Friday, December 16, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

1. Pride on the Line

It has been a tumultuous season for the Rams and Eagles as both teams have dealt with myriad injuries and problems on the field as well as their share of tribulations off the field.

Both teams were officially eliminated from playoff contention with losses last week that dropped them to 5-8 on the season. With three games left to play, what does that leave for them to play for?

“This is a game of pride,” linebacker Brandon Chillar said. “We are getting paid to play, we are professionals so we have to go out and play.”

There isn’t much else left for either side except for pride. Sure, in the next few weeks both sides will get a nice opportunity to evaluate some young talent and see what areas need the most attention in the offseason, but other than that, it’s all about pride.

That would seem to make it hard on many of the veterans to want to be on the field playing hard the rest of the way, but neither team has been lacking effort in recent weeks.

Philadelphia lost a close game in overtime to the Giants a week ago; proving it still has the desire to win. St. Louis hung with Minnesota deep into the game and, if not for six turnovers, might have been able to steal an upset victory.
So, something is keeping both sides going.

“I love the game of football,” receiver Torry Holt said. “It’s unfortunate we won’t have the opportunity to go to the playoffs, but I love football. I love going out and having the opportunity to compete week in and week out to improve my skills and see where I am as a football player. The biggest challenge now is to get a win and get this football team and organization to the point where we can be at .500 and get ready for next year. The love and the passion and opportunity that I have to play on Sundays is enough for me to go out there.”

The team with more guys that have that attitude is probably the team most likely to win.

2. Rookie Runner

Running back for the Eagles has been a position of little consequence in recent seasons. Although Brian Westbrook emerged as a top-level back, it didn’t matter much because he was getting most of his touches catching passes out of the back field.

Coach Andy Reid’s offense is centered on the passing game, with quick hits in the West Coast offense the basic parameter of the attack. In other words, short passes were the equivalent of the running game for Philadelphia.

The lack of attention to the run game left the Eagles at the bottom of the league in rushing for most of the season. But all of that changed when quarterback Donovan McNabb (injury) and receiver Terrell Owens (disciplinary reasons) were lost for the season.

“They run the ball real well now,” defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. “Before McNabb got hurt, they were barely running the ball at all. Now they are running the last couple of games for 170 or 180 yards a game. They’ve really picked it up.”

The Eagles still rank just 28th in the league in rushing at 89.8 yards per game, but that number seems to be improving with the shot in the arm provided by a rookie. Westbrook was placed on injured reserve last week because of a serious sprain in his right foot.

In his place, Philadelphia plugs in rookie back Ryan Moats out of Louisiana Tech. Moats’ impact was felt immediately. He ran for 114 yards with a pair of touchdowns on just 11 carries last week against the Giants as the Eagles ran for 175 yards on 25 carries total.

“He is a legitimate 4.4, 4.48 guy,” interim coach Joe Vitt said. “He gets to the perimeter quick, attacks with force. If you miss a tackle, he’s gone. He’s gone.”

Moats was labeled somewhat of a project coming out of the draft with plenty of potential, but not much polish. He got essentially no opportunities for the first part of the season, but is now making the most of his chances.

Looking at Moats, a player the Rams had their eye on in the draft, not much stands out except for one particular attribute.

“He has great speed,” defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson said. “If you aren’t where you’re supposed to be and he creases you, there isn’t anybody on the field that is going to be able to catch him from behind. That’s what jumps out at you. He made some runs against the Giants where he just outran everybody.”

3. Mac Makes Moves

With McNabb on injured reserve because of a sports hernia, the Eagles turned to another Mac to handle the quarterback duties. Mike McMahon, a former starter for the Lions, has taken the reins and fared just OK in his six appearances.

McMahon struggled mightily in a blowout loss to Seattle, tossing a pair of interceptions in his 10 attempts and was promptly removed from the game in favor of Koy Detmer.

This week, McMahon is listed on the injury report with a hip problem, but has practiced and is expected to play.
While the offense has shifted to a more run-oriented attack since McNabb left, McMahon is still asked to make plays, whether with his arms or his legs.

“It’s pretty well out there what they can do and what they can’t do,” Vitt said. “They changed their offensive philosophy some. They are running the ball more. McMahon can make a lot of plays with his legs. He’s a pure West Coast quarterback.”

It is McMahon’s ability to run that makes him a viable option for the Eagles at quarterback. He has never proved to be too dangerous with his arm, but can tuck the ball and run with the best signal callers in the league.

“He’ll look where he’s supposed to go, and once he looks and there’s nothing there, he takes off,” free safety Mike Furrey said. “Like coach said, he’s probably one of the most elusive quarterbacks in the NFL right now besides Michael Vick. So, we’ll have our hands full.”

4. Forget the Past

Last week was a long week for rookie quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick went from overnight sensation for his performance against Houston to the lowest feeling for a quarterback after he threw five interceptions against Minnesota.
Fitzpatrick spent most of this week doing his best to get over those struggles.

“It happened,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s over with. I learned a lot from the games, I just have to move on from there.”

After Fitzpatrick’ amazing debut against the Texans, he fielded plenty of phone calls with everybody wanting a piece of the rookie from Harvard. This week, though, the phone calls have continued to come in an effort to keep his confidence up.

“I felt comfortable during that game even though there were a lot of interceptions,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m feeling more and more comfortable with every rep I get every practice, every game. I still have a lot of confidence and I talked to some of the guys and guys are coming up to me and still have a lot of confidence in me. I just have to go out there and keep learning.”

Fitzpatrick went through the epitome of growing pains last week as his passes were off target or sailing on him for most of the day. He also missed some easy reads that a more experienced quarterback would have hit. All of that goes back to the learning process of being a rookie quarterback in the NFL.

Still, the Rams have committed to sticking with Fitzpatrick this week and, perhaps, beyond.

“I think the biggest thing is just being in there and getting reps,” Fitzpatrick said. “Certain throws that maybe I could get away with in college, I can’t get away with now. I am not going to be able to thread the needle on certain things because the guys are faster. Just knowing my limits, knowing my boundaries and doing what I can.”

5. A Safe Feeling

Despite all of the injuries to the Eagles and their secondary, the safety position has remained relatively healthy. Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis are Pro Bowl-caliber talents and have done their best to make up for the loss of some of the other talent along the line.

“Their secondary can run, they have two Pro Bowl safeties back there so we definitely are going to have our hands full,” Holt said. “They are a physical bunch. They are always looking to knock you out.”

The Eagles are 23rd in the league in pass defense in spite of the presence of Dawkins and Lewis, but they will likely make things harder for Fitzpatrick to bounce back.