The players might have changed on the Eagles offense this season, but the play-caller didn’t. Coach Doug Pederson was back to his pass-happy proclivities in Sunday’s 30-17 win over the Washington Redskins. But after watching the production of the running game, can you blame him?
The Eagles ran 65 plays — “ran” might be a poor word choice — and only 24 of them were rushes. Four of those rushes were quarterback scrambles, leaving only 20 designed runs for the running backs. LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles, and Wendell Smallwood combined to average 2.6 yards per carry.
“Obviously, at the end of the day, it’s not good enough,” Pederson said. “The running game is not good enough. We pride ourselves on running the football here and we’ve got backs and linemen and tight ends, really, that can help us do that.”
That pride in running the ball apparently comes more often during news conferences than when plays are called, because this has been a pattern under Pederson. There’s a reason Carson Wentz unloaded a franchise-record 607 passes last season. The Eagles rushed in just more than 40 percent of their offensive plays last season, creating a ratio that shows far more pride in the pass.
“Watching the film last night on the way home and then again this morning a couple times, we’re close,” Pederson said of the running game. “We just have to finish blocks, sustain blocks. There were a couple — and this always happens going into Week 1 — there are always a few unscouted defensive looks that they present that gave us some problems early. [We] made the corrections during the game, and had some success later in the game on some of the same runs.”
The Eagles ran the ball 11 times in the first half and nine times in the second half. Seven of those rushes came in the fourth quarter, when the Eagles didn’t have a rush longer than 4 yards. They averaged 1.3 yards per rush in the fourth quarter, so any late success is debatable.
Pederson said that in the middle part of the game, when the Eagles were muddled by negative rushes and sacks, he thought they “were getting away” from running the ball. But he also conceded that the Eagles must effectively run the ball on early downs if he keeps calling rushes. Only one first down came on a running play.
“I think it’s a shared responsibility,” Pederson said of the rushers and the blockers. “Some of it’s the running back hitting the hole exactly where we need it. And then other times it’s just sustaining blocks and combo blocks. We do a lot of zone schemes in this offense. So it’s just a timing thing, too. So those are things we continue to work on each week and get better.”
The blocking must be taken into account; the offensive line didn’t have its finest day. But the problem might be what already appeared a potential concern this offseason: the runners themselves. The Eagles went from Ryan Mathews to Blount as the primary rusher in the backfield. They came out of what Howie Roseman deemed a “historic” running back draft class with fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey, who was inactive in the opener. There’s still a committee backfield with running backs for different roles — Blount gets most of the carries, Sproles is the receiving back and pass blocker — so it’s another year without one top running back. There’s no LeSean McCoy on the roster.
It’s only one game, and the Eagles offense looked explosive at times. In what has increasingly become a passing league, there’s nothing wrong if the offense relies on Wentz’s right arm and a versatile group of pass catchers. But the Eagles keep talking about wanting balance. When games are finished, it’s too often relegated to a midweek talking point.
“It’s close,” Pederson said. “We’ve got to keep detailing it, keep working it, and just continue to get better.”
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