Doug Pederson bringing much more to Eagles backfield than versatility

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Philadelphia Eagles
Dec 13, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back Ryan Mathews (24) runs with the ball against the Buffalo Bills at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles won 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

OTA’s are well underway for the Philadelphia Eagles and the foundations of Doug Pederson’s scheme are beginning to be planted. How his Offense is going to both look and operate is still a mystery to many but as workouts intensify, we’re beginning to see the pieces falling into place. One of those pieces is being hugely overlooked but could prove to be a pivotal development.

It was noted yesterday that the Eagles have began to practice plays out of the pistol. This may not seem like a huge headline, and in reality it isn’t..but what lies beneath the surface is certainly worth noting.

It’s firstly important to decipher what the pistol formation is. The pistol is essentially a hybrid of the shotgun formation that sees the quarterback take the snap around 3-4 yards from under center with a running back lined up behind him as opposed to the side. In essence, the quarterback has enough room in the pocket to motion outside on a read option, read the field quickly or hand the ball off. For running backs, it means that not only do they hit the trenches carrying a lot of speed, but they can move either side of the quarterback, making the run harder to defend and anticipate.

It’s a formation that Eagles fans have been crying out for in recent years, especially last season. Chip Kelly had tinkered with the idea, experimenting with a few plays during the preseason of 2014 but it rarely made it into the regular season. With DeMarco Murray being one of the most dominant downhill runners in the league, it seemed almost too logical for Chip Kelly to begin using the pistol formation in order to allow Murray to hit the line of scrimmage in the same way he did during that explosive 2014 season.

It may be a season too late, but it’s worth it. Andy Reid and The Chiefs have been big advocates of the Pistol formation ever since the hiring of former Nevada coach and innovator of the formation Chris Ault in 2013. This of course means that in both of Pederson’s seasons as Offensive Coordinator with the Chiefs, he was learning the in’s and out’s of the formation from the man who created it. It’s also no coincidence that after hiring Ault, the Chiefs went on to run the ball up the middle more than any other team in the league.

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An example of the Chiefs running the pistol formation against the Raiders last season. Photo credit: NFL

When you look at the running backs currently on the Eagles roster and partner that thought with the pistol’s hard not to get excited. Versatility and explosiveness are the two most prominent factors in the backfield and when you collide that with the prospect of a  very athletic quarterback in Carson Wentz, the future is an exciting place to look.

Many criticize the offensive line’s inconsistency last season, but the one thing they did well was run-block. In fact, the Eagles ranked 1st in the NFL when it came to power run-blocking as they allowed DeMarco Murray to convert 84% of short-yardage attempts. When you take into account that the Eagles have bolstered that line significantly with the signing of Brandon Brooks and drafting of Isaac Seumalo, it’s clear to see why Doug Pederson was so quick to address needs that fans perhaps had slightly lower on their lists.

Then, there’s the drafting of Wendell Smallwood. Fans were left stunned when the Eagles passed on taking a running back with their lone third round pick but it’s all beginning to make sense now. Smallwood brings with him the slipperiness and pass catching of Darren Sproles while boasting an impressive 6.4 yards per carry in his final season at West Virginia..making him the perfect addition to a versatile backfield ready to experiment with numerous formations in 2016.

Pederson knows how to use the pistol formation efficiently and it’s great to see it being implemented in his Offense so early into its life. Not only does it mean that the Eagles are likely going to be able to keep defenses on their toes without having to play at the speed of sound, but it shows just how much depth there is to a playbook that’s so young.


Photo credit :Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports