. He takes his job very seriously," Herremans said. "He plays kind of the 'Rocky' role - big heart, gets very frustrated if he doesn't do the right thing."
Feagles vs. Eagles
This is the kind of game in which the Eagles could use a big boost from special teams, like a DeSean Jackson punt-return touchdown, but against the Giants and wily 42-year-old punter Jeff Feagles, that's unlikely. Jackson might not see a returnable ball.
"Feagles is a great punter for them. They've punted 47 times this season, and out of those 47, 16 of them have been out of bounds," Eagles special-teams coordinator Rory Segrest noted yesterday. "It's not just us that he does that against. I think they've only allowed 14 returns all season. I think those are a 3.9-yard average, on those returns. It's going to be a great challenge for us. That's one of their strengths - their special teams. They are very solid in what they do there. Feagles is definitely a guy who can make it more difficult for you. Obviously, we would love to get DeSean involved and get the ball in his hands. But we have to make sure we're getting enough pressure to get that done. At the same time, we have to be sound with what we're doing."
A day after saying he was feeling the best he's felt since suffering his ankle injury in Week 3, Brian Westbrook sat out practice. Officially, the rest was precautionary . . . Right guard Max Jean-Gilles had that scheduled surgery on his broken left fibula, the Eagles said, performed by Dr. Steven Raikin at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Jean-Gilles is out for the season . . . Marty Mornhinweg said the Giants "have no weakness" defensively. "They are very good against the run, very good against the pass," he said. "Their secondary plays to the front [aggressively] just a little bit, so we'll see what happens." *