On Sunday, Doug Pederson called 13 designed run plays the whole game for the Philadelphia Eagles as they took on the Kansas City Chief’s on the road. Darren Sproles ended the day with 10 carries for 48 yards, Wendell Smallwood had three carries for four yards, and LeGarrette Blount, who the Eagles brought in this offseason presumably to be the number one back, had zero carries. Carson Wentz lead the team with four runs for a total of 55 yards. The Eagles called 69 plays and Wentz dropped back to pass on 56 of them, which obviously is not good as any NFL team wants to maintain a good balance between run and pass. So all of this begs the question; has Doug Pederson given up on the running game only two weeks into the season? Or is there a good reason why the Eagles have run the ball so little?
The Eagles clearly lack a true number one running back, a player that they can reliably hand the ball off to on any given down. Instead they rely on a slew of backs with different styles, ranging from running through you to running around you. Part of the reason why the Eagles haven’t been able to get anything going on the ground so far is because there is no consistent option at running back. Blount has run for 46 yards on 14 carries this year, Sproles has 12 carries for 50 yards, and Smallwood has seven carries for eight yards, and all have a different style of running. Blount will run through you, Sproles will run under and around you, and Smallwood is somewhere in between. The Eagles have to changeup the way they run the football depending on who is in the game. Ideally, while that can keep defenses on their toes, the Eagles can never establish a rhythm with one back, which puts a big burden on the offense.
Another reason why the Eagles struggle to run the ball is the offensive line. On paper the line looks pretty solid, but if you watch any Eagles game, you’ll usually see Wentz running for his life and very little push up front from the line when they do try to run the ball. Granted, the Eagles played against a team with one of the best defensive lines in all of football last week, the offensive line is more often than not being handled pretty easily up front. When the Eagles try to run it on first down, they often end up losing a few yards, which forces them into more pass-oriented play calling. The offensive line will have to work to generate more push at the line or Eagles backs will just keep getting dropped in the backfield.
So I feel like the more important question to ask her isn’t if Pederson has given up on the run game, but what is the reason the Eagles have ran the ball so little? There are a few ways that question can be answered. We’ve already looked at it a bit above; there is no true number one back and the offensive line is struggling to get some push up front. But I think its more important to look at the situations the Eagles have been in through their first two games. Against Washington, it looked like the Eagles were fairly committed to running the ball, but the game remained close throughout the second half until Brandon Graham‘s strip sack which was returned for a touchdown by Fletcher Cox late in the fourth quarter. Obviously in a close game in the second half, the Eagles offense is going to look to push the ball down the field through the air to set up opportunities to score points. The Chiefs game is a bit of a different story. When the Eagles tried to run the ball, their backs were often met at the line of scrimmage and dropped for losses. This put the Eagles offense behind the chains early and forced them to throw the ball to make up the difference. Then when the Eagles were down two touchdowns late, they obviously aren’t going to make up the difference by running the ball, and they needed Wentz to move them down the field quickly through the air.
Quite frankly I don’t believe Pederson has given up on the run game just yet, it’s that certain circumstances have caused him to rely more on Carson Wentz. I think if the Eagles are going to be successful running the ball, they need to focus on running with Blount on early downs. Line up under center, give the ball to Blount and let him run downhill behind Brandin Brooks and Lane Johnson. The Eagles should not be running out of the shotgun with Blount, as we all saw how well that worked with DeMarco Murray, but with Sproles and Smallwood, letting them get into open space and making people miss. The way the Eagles use three primary backs can be effective, but it’s up to Pederson to use them early and the right way.