In their first two games against the Washington Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs, Eagles running backs ran the ball just 33 times in 134 offensive plays.
Even a former quarterback like Doug Pederson knew, deep down, that dialing up the pass on three out of every four plays is not a recipe for success.
It definitely isn’t a recipe for keeping your franchise quarterback, Carson Wentz, upright for 16 games.
So, when Pederson put together his offensive game plan for the Giants, he made sure it included a heavy dose of the run.
“We called a few of them today, didn’t we?’’ center Jason Kelce said after Sunday’s 27-24 win.
Yes, they did. The Eagles rushed for 193 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries against the Giants as they improved their record to 2-1. It’s the most rushing yards by the Eagles since last November when they had 208 in a 24-15 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
And it was their most rushing attempts since their 33-10 Thanksgiving Day win over the Dallas Cowboys in 2014.
“We got a rap for not being able to run the ball,’’ Kelce said. “It felt really, really good to go out there and do that against, in my opinion, an incredibly good defense, especially against the run.
“The front that they have, [Damon] Harrison is one of the best noses, in terms of run defense, that I’ll see all year. It felt really good to be that successful against that run defense.’’
The Eagles’ running back quartet of LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood, rookie Corey Clement, and Darren Sproles combined for six double-digit-yard runs and nine rushing first downs against the Giants.
Even after losing Sproles to a wrist injury early in the second quarter, the Eagles continued to dominate on the ground. Blount had 67 yards and a TD on 12 carries. Smallwood, who had just 8 yards on seven carries in the first two games, had 71 on 12 carries against the Giants, including 14- and 20-yard runs.
Clement, an undrafted rookie, had a 15-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run that tied the game at 21.
“All week we’ve been practicing the run game and it showed today,’’ said Clement, a native of Glassboro. “We really stepped up today. When our name was called, everybody did what they were supposed to do. Duce [Staley, running backs coach] trusted us. Coach Pederson trusted us.
“You gotta love the O-line. They did a great job. Coach [Jeff] Stoutland had a great game plan against them.’’
The Eagles benched left guard Isaac Seumalo after last week’s loss to the Chiefs. They rotated Chance Warmack and Stefen Wisniewski there against the Giants. Wisniewski had a solid game, including a big kick-out block on safety Landon Collins on Clement’s touchdown run.
“We ran that [play] a couple of times,’’ Wisniewski said. “One time [Collins] dove at my knees. On the touchdown, he tried to go around me and I just drove him out.
“It felt good to get the run game going. Especially after not doing so well the last couple of weeks. I think it will give us confidence going forward.’’
Kelce, who had his best game of the young season, had the other big block on Clement’s TD.
“I think we had a lot of good game-plan runs that hit, especially early on,’’ Kelce said. “And then, as we started to wear them down, just our basic plays started popping. It was a really fun day to run the ball.’’
Nothing might have been more fun than the Eagles’ 18-play, 90-yard scoring drive in the first half that ate up more than 9½ minutes and exhausted the Giants defense in the 90-degree heat.
Twelve of the 18 plays were runs, including 17- and 8-yard runs by Blount, an 11-yard run by Sproles before he got hurt, and Blount’s 1-yard touchdown run behind the Eagles’ three-tight-end set. Clement’s touchdown run also came out of a three-tight-end set.
“The guys came out in a frame of mind that – listen, this is a good defensive front now,” Pederson said. “But our offensive line put it on their backs to make it go, and we dialed up the run game and there were great blocks, good execution. We sort of spit and sputtered there in the third quarter and a little bit in the fourth, but got it back on track toward the end of the game.’’
Smallwood had one of the most impressive performances of his young career, using tremendous second effort to pick up yards a few times when there didn’t seem to be any running room. His first four runs gained a total of 7 yards. His next three picked up 27.
“I just kept my feet turning,’’ he said. “Lot of times there wasn’t a gap there. I just had to stay patient and keep my feet moving. I spun off some tackles and got some tough yards.
“It felt great to get carries and see those holes and run through them. The line was pumped up.’’
It’s not clear whether the Eagles will continue to rotate Warmack and Wisniewski at left guard.
Pederson said after the game that Seumalo was “still in the mix.’’ He was active Sunday but played only on special teams.
For his part, Wisniewski, who started six games last year for the Eagles and has made 83 career starts, hopes he will continue to get reps.
“I tried to get as many mental reps as I could, and ended up blocking air a lot [the first two weeks],’’ Wisniewski said. “When I’m not playing, I just try to visualize what I’m going to do when I’m out there. Try to feel it. It’s not ideal, obviously, but it’s the best I could do. It worked out all right today.’’
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