The Eagles running back situation is hardly the most glamorous in the NFL. A monster contract for a severely misused/under performing DeMarco Murray, a versatile back who struggles with injury and fumbles and an ageing piece of the special teams puzzle who at this point could well be susceptible to being cut to save money…..but it might not happen. Whilst it has its flaws, the Eagles backfield could be primed to have the season it never did in 2015 as Doug Pederson takes over the reigns. But why?
Last season, many were quick to write off the Kansas City Chiefs. When Jamaal Charles tore his ACL against Cincinnati it seemed as if hopes of making the post-season were shattered. But somehow, they weren’t. Many expected Davis, the long term backup in Kansas to fill in for Charles but instead..they rode the hot hand and went with the man who enjoyed a very strong pre-season, Charcandrick West. West runs very similarly to Charles..but the Chiefs knew they had to do something different to keep Defenses on their toes..otherwise they become a team trying to run the ball in the exact same fashion with a less able and less intimidating back.
So, in came Spencer Ware and before you know it, the Chiefs had an extremely dynamic backfield that they never had the opportunity to toy with before due to the dominance of Jamaal Charles. The two backs began to split reps towards the end of the season and a one two punch was born. The two backs combined for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns as Reid perfected harmonising the powerful running of West with the more elusive ability of Spencer Ware.
Interestingly, Ware was also utilised as a receiver, catching 20 of 33 passes thrown his way for over 200 yards and a touchdown. So what does this mean for the Eagles?
Well if anybody knows how to utilise such a dynamic backfield, it’s Pederson. Having studied the powerful running and success of Jamaal Charles, he will know exactly how to get the most out of another elite downhill talent in DeMarco Murray. But if you have the ability to create a dynamic committee, why wouldn’t you?
Pederson already appears to know what kind of Offense he wishes to implement and if he’s learned anything from his time play-calling this season, it’s how to efficiently utilise a one-two punch, something that the Eagles showed flashes of throughout the season, especially during DeMarco Murray’s injury.
Ryan Mathews is more than likely going to take on the secondary role as DeMarco Murray powers through the trenches to create a duo that can keep even the most elite Defenses on their toes.
The reason why this “committee” idea failed for the Eagles last season was down to the predictability of the plays. It wasn’t as if Chip was designating different plays for Mathews and Murray, both would run the same set and vary in success levels due to the vastly different skill sets. In Kansas, the run game was a binary opposite and saw the Chiefs able to outwit many on their way to the franchises first playoff win in a long time.
This wouldn’t render Darren Sproles useless however. If there’s one thing that the Chiefs did well, it was utilising Ware as a receiver and it’s something Sproles has excelled in during his time in New Orleans and to an extent, his time in Philadelphia. It’s unclear whether Sproles is going to be playing in midnight green next year however it is clear that lining Sproles up in the slot as he practiced in Training Camp makes a lot of sense.
Instead of using swing passes and bubble screens, the Eagles succeeded most with their versatile backs when running wheel routes or having them burst open over the middle after lining up in the slot. Something all to familiar to the Chiefs.
It’s very easy for fans to panic and claim that the Eagles backfield situation is messy, but Chiefs fans did exactly the same when the heart and soul of the Offense went down with an ACL injury…and look how it turned out.
Last season it’s fair to say that Chip Kelly had the vision to pull off something spectacular but neglected adapting his Offense to make it work. Pederson and Reid had their hands forced last season into creating a dynamic backfield and playing to the strengths of both backs.
If there’s anyone who can get the most out of what is on paper an extremely intimidating backfield, it’s Pederson. It may make financial sense to cut Sproles depending on which direction the team plan on moving, but it could make much more sense to keep him due to just how explosive he could be with the right play-caller and Offense beneath him.
The Eagles backfield could do one of two things in 2016. It could either show how Chip Kelly misinterpreted what’s needed to succeed in his Offense and how he was to overzealous when tinkering at running back, or it could show the world the season the Eagles SHOULD have enjoyed in 2015 by bringing versatility, a variety of plays, unpredictability and a true committee concept.