The Eagles' lack of a running game shouldn't come as a surprise | Early Birds

Hi, Eagles fans. I’m coming to you from a hotel room near the Kansas City airport hours after the Eagles’ 27-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and hours before an early-morning flight to return for Doug Pederson’s day-after news conference. This is “Early Birds”, the twice-weekly newsletter breaking down the Eagles. It’s free to sign up here to get it in your inbox every Monday and Friday. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thanks for reading.

— Zach Berman

The lack of a running game shouldn’t come as a surprise

Camera icon Ed Zurga/AP
Eagles running back LeGarrette Blount (29), after catching a short pass, is tackled by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston (50) during the first half of Sunday’s game. Blount did not have a single run from scrimmage.

When I left the Arrowhead Stadium press box on Sunday night, I walked by a wall adorned with a display celebrating the Chiefs history with a big quote from famed coach Hank Stram: “You cannot win if you cannot run.” The Eagles seem committed to testing this philosophy. It would have been better if the sign was near the visitors’ locker room.

The Eagles ran only 13 designed rushing plays. Doug Pederson called 56 passing plays. So only 19 percent of the plays were rushes — an even more drastic percentage than last week when 31 percent of the plays were rushes, and last season when it was about 40 percent. LeGarrette Blount, who’s supposed to be the top running back, failed to log a single carry.

Camera icon Zach Berman
A wall in Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium press box.

Poll

Should Frank Reich have more input in the Eagles’ play calling?

Pederson didn’t run away from the problem during his postgame news conference. He admitted the running game is not good enough, that the pass-run balance is too disproportionate, and the Eagles must find a way to fix it. But I’ve heard Pederson offer a similar sentiment before. Eighteen games into his head coaching tenure, it’s obvious that he relies on the passing game. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Until I see an actual commitment in games, it’s hard to believe what he’s saying behind the lectern. (For more on the running game and run blocking, check out Les Bowen‘s story from Kansas City.)

But I won’t put all the blame on the play-calling. What were you expecting from the running game this year? This seemed like a problem during the offseason and the preseason. The front office is as responsible for this as Pederson. The Eagles did not do enough to address the position in March and April, coming out of a historic running back draft class with Donnel Pumphrey.

The big offseason addition was Blount, who had an impressive 2016 campaign in New England. But in the NFL, you can always follow the money. When a 30-year-old free agent running back signs a contract in mid-May for $1.25 million, that should be an indication of how the league perceives his value. The reason the Eagles committed to a committee backfield this year is that they don’t have anyone who can be a leading running back. LeSean McCoy is in Buffalo, gone for more than two seasons, and the Eagles are still searching for his replacement.

The best solution for this season is Darren Sproles. He had 10 carries for 48 yards on Sunday, which is near his career average of 4.9 yards per carry. The concern with him is that because of his size, he could wear down at the end of a game or the end of the year. I’d still take my chances. He’s their best, most-productive running back. At this point, worry about December in December. Maybe Sproles won’t be affected. Maybe Wendell Smallwood or Corey Clement are further developed by then. But since he came to Philadelphia, good things usually happen when Sproles gets the ball.

These Eagles will never be a run-first team. It’s not how their built, and it’s not necessary in today’s NFL. But they do need to run. Stram said a team cannot win if they cannot run. What about if they do not run?


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3 Questions With | Cornerback Rasul Douglas

Camera icon DAVID MAIALETTI
Chiefs’ Travis Kelce leaps into the end zone over the Eagles’ Rasul Douglas.

Note: The Eagles played Douglas for the first time on Sunday after Watkins left the game with a hamstring injury. He covered top Chiefs wide receiver Tyreke Hill at times in the second half.

Zach Berman: What was your reaction when Jaylen Watkins left the game and how did you think you played?

Rasul Douglas: “Next man up, I’m waiting to see. I’m standing by coach regardless to see if he wants me to go in. So he just tapped me, and let’s go …I did OK. Not too good, not too bad.”

Zach Berman: Now that you finally played, are you more confident than you were before the game?

Rasul Douglas: “Definitely, because I got a game underway. So now I know what it’s like in the NFL. And I just went against the fastest guy in the NFL. So that works for me.”

Zach Berman: So what did you learn about playing in the NFL?

Rasul Douglas: “You see the best every week. You get everybody’s best.”


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From the mailbag

This question is referring to the Eagles’ training camp trade of Allen Barbre. I don’t think Howie Roseman is too “trade obsessed,” but I do think the Eagles were too quick in handing Isaac Seumalo the starting left guard job. There should have been a training camp competition. Whether that means hanging onto Barbre could be up for reasonable debate — at worst, Barbre could have been the swing guard/tackle. So I think Barbre presented some value. I know the Eagles liked their depth at the position, which factored into the decision in trading him. They determined that Seumalo would start and preferred the other linemen as depth pieces. But even with the Barbre trade, I would have opened up the competition to Stefen Wisniewski and Chance Warmack. Both have significant starting experience. The coaches gave it to Seumalo from Day 1, and now they’re experiencing some of the growing pains.

Here’s a reader who wants Roseman to make trades! Considering the state of the Eagles’ running game, I wouldn’t rule out a move. It’s rare to trade for impact players at this time of the year, but running back is close to a plug-and-play position as they can find when it comes to pure running plays — pass blocking is more of a question. I don’t think it’s very likely they make a trade considering the Eagles didn’t go that path during the preseason when this appeared a problem, although the early-season performance could be an impetus. I think it’s more likely the Eagles try to give their current running backs more of a chance.

It should be Wentz and the passing game. Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery as the top options, but the focal point should be Wentz. The Eagles should use his arm, his legs, and his mind as much as they could. Wentz’s mobility is a huge asset — he rushed for 55 yards on Sunday — and he can make every throw. The Eagles’ best chance of reaching the postseason is by Wentz playing at a high level.