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Original Issue

No Running!

The way the Eagles stifled the Steelers' attack was more evidence of the power shift to the NFC

SOME THINGS are rapidly becoming gospel in this NFL season. The Bills (page 68) are no pushovers; the Browns are. The 49ers' J.T. O'Sullivan can move an offense; Chiefs QBs cannot. And after three weeks, no team is as formidable against the run as the Eagles. Philadelphia has held three Pro Bowl backs—Steven Jackson, Marion Barber and Willie Parker—to 40, 63 and 20 yards rushing, respectively. Most startling, within a span of six days the Eagles faced the sledgehammer Barber and then the speedy, quick-to-the-edge Parker, and smothered them both. Of the combined 71 carries by Barber and Parker, 22 went for a yard or less.

The pillars of the Eagles' top-ranked run-stopping unit are linebackers Omar Gaither, Chris Cocong and Stewart Bradley, plus tackles Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson. All five were drafted since 2005; Patterson is 25, the other four 24. Imagine the defensive future if you're allowing 2.4 yards per rush ... and your five key run stuffers aren't yet 26. Bunkley is a Warren Sapp--like slasher who knifes into the backfield, Patterson more of an immovable object inside. Bradley, the middle 'backer, has started only four NFL games, but he's so smart and reads offensive keys so well that coordinator Jim Johnson uses him in a variety of roles; in Sunday's 15--6 mauling of the Steelers, Bradley often blitzed instead of covering a tight end or a back. The pressure paid off: The Eagles sacked Steelers quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich eight times.

The Cowboys were able to run up the score on Philly the previous Monday night because Johnson didn't dial up the blitz enough. You can bet he won't make that mistake again as the Eagles (2--1) try to catch Dallas and the Giants, both 3--0, in the powerful NFC East.



LUNCH SACK Juqua Parker (75) and Darren Howard put Leftwich in a Philly sandwich.