The Philadelphia Eagles rushing attack on paper has been solid the first three games of the season, but the consistency of the rushing attack was missing in the team’s first two games. That changed this past Sunday versus the Pittsburgh Steelers stout run defense.
The Steelers were fifth versus the run in 2015 and sixth versus it in 2014. The team also limited the Redskins to 55 rushing yards in their week one matchup, and the Bengals to 46 rushing yards the following week. The Eagles rushed for 125 rushing yards versus them, which was headlined by Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner.
The Eagles lead back currently is Ryan Mathews, who has been suffering from an ailing ankle injury that ended up sidelining him on Sunday after two carries for negative yardage. Mathews has received the bulk of the Eagles carries during the first two weeks, followed by Darren Sproles, but the tide may turn after Smallwood and Barner’s performances on Sunday.
The Eagles selected Smallwood in the fifth-round of the 2016 NFL draft out of West Virginia. They also elected to keep the former Oregon Duck running back, Kenjon Barner, who was labeled a ‘Chip Kelly player,’ but has been shedding that tag during the first three weeks of the season.
Barner has rushed for 86 yards on only 14 carries this season, while averaging 6.1 yards a carry. Smallwood’s breakout game on Sunday, where he rushed for 79 yards on 17 carries, was the Eagles best individual rushing performance so far early into the season. Take into account that Smallwood missed a lot of training camp practices and the preseason nursing injuries, and that’s pretty impressive feat for a rookie running back versus one of the NFL’s best run defenses.
Pederson has dealt with inexperienced running back thriving under his coaching. Chiefs running backs, Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West, stepped up big time in relief of star running back, Jamaal Charles, in 2015 while Pederson was the offensive coordinator of the team. It’s possible Pederson could be finding the same success with two new inexperienced running backs in Smallwood and Barner.
The Eagles are 3-0 heading into their bye week. The team’s rookie quarterback, Carson Wentz, has been overly impressive in his first three career games, but in order for the team to sustain his success throughout the season, the rushing attack must step up.
When the Washington Redskins won the NFC East in 2012 during Robert Griffin III’s rookie season, they led the NFL in rushing. When the New York Jets went to the AFC championship game under rookie quarterback, Mark Sanchez, in 2009, the team led the NFL in rushing.
The 2008 Baltimore Ravens under rookie quarterback, Joe Flacco, went onto the AFC Championship game as well. Their rushing attack was fourth best in the NFL. The Steelers went 15-1 during the 2004 season under rookie quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, and went on to winning the AFC North and appearing in the AFC Championship game also. They were second in the NFL in rushing.
The Eagles are currently the ninth ranked rushing team in the NFL, averaging 119.3 rushing yards a game. They’ll have to utilize Smallwood and Barner more to sustain such success. The Eagles look like a playoff caliber team on both sides of the ball, but for Wentz to continue leading his team to victory, he’ll need his rushing attack to lean on.