PHILADELPHIA - The Eagles' offense has been taking its time this season.
Despite the presence of playmakers such as quarterback Michael Vick, wide receiver DeSean Jackson and running back LeSean McCoy, the Eagles haven't generated many big plays this season as they had hoped.
The NFL defines big plays as those that gain 20 yards or more from scrimmage. The Eagles enter Sunday's game with Detroit having produced 23 of them in five games - 18 passes and five runs - to rank tied for sixth in the league.
"Sixth isn't bad," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said Thursday. "We've had our share of big plays, but not as many as I want. We're usually in the top three, four or five in that category. We're used to having big plays and we're used to scoring some touchdowns on those big plays."
Since the start of the 2010 season, the Eagles have posted a league-high 187 big plays, eight more than the New York Giants and San Diego. The Eagles' 817 big plays since 2000 are also tops in the league.
Conversely, they have had 11 offensive drives of 10 plays or more this season, which is tied for fourth. Their longest drive occurred in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's 16-14 loss at Pittsburgh, when Vick and company used 17 plays to move 79 yards. Vick's 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brent Celek gave the Eagles a 14-13 lead.
"Defenses are playing us a little different," Vick said. "They're giving us some things that we can take advantage of and at some point we'll get our shots down the field. We get one or two (opportunities) a game, but it hasn't been like it has in the past.
"We just want to put ourselves in a position to win the game. We don't want to leave any stones unturned, so sometimes we may take our chances in the first half and try to be as aggressive as we can to put points on the board. That's our philosophy. But they may not work, and when they don't, we just take it back to basics and go out and execute the offense."
Jackson, the Eagles' strongest deep threat, has largely been held in check this season. His longest gain was a 49-yard reception in a 24-23 victory over Baltimore on Sept. 16. None of his other 23 catches was for more than 35 yards. Since entering the league in 2008, Jackson had at least one reception of at least 60 yards in his first four years, topped by a 91-yard touchdown in 2010.
His current average of 16.3 yards per catch this season (24 receptions for 391 yards) would be the lowest since he averaged 14.7 yards per catch as a rookie in 2008.
McCoy's longest run this season was a 34-yarder against the Giants. He also had gains of 60 yards or longer in each of his previous three seasons.
"It's pretty obvious that defenses are trying to take away the deep stuff," Jackson said. "The safeties are sitting back and when we do get man-to-man coverage, they're blitzing (which doesn't provide enough time for deep passes). But that opens up all the underneath stuff for us. We just have to stay patient, force them to defend the underneath stuff, and then try to break a long one."
The Eagles don't mind long drives.
The offensive linemen prefer taking a methodical march toward the end zone rather than the one-and-done approach with a deep pass, even if it means being out on the field longer and wearing down as the game progresses.
"I like the long drives," tackle Todd Herremans said. "You do get tired out there, but sometimes I feel like I'm playing my best football in those situations. When we're out there for a long time, it forces you to just focus on doing your job on each and every play instead of overthinking things.
"But the main goal is to put the ball in the end zone and I don't care how we do that."
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