Why the Eagles backfield shined on Monday Night

One of the main talking points from Monday Night’s loss to the Falcons has been the Eagles backfield. Sam Bradford attempted 52 passes whilst the entire Eagles backfield accounted for just 16 carries. However in those 16 rushing attempts, two were touchdown’s. So the question is, was the Eagles backfield struggling or just being used differently?

On the surface, it’s suffice to say that the Eagles struggled running the ball. DeMarco Murray had the fewest carries in his career since week three of his rookie season. Most people expected the three headed monster of the Eagles backfield to decimate any Defensive line they faced, but on Monday that wasn’t the case. (Stats credit to ESPN)

Philadelphia Rushing
Darren Sproles 5 50 10.0 0 27
DeMarco Murray 8 9 1.1 1 8
Ryan Mathews 3 4 1.3 1 3
TEAM 16 63 3.9 2 27

As a comparison, here’s what the Eagles rushed for against Jacksonville in week one of last season:

Philadelphia Rushing
LeSean McCoy 21 74 3.5 0 19
Darren Sproles 11 71 6.5 1 49
TEAM 32 145 4.5 1 49

However, similarities are present between the two seasons. Whilst the games would be difficult overall to compare because so much has changed over the last year, the common denominator is that the Eagles struggled to run the football in the opening games of the season.  However, instead of persisting and trying to force an unlikely gain of yards, Chip knew that Bradford was far more reliable than Foles in that situation. Bradford went 20/22 at one stage during the second half and whilst it’s unacceptable to expect the 2010 number one pick to achieve 52 pass attempts every game as it would drain him completely and leave him vulnerable to injury, Chip saw something he liked and realised his backfield is a lot more versatile than it was last year.

This is why this backfield is the most dangerous in the league, it’s not just about the running game. Chip has been building towards this since he first took over and the final product is almost ready. The three running backs factored hugely in the passing game:

Philadelphia Receiving
Darren Sproles 7 76 10.9 0 24 9
Ryan Mathews 3 24 8.0 0 12 4
DeMarco Murray 4 11 2.8 1 6 5

The trio accounted for over 100 yards receiving, a touchdown and a total of 18 targets. This means that ALL three of the Eagles touchdowns came from the running backs. Each dropped one pass but the short passes and screen plays are what pushed the Eagles back into the matchup so quickly. The Eagles had been working out Darren Sproles in the slot all through camp and for good reason, he’s incredibly elusive. Sproles used to rip the Falcons open on short pass plays with the Saints and Kelly had planned to do exactly the same on Monday and it worked. Sproles actually received for more yards than Zach Ertz and in fact every other player on the roster other than Jordan Matthews.

One of the main reasons the backfield was ineffective running the ball was the Offensive Line. Murray had no room to run every time he was given the ball. With Shady, he used to make his own holes but Murray is a different kind of back and Kelly knows that if he is to succeed, he will plough through the holes created by the O-Line..something that never happened. McCoy is more effective when he has to create his own routes, but as soon as Murray gets past the initial D-Line, the rest is often history. If the Offensive Line had stepped up then there would have been less pressure on Bradford and a lot more running plays..but the team had to improvise.

Should the Eagles have ran the ball more? Absolutely. Will they get away with minimal carries every game? Not at all. Sam Bradford should not have to endure 52 pass attempts especially considering it was his first game in 694 days. But if you can bring the ratio closer to 60/40, then the Eagles are going to be unstoppable. But in the face of adversity, Chip once again proved his coaching pedigree and found yet another layer to his Offense. Nobody is talking about it because of the various issues elsewhere on the team..but the three headed monster was well and truly alive on Monday night, it was just being used in an entirely different way to how we predicted.

Against the Cowboys we should see the running game being used as it was intended as Kelly will address the issues from Monday. It’s the home opener, against the teams most bitter rival. That certainly adds a lot of energy to the game and the Eagles should fly at the Linc this weekend. If the Offensive Line can create more holes for the running backs, the team will look the most complete it has since Kelly’s takeover. Partner that with how versatile each player is proving to be and you may just have the most dangerous backfield in the NFL.