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1 Philadelphia Eagles The league's most consistent winner puts its running game in the hands of a first-year starter

Sept. 01, 2003
Sept. 01, 2003

Table of Contents
Sept. 1, 2003

NFL Preview 2003

1 Philadelphia Eagles The league's most consistent winner puts its running game in the hands of a first-year starter

By Peter King Projected lineups and PVRs compiled by David Sabino

Do you know why the Eagles have played 45 consecutive
regular-season games without back-to-back losses? (No other team
comes close to that run; Tampa Bay is second with 27 straight.)

This is an article from the Sept. 1, 2003 issue

Sure, Philadelphia has been shutting down opponents for the last
three seasons, finishing among the top 10 in the NFL in team
defense each year. Yes, quarterback Donovan McNabb, though
streaky, has emerged as the offensive cornerstone coach Andy Reid
thought he was getting when he made McNabb the No. 2 pick in the
1999 draft. But the secret to the Eagles' consistently strong
performance--they are the winningest NFL team since the start of
the 2000 campaign--is the running game. Philly averaged 4.5 yards
per carry over the last three years.

That translates into ball control. The Eagles had a 2:20 edge in
time of possession per game in 2002, 11th best in the NFL, even
with McNabb missing six games with a broken ankle. And after
backup Koy Detmer was hurt in his first start for McNabb,
third-stringer A.J. Feeley had to take over the next five games.
Though Reid may be known as a West Coast, pass-happy coach,
remember that he was an offensive line assistant for 14 years and
likes to pound it.

That brings us to this dicey question: Is third-year back Correll
Buckhalter, who hasn't been an every-down player since his senior
year in high school, the man to keep the Philadelphia rushing
attack in gear?

Because of a 26-day holdout by incumbent running back Duce
Staley, who has one year, at $2.2 million, remaining on his
contract and didn't report until Sunday, Buckhalter had a clear
shot at becoming the starter in training camp. The 6-foot,
222-pound Buckhalter was a backup at Nebraska for four seasons,
averaging nine carries a game. A fourth-round pick in 2001, he
set the Eagles' rookie rushing record as Staley's understudy,
with 586 yards and a 4.5-yard average per carry. Then, in an
April '02 minicamp while preparing to compete with Staley for the
starting job, Buckhalter tore the ACL in his left knee and missed
all last season.

Even with Staley back in camp Buckhalter, if healthy, will most
likely get the bulk of the workload, 15 to 18 carries a game.
Though he occasionally struggled in camp--not always picking the
right hole or knowing when to make a cut--his athleticism is
superior to Staley's. In one morning workout he took a handoff,
cut upfield and ran past a corner and a safety. That's the kind
of move that has the Eagles thinking Buckhalter is more of an
all-around threat than Staley. "He's a guy who definitely can
change the pace of the game," says McNabb.

One of the reasons the Eagles are trying to get quicker on
offense and defense (page 70) is to avoid disasters like their
27-10 loss in the NFC Championship Game, in which Tampa Bay ran
circles around Philadelphia. So look for change-of-pace back
Brian Westbrook to get more than the 55 touches (46 rushing, nine
receiving) he got as a rookie last year. There's little question
that if Buckhalter and Westbrook combine for 22 to 25 carries a
game and Staley gets the remainder, Philadelphia will have a more
athletic backfield than it had last year.

In the physical NFC, though, it's just as important for running
backs to be durable as athletic. "I prepared myself all through
the spring and summer to be the man," Buckhalter says. "Whether
it's 10, 15, 20 or 25 carries each Sunday, I know I can do it.
Remember, I went to Nebraska, and all they play there is
hard-nosed football. I'm ready for the hard-nosed football of the
NFC. Running backs run the ball. Football's football. Don't make
too much of it."

It's understandable for Eagle Nation to fret about a player
coming off knee surgery and at the same time becoming an NFL
starter. All that's at stake is the Super Bowl. --Peter King

COLOR PHOTO: VINCENT MANNIELLO/SPORTSCHROME CLEAR SAILING With his knee repaired and Staley late to camp, Buckhalter can finally strut his stuff as a starter.COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS HOLLIS THOMASCOLOR PHOTO

UNDER THE GUN

As the man who'll get first crack at replacing departed right
end Hugh Douglas, the Eagles' primary pass rusher the past five
years, NDUKWE KALU got a head start in December. In the last five
regular-season games he had more sacks (six) than Douglas did (4
1/2) and seven QB pressures. He'll have to keep that up to hold
off first-round pick Jerome McDougle.

ENEMY LINES
An opposing scout's view

"The Eagles got two steals in the draft to improve their passing
game: L.J. Smith, who might be one of the top 10 tight ends in
football, in the second round and wideout Billy McMullen in the
third. You don't lead an ACC school like Virginia in receiving
four years in a row [which McMullen did] without being
talented.... I might be in the minority, but I question Donovan
McNabb's accuracy.... I really like this offensive line, but Jon
Runyan can be beaten by the quick defensive ends. Tra Thomas has
better feet and plays just as strong.... Hank Fraley fooled me.
He's an excellent drive-blocking center.... On defense everyone's
screaming about losing Hugh Douglas, but what did he do down the
stretch to help them? Nothing. I wouldn't have paid him at 32....
I love their tackle rotation now that Hollis Thomas is back. They
missed his run defense when he was hurt last year.... They'll
miss Shawn Barber's speed at outside linebacker, but Nate Wayne's
playmaking ability should help. He's always around the ball....
There isn't a better safety in football than Brian Dawkins; he's
physical, quick and fearless."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 8 TAMPA BAY (Mon.)
14 NEW ENGLAND
21 Open date
28 at Buffalo

Oct. 5 WASHINGTON
12 at Dallas
19 at N.Y. Giants
26 N.Y. JETS

Nov. 2 at Atlanta
10 at Green Bay (Mon.)
16 N.Y. GIANTS
23 NEW ORLEANS
30 at Carolina

Dec. 7 DALLAS
15 at Miami (Mon.)
21 SAN FRANCISCO
27 at Washington (Sat.)

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 3
Opponents' 2002 winning percentage: .541
Games against playoff teams: 6

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2002 statistics

2002 RECORD: 12-4
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE 7/19/10
DEFENSE 9/7/4

COACH: Andy Reid; fifth season with Philadelphia (39-25 in NFL)

CORRELL BUCKHALTER*

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
RB 84 129 586 4.5

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
13 130 10.0 2

DONOVAN MCNABB

POS. PVR ATT. COMP. %
QB 9 361 211 58.4

YARDS TDs INT. RATING
2,289 17 6 86.0

JON RITCHIE[1]

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
FB 337 0 0 --

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
10 66 6.6 1

TODD PINKSTON

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 77 60 798 7

CHAD LEWIS

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
TE 153 42 398 3

TRA THOMAS

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LT 6'7" 349 lbs. 16 16

JOHN WELBOURN

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LG 6'5" 318 lbs. 11 11

HANK FRALEY

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
C 6'2" 300 lbs. 16 16

ERMANE MAYBERRY

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RG 6'4" 325 lbs. 16 16

JON RUNYAN

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RT 6'7" 330 lbs. 16 16

JAMES THRASH

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 104 52 635 6

DEFENSE

RE NDUKWE KALU 23 tackles 8 sacks
RT DARWIN WALKER 35 tackles 7 1/2 sacks
LT COREY SIMON 39 tackles 2 sacks
LE DERRICK BURGESS* 30 tackles 6 sacks
OLB CARLOS EMMONS 60 tackles 3 1/2 sacks
MLB MARK SIMONEAU[1] 7 tackles 0 sacks
OLB NATE WAYNE[1] 111 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
CB BOBBY TAYLOR 58 tackles 5 int.
SS MICHAEL LEWIS 38 tackles 1 int.
FS BRIAN DAWKINS 95 tackles 2 int.
CB TROY VINCENT 67 tackles 2 int.

SPECIAL TEAMS PVR

K DAVID AKERS 140 43/43 XPS 30/34 FGs 133 PTS.
PR BRIAN WESTBROOK 172 NO NFL PUNT RETURNS
KR BRIAN WESTBROOK 172 NO NFL KICKOFF RETURNS
P LEE JOHNSON 14 PUNTS 27.7 AVG.

[1]New acquisition
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 89)
*2001 stats

"There isn't a better safety in football than Dawkins; he's
physical, quick and fearless."