Coming into the season, the Eagles rushing attack was poised to be one of the more prominent aspects of Pederson’s West-Coast Offense. When it was announced that Carson Wentz would be the starting quarterback, it was assumed that the committee would carry even more responsibility. But through the opening two games, it’s been the rookie quarterback carrying the Offense on his shoulders, despite what the stats suggest.
If you look the running back stats from both the season opener against the Browns and the week 2 win over the Bears, the picture being painted is an efficient backfield that is producing points, averaging 4 yards per carry and supporting the passing attack consistently enough to move the chains.
The reality however, is far from what’s being portrayed. All three of the touchdowns scored by Ryan Mathews have come from inside the ten yard line which while improving redzone efficiency, it can also be argued that the Eagles are struggling to create big plays on the ground.
Ryan Mathews may have had 32 yards on nine carries against the Bears..but picked up 30 of those yards on a lone carry in the fourth quarter, by which time the Bears Defense was void of any threats due to a sudden injury plague and the team had looked to abandon a fighting mentality. Mathews made some solid progress in his opening carries, he spent the rest going backwards and making very little.
Mathews isn’t the only weak link however. At halftime against the Bears, the Eagles had amassed just 21 rushing yards. After Wendell Smallwood rushed twice for 16 yards, he had actually tied for the Eagles lead in rushing yards..with none other than Carson Wentz.
The Eagles committee backfield is led by two running backs, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. Both bring different elements to the game and both are extremely dangerous, however they are yet to show that on a consistent basis through the opening two games.
If you tally up the stats from the opening two games, the result is far more representative of their form.
If you take the somewhat “anomaly” 30 yard rush away from the total of Mathews, the numbers would be even more alarming.
The other backs in the committee have produced, but just as the ball gets rolling, Pederson has a tendency to switch them back out. Kenjon Barner fell victim to this in week one and Wendell Smallwood likewise against the Bears. If the Eagles aren’t going to ride the hot hand, production from their lead backs is a must if they are to defeat Defenses who are established against the run.
In fact, the lead running back in week one, who got all six touches inside the 10, wasn’t held in the same regard last night. Against the Bears it was Darren Sproles who got the first rush when inside the 10 yard line, the next two snaps fell to Kenjon Barner. Sproles then got the fourth at the goal line before the Defensive offside opened the door for Mathews to punch it in.
Neither the Browns nor the Bears have been particularly notable run-stopping Defenses and once the Bears began to lose key pieces of their Defense to injury, the Eagles were able completely turn the game around when in possession, reflected by the 79 second half rushing yards and two touchdowns..but not every Defense is going to present that kind of opportunity.
The Steelers have given up an average of 50 yards on the ground per game through the first two weeks..and that’s having faced Washington and Cincinnati. The football mind of Carson Wentz and his sheer talent has carried this Offense through the opening two weeks, but if the Eagles are going to sustain their offensive success, especially when using the up-tempo Offense among other looks, they simply have to get production out of Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles.
when the Eagles are able to balance the passing and rushing game, the Offense is dominant and the wheels don’t stop rolling. But when the backs run into brick walls, pick up negative yards or drop passes out of the backfield..it’s putting even more pressure on Carson Wentz, who has held his own so far. But the Eagles running backs have come away with their tails between their legs, knowing that it could have been a very different story had a certain series of second half events not gone their way.
It’s a long season for the Eagles and the depth of Pederson’s Offense has been fascinating. From up-tempo to formations without a single running back, his confidence and ability to create countless headaches for the Defense is very impressive for a first year head coach. But if he is to keep impressing, the Eagles backfield needs to start producing on a consistent basis..because sooner or later, there won’t be a fluke 30-yard run or a Defense that loses all of its firepower deep into the second half..and they will be exploited.
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