Bowen: Eagles need to rev up run game

THE EAGLES' longest run last Sunday at Cincinnati went for 10 yards, and the runner was Carson Wentz.

Splashier, more spectacular failures commanded the headlines in that 32-14 loss, the Eagles' third in a row, with each of those setbacks more one-sided than the one before it.

There was a lot of analysis of Wentz, of his three interceptions, of the way his mechanics deteriorated. But as the Bengals' margin increased, to 29-0 in the third quarter, Doug Pederson made rookie Wentz the fourth quarterback in franchise history to attempt 60 passes. This was, as Pederson noted this week, "kind of a recipe for disaster."

The Eagles need to lose that recipe. They need to never have that recipe again. (Someone left the rookie quarterback out in the rain, etc.)

Poll

Do you think some Eagles are dogging it?

With leading rusher Ryan Mathews returning this week against Washington after missing two games with a knee injury, they need to do way better than the 15 carries for 33 yards their running backs managed in Cincinnati, against a run defense that came in ranked 28th in the NFL.

"We got kind of limited there in the second half (having to pass because they were so far behind), and in the first half, when we were running the ball, we just weren't effective on the plays that were called," center Jason Kelce said. "I don't really want to point fingers. It's a little bit of everybody kind of taking their turn. I trip on one of them, and then the hole's not there. It wasn't good. It wasn't clean, and it wasn't really coordinated, I would say. We're definitely putting a lot of attention to detail to that, to get it fixed this week."

This will be the third week in a row with usual left guard Allen Barbre playing right tackle and Stefen Wisniewski filling in for Barbre. Right tackle Lane Johnson has two more games to serve in his 10-game suspension, and Johnson's original replacement, rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee), will miss his chance to redeem himself against Washington and defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, who dominated Vaitai back on Oct. 16 at FedEx Field in a 27-20 Redskins victory.

Barbre had his hands full last week with Cincinnati's Carlos Dunlap, who didn't go around Barbre that often but kept boosting himself up on Barbre's shoulder pads and knocking down passes. Dunlap also wreaked havoc in the run game.

"I got to where I was having to grab and pull him down, you know? Like, I'd get my hands on him and yank him down so he couldn't jump anymore. It took me a little bit to figure him out," Barbre said.

Barbre noted that Mathews, 6-feet, 220, "runs hard."

Right guard Brandon Brooks said that Mathews "makes things happen." Mathews went down at Seattle, the week after his best game of the season, 19 carries, 109 yards and two touchdowns in a home victory over the Falcons that seems much more than four weeks distant now.

Brooks said that last week the run game "just never got started."

Rookie Wendell Smallwood was the primary ballcarrier against the Bengals. All of his eight carries for 19 yards (2.4-yard average) came in the first half. It's hard to assess how much of the struggles were Smallwood's fault; the holes certainly weren't big. But a few times, Smallwood seemed to bounce off the backs of his own linemen, or fail to see a lane that might have been better than the one he chose.

"We just gotta be aggressive, play on their side of the ball," Smallwood said, when asked what needs to be different this week. "Running backs got to see everything and have our reads right."

Pederson said that Smallwood, with 309 yards on 74 carries, is "learning how to be patient in the run game, using his eyes more than his God-given ability . . . Again, it's a learning process."

Smallwood, Pederson and just about everyone else interviewed made the point that the Eagles, losers of seven of their last nine, have been behind a lot lately, which doesn't make for a smooth, productive running game. Like lots of things, running tends to work better the more you do it.

"You can't kind of be that grinding team when you're down by 14, 21," Smallwood said.

Smallwood said that Mathews, who has 427 yards on 102 carries, and has scored seven of the Eagles' 12 rushing TDs, "runs heavy. He takes a lot of guys down to the ground."

Mathews has been a full practice participant the past two days.

"It's just getting back into rhythm, getting the timing down," Mathews said. "I missed two weeks. It's kind of hard. Just trying to get back in the groove of things."

Wisniewski said balance, and the ability to sell play-action, was a big part of the offensive plan going back to training camp.

"That was even before we had a rookie quarterback," he said. "Once you have a rookie quarterback, that becomes even more emphasized."

Pederson said he likes what the running game has been able to do in games where he has been able to use it enough - he thinks it's capable, if the Eagles can avoid digging huge holes.

"I like where we're at. I do lean on that offensive line quite a bit," he said. "I talk to them during the week and say, 'This might be the week we need to rush the ball 30, 35 times.' They're up for the challenge, obviously. With the addition of Ryan coming back, it definitely gives us depth and a bigger back, back there, and hopefully we can get back to running the ball like we did a few weeks ago."


bowenl@phillynews.com

@LesBowen

Blog: philly.com/Eaglesblog