Like Mr. Miyagi said, “Must find balance, Daniel-san.” Both the Eagles and Cardinals have adopted similar offensive philosophies in their journey to the NFC Championship. Gone is the pass-happy play-calling and aerial fireworks that dominated both teams for the majority of the season. During the regular season the Eagles ranked 22nd in rushing, the Cardinals ranked 32nd. But as of late, both teams have found balance.
Arizona went 2-4 in their last six games. The main culprit in their late-season slide was a total abandonment of the running game. Edgerrin James voiced his displeasure at being used as a blocker and demanded a trade. Not good vibes at all. But in the season finale against Seattle, James was thawed out and ran for 100 yards – his first 100 yard game since opening day. In the Cardinals’ two playoff wins, James has 36 carries for 130 yards and a touchdown. His return from obscurity has made an already potent offense even more dangerous.
The Eagles had a similar revelation beginning Thanksgiving night against the very same Cardinals. Brian Westbrook went nuts, rushing for 110 yards and totaling four touchdowns. The Birds had 40 run plays for 185 yards. On the flip-side, Arizona ran only 10 times for 25 yards. It’s easy to see why the Eagles won 48-20.
One of the main reasons why the Eagles have won six of their last seven has been their commitment to run the ball. In their two playoff wins the yardage hasn’t been there, but Andy Reid has stuck with it anyway. 51 carries for 126 yards is far from impressive, but it’s been enough to keep defenses honest.
Balance has never been one of Reid’s favorite words, but since achieving balance the Eagles have been tough to beat. The same can be said for Arizona. Which team runs the ball more effectively on Sunday will likely come out on top. Both defenses are playing at a high level, so while many are expecting a shootout, my money is on a game in the twenties. As dangerous as the Cardinals’ passing attack is, the Eagles are better off making them one-dimensional. One-dimensional teams make Jim Johnson giddy. I like it when Jim Johnson is giddy.