LeGarrette Blount comes to the Eagles with seven years in the NFL, including two seasons with more than 1,000 rushing yards and a league-leading 18 rushing touchdowns in 2016. That provides a track record with a far better sample than the first quarters of two preseason games in August.
The Eagles must rely on those facts, because the early returns from Blount have not been as favorable.
Blount has underwhelmed this summer with nine carries for 17 yards. In Thursday’s 20-16 win over Buffalo, Blount had five carries for 8 yards and fumbled on one of his two receptions. There were two negative rushes from the plodding rusher. Frustrated Eagles fans saw a 250-pound running back go backward and sideways more than ramming forward through the middle of the line.
All the necessary preseason caveats must be applied – there is no game-planning early in the preseason, he did not have his full offensive line in either game, and the sample size is too small to believe that the production the Eagles are getting in August is what they’ll get in December.
“You go back and look at my preseason performance and then go look at my regular-season performances, and you tell me,” Blount said.
In seven previous preseasons, Blount has rushed 163 times for 581 yards. That’s 3.56 yards per carry – nearly a yard worse than his career average of 4.4 during the regular season. But his most regular-season yardage came last year in New England, when he rushed for 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns. That came after an impressive preseason in which Blount carried 25 times for 115 yards – a better average than his 3.9 during the season.
But Blount has averaged fewer than 3 yards per carry in three of the preseasons in his career, so his point is accurate. The regular season is different, and his production could look better come Sept. 10.
“There’s nothing that we’re doubting or that we feel like we’re lacking,” Blount said. “I feel like we got all the pieces we need to be a good running team.”
Coach Doug Pederson played down Blount’s lack of production, too. He said the Eagles have not called any design runs. They’re using training-camp concepts and trying to get evaluations of their personnel. He expects different results when there are blocking schemes and running schemes tailored to the personnel, game situation, and defense they face.
“I think when we start to really home in on game plans, you’ll see a little bit different style and being able to kind of open up our playbook at that time,” Pederson said.
Blount added that volume is also a factor. A physical, 250-pound running back could wear down a defense late in the game, but Blount is not playing past the first quarter. He’s taking so few carries that he argued it’s difficult to get a gauge of what he can do when it’s only a handful of plays early in a game.
Blount’s career splits are evidence. He averages 4.1 yards per carry in the first quarter, 4.4 in the second and third quarters, and 4.7 in the fourth. He has more carries in the fourth quarter (330) than in any other.
“Obviously, you want to be productive,” Blount said. “Whether you go in there for one play, and it’s a run, and it’s on the 20, you want to break it for 80 yards. …. You’re not going to get a lot of plays like that. But hopefully over the course of a four-quarter, 60-minute football game, you get teams that wear out, teams that get tired. And then usually that’s when you see the big runs come. We haven’t been playing long enough in the game for that to happen.”
Blount was most critical after Thursday’s game of his fumble. It came on a reception – Blount caught two passes, which is a notable because he’s been used sparsely in the passing game in his career – but the ball was knocked out of his grasp to halt the first-team offense’s best drive of the night. Blount has 16 regular-season fumbles in his career, although nine came in his first two seasons. He has been more sure-handed in recent years, except for a bad blemish in the most memorable game of all when Blount fumbled in the second quarter of Super Bowl LI in February. He’s the last person in the locker room who needs to be told the value of ball security.
“You can’t shoot yourself in the foot and do the things I did like put the ball on the ground,” Blount said. “That’s things you can’t do. They’re going to get you less and less opportunities. It’s something I have to work on.”
When the Eagles signed Blount after the draft, they liked his size and experience. Those are two assets that they’ll use in the offense. But it’s likely going to be a committee backfield, so it’s not as if Blount will be relied upon to be a 25-carry-per-game rusher. The rotation will look different in the regular season when Darren Sproles plays – Pederson has kept him on ice in the preseason – and the return of Wendell Smallwood could also factor into the playing-time distribution.
Plus, a running back’s production is often tied to the blocking in front of him. The Eagles’ offensive line has been leaky this summer. The starting quintet has not yet played together in a game. That should also help Blount.
But the Eagles clearly need more from Blount. And they must hope that with all of Blount’s experience, he still has enough left to give the Eagles a steady running back. There might have been a reason he was available to sign in May and why the Patriots added players ahead of him.
It’s easy to say in the preseason to wait until the regular season. If the same problems occur then, those excuses will fade as quickly as the holes for Blount to run through did this summer.
“We know what we have,” Blount said. “Once we start game-planning for teams and the regular season starts, I think things will look a lot different.”