Spoiler alert for you ground-and-pound devotees who are hoping against hope that the Eagles will play ball-control football Sunday and run the ball 30 to 35 times against the high-scoring Saints.
Not gonna happen.
The game likely will turn into a track meet very early, with Doug Pederson relying on Carson Wentz and the Eagles’ passing game to try to keep pace with Drew Brees and the Saints, who are averaging a league-best 36.6 points per game.
If and when the Eagles do run the ball Sunday, though, the guy who will get first dibs is Josh Adams.
The undrafted rookie from Notre Dame by way of Central Bucks South appears, at least for the moment, to have moved ahead of Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement in the running-back pecking order after impressive performances against Jacksonville and Dallas.
He rushed for 61 yards on nine carries in the 24-18 win over the Jaguars, including 21- and 17-yard runs on second-half scoring drives.
Last week, he rushed for 47 yards on seven carries, including an impressive 29-yard run early in the second quarter of the Eagles’ 27-20 loss to the Cowboys. He also lost 3 yards on a pivotal fourth-and-1 play later in that drive. But a missed block by tight end Zach Ertz torpedoed that play, not a bad run by the rookie.
Adams is averaging a team-high 5.7 yards per carry, and 6.7 yards per carry on first down.
“I thought Josh played well,’’ Pederson said this week. “He’s improved each week. Do I think he can have a few more touches? I do. So I hope that answers everybody’s questions right there. I do feel like he could touch the ball a few more times.’’
The Eagles’ ground game hasn’t been nearly as good this season as it was during last year’s Super Bowl run. Jay Ajayi, who was supposed to be the team’s workhorse back — or as close to one as Pederson likes to have — suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 5. Darren Sproles has missed eight of nine games with the hamstring from hell.
Smallwood has looked good at times but also has looked not so good, and is an unreliable pass protector.
Clement, who had four catches for 100 yards and a TD in the Eagles’ Super Bowl win, appeared to be a rising star. But he missed two games with a quad injury and has averaged just 1.5 yards per carry in three games since returning.
In the last three games, Clement and Smallwood collectively have averaged just 1.7 yards per carry on first down.
Last year, the Eagles finished third in the league in rushing (132.2 yards per game) and fourth in rush average (4.5). Through nine games this season, they’re 22nd in rushing (102.7) and 23rd in rush average (4.1).
Adams went undrafted after league doctors discovered a broken foot bone at the scouting combine. That kept him sidelined during spring OTAs. Then, he injured a hamstring early in training camp and missed more time.
He spent the first two weeks of the season on the team’s practice squad before getting a promotion. He rushed for 30 yards on six carries in a Week 3 win over the Colts, then got just one carry in the next three games.
He had 17 yards on four carries in a four-point loss to Carolina in Week 7, then followed that up with impressive performances the last two games.
“With experience, the more I play, the more reps I get, the more I practice, I’m getting a [better] feel for myself and growing into the player I want to be,’’ Adams said Wednesday.
“I just wanted to make sure I was prepared whenever I got out there. I have confidence in what I’ve been working on throughout the week, and have confidence in my ability to get in there and do my job. It’s just about being prepared and being ready for when your number is called.’’
Adams is a big back – 6-2 and 225 pounds. That size can be a detriment for a running back, but Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley didn’t feel it would be a problem for Adams.
“He was a big back who could bend and burst and explode,’’ Staley said. “One of the things I look for when I’m scouting is, can a guy bend and burst? Because when a guy’s 6-1, 6-2, you’re thinking it’s hard for him to get down. But not Josh.
“You go back and watch film on him [at Notre Dame], one of the things that intrigued me was his ability to lower his pad level and still get yards. Because if you can’t get your pads down, you’re going to have a short career.’’
Staley said Adams showed a glimpse of that in the Jacksonville game when he took a short swing pass from Wentz and turned it upfield for 6 yards.
“He was going up the sideline and he was able to lower his pads and still get 2 extra yards,’’ Staley said. “Those little things matter to me.’’
Adams has played just 55 snaps in the first nine games and has 28 touches. So he hasn’t been asked to do a lot of pass-pro yet.
But unlike Smallwood and Clement, who were asked to do very little blocking in college, Adams had to learn how to block in South Bend.
“My sophomore year, I really got to get down and learn specifically what it meant to be a running back,’’ he said. “[Notre Dame running backs coach Autry Denson] said if you can pick up the blitz, you can play anywhere.
“So I took that to heart and tried to set myself apart in that area. I made some great plays and had some not-so-great ones. But it was all about learning from them and growing as a player.’’