Thursday, December 18, 2014

Amid the wreckage, daydreaming about Bryce Brown

Cowboys 38, Eagles 33

Amid the wreckage, daydreaming about Bryce Brown

Philadelphia Eagles running back Bryce Brown (34) runs the ball against the Dallas Cowboys during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 in Arlington, Texas. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)
Philadelphia Eagles running back Bryce Brown (34) runs the ball against the Dallas Cowboys during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 in Arlington, Texas. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Time moves so slowly now. For the Eagles, for all of them, the end cannot come soon enough. The destruction has been wrought, and the smoke floats lazily over the ruins, and the only thing preventing the cleanup from beginning is the four remaining games on the schedule. Time, then. Damn time.

The coaches coach for their reputations. The players play for their jobs. There is a nobility to that, even if no one on the outside really cares. People watch these games now out of habit more than anything, and it can be a maddening way to spend 3 hours. A team loses eight games in a row, a streak extended by Sunday night’s 38-33 loss to the Cowboys, and it can make you numb.

What once was a passion for people has become a chore. That is true. At the same time, it is getting hard for even the most disgusted among the citizenry not to notice Bryce Brown, the rookie running back who is sprinting out of the wreckage of the 2012 season.

He is, at least when he is holding onto the ball, a reason to daydream.

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Brown is fast, and he has some size, and he is a determined runner. He is not without elusiveness, but that is not his game. In that way, he would be the perfect stylistic complement to LeSean McCoy.

It is hard to be having this conversation, or this daydream, without knowing who the coach is going to be next season or what kind of offense he might choose to run. But even given that, an offense built around the explosiveness of Brown and the elusiveness of McCoy would be something that most people in the post-Reid era would gladly embrace.

Of course, all of this is predicated on Brown’s ability to hang on to the football. Nothing has killed more running back careers in the NFL than fumbles, and Brown now has three of them in two games. His fumble on Sunday night -- punched out of his hands with 3:50 remaining and returned 50 yards for the game-ending touchdown -- was the only blemish on his evening. But it was enormous, given that the Eagles were beginning to drive for the go-ahead touchdown at the time.

All kinds of page-turning will be happening for the Eagles in January, and beyond. That is the story of 2012. And if the team’s defense is a mess, the offense is not. Good health will fix a lot of their problems, and now there is this new, unexpected example of hope, this Bryce Brown.

If only he can hang on to the ball.

Playing in place of McCoy, who received a concussion during garbage time at Washington on November 18th, Brown has taken his opportunity and erupted. Last week against Carolina, he had 178 yards rushing on 19 carries and two touchdowns -- but the whole thing was overshadowed, in a way, by two lost fumbles.

Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium, against a team that has plenty of its own issues -- as the Panthers also did -- Brown ran for 169 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. The 347 combined yards was the most by an Eagles running back over a two-game stretch since Steve Van Buren ran for 379 yards over two games in 1949.

And if it is not realistic to put Brown’s name in the same paragraph as Van Buren, is is still fair to wonder about how this all might come together in a system where the coaches value the run more than Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg do. Because while nobody runs as much as they used to run in the NFL, the truth is that a decision to run more in the last two weeks has accomplished two things.

First, it has helped rookie quarterback Nick Foles to stabilize. Foles has started three games now and improved each week. The passing game was more vertical against the Cowboys than it has been so far, and the kid stood up to some pressure and delivered pretty well.

Second, it has showcased Brown, offering a glimpse at both the promise and the problem.

But it wouldn't be 2012 without the problem.

Rich Hofmann Daily News Sports Columnist
About this blog
Rich Hofmann arrived at the Daily News in 1980 for a job whose status was officially designated as "full-time, temporary." A senior at Penn at the time, he was hired to fill in on the copy desk during a staff illness. The notion of him covering the Eagles or being a columnist did not exist in anyone's imagination. It was supposed to be six weeks and out, but he never left. It is only one of the reasons why so many people have concerns about him as a potential house guest. Rich has blogged the postseasons of the Flyers and Eagles. E-mail Rich at hofmanr@phillynews.com Reach Rich at hofmanr@phillynews.com.

Rich Hofmann Daily News Sports Columnist
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