Chris Polk is going to be a fantastic second half of the season story— Dan Klausner (@dklausner) November 2, 2014
The Eagles are about to embark on the second half of their 2014 season, and, naturally, the storyline has completely flipped on its head with Mark Sanchez taking over for the injured Nick Foles at starting quarterback. Let's get this out of the way now: If you're expecting Sanchez to be the savior even if he has to throw the ball as much as Foles did, I have some delectable, magical dog turd chocolate bars to sell you at $15 a pop that give you literally whatever super power you wish. The offense needs to change, it needs to go back to being built around the run game. Luckily, the situation is optimal to make that change happen.
In addition to the offensive line getting healthy -- sans Todd Herremans (godpseed in your recovery and come back healthy next season, big guy), who'll be replaced by Matt Tobin -- with Evan Mathis set to return on Monday against the Carolina Panthers, Chip Kelly has started to incorporate a healthy Chris Polk into the offense, just as he did in the second half of 2013. Personally, I thought Polk was one of the two or three most impressive players during 2013 training camp and deserved the primary backup job over Bryce Brown. If you'll remember, Polk flashed against Denver last season before suffering a shoulder injury against Tampa Bay. Though he missed just one game because of the injury, he didn't even touch the ball again until almost two full months later, in the Snow Bowl, when he was part of the fourth-quarter rushing barrage that devastated the Detroit Lions. Polk carried the ball four times for 50 yards in that game, including a 38-yard touchdown up the middle, yet he only saw four more combined touches in the final three weeks -- he made the most of those touches, though, scoring a touchdown against Chicago and recording a huge 34-yard catch-and-run against Dallas in the de facto NFC East Championship Game. Polk always seems to make something happen when he gets the ball so I, for one, hope he gets many more touches in the final eight games of 2014.
Polk was an incredibly productive running back at the University of Washington, starting his final three seasons and finishing with 3,999 yards for his career -- only 42 yards behind Napoleon Kaufman on the school's all-time leading rusher list. A subpar Senior Bowl and medical red flags due to a degenerative shoulder condition torpedoed his draft stock to the point that he, apparently, wasn't even graded as "draftable" on a single team's board. No matter, Duce Staley loved what he saw from Polk and banged the table for Howie Roseman and Andy Reid to sign him immediately as an undrafted free agent. Polk entered camp in 2012 without much fanfare, but I was on board from the very start and felt he was a diamond in the rough. He was my Trey Burton before Trey Burton was my Trey Burton. I'll always remember the 2010 Holiday Bowl, when Polk had 34 carries for 177 yards and a touchdown (and added two catches for 22 yards) en route to carrying Washington to an upset over Nebraska:
Watch every carry from that game and you'll see the same things from him you see now: power, relentlessness, vision, balance, light feet, deceptive quickness. His north-south, battering-ram style is the perfect complement to Shady's shiftiness and Sproles' explosiveness.
After a severe hamstring injury that forced Polk to miss essentially every training camp practice and each of the four preseason games, a not-so-quiet chorus of Eagles fans were adamant that he should be cut in favor of preseason all-stars Matthew Tucker and/or Henry Josey. How 'bout no, fellas? Polk proved himself a strong special teams contributor in his first two seasons with the team and produced on offense in limited touches during games that actually counted. Fortunately, the Eagles valued Polk -- they chose to trade away Brown, after all -- and kept him on the 53-man roster. Despite being inactive for the first game of the season, Polk showed his utility two weeks later against Washington by scoring the first kick-return touchdown of his career, and the Eagles' first since Quintin Demps in 2008. The hamstring injury flared up again however a few weeks later and forced him to miss the Giants game before the bye. He got his first carries of the season against Arizona, then busted out against Houston. It's been a constant yo-yo of reliability, but there's no denying Polk's effect when on the field. In 34 total touches as a pro, including seven kick returns, he has five touchdowns. He's averaging 8.26 yards per on 27 non-return touches. That's one hell of a yardage average and touches-to-touchdown ratio -- though neither is sustainable, I feel the trend merits more opportunities. Those opportunities started to come against the Texans, and hopefully what we saw is a sign of things to come. I could barely contain my excitement on the four-play, 70-yard drive in which Polk and Shady split four carries and Polk scored the touchdown from nine yards out. Observe:
Chris Polk gives NO fucks let's go— Dan Klausner (@dklausner) November 2, 2014
UNLEASH THE BEAST Ps that ruled— Dan Klausner (@dklausner) November 2, 2014
"Chris Polk runs like a death machine I am very about that type of life" - @JasonAAV— Dan Klausner (@dklausner) November 2, 2014
Shortly thereafter, Polk earned this apt player comparison, one I had not thought of previously but like a lot, from @BHugh_215:
@dklausner Polk = Rashad Jennings.— Honey Bri (@BHugh_215) November 2, 2014
All that brings us to now, starting with Monday night against Carolina. Sanchez is the quarterback, the offensive line is as healthy as it'll be for the rest of the season, and the Eagles have a trio of talented running backs whose collective potential evokes memories of the Staley-Westrbook-Buckhalter three-headed monster from 2003. Feed them all. Feed them frequently. Let's go back to being the Eagles of 2013, let's impose our will on the opposition at the line of scrimmage, let's wear teams down with physicality in addition to tempo, and let's break wills.
Since predictions are always fun, here's my extremely optimistic one for Polk's stat line in the final eight games of the season (not including the 11 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown and one catch for one yard that he's already registered): 65 carries, 335 yards, four touchdowns / 15 catches for 155 yards, one touchdown ... 80 touches, 490 yards, five touchdowns