Any loss against a divisional rival is a tough pill to swallow..but a loss where the team failed to execute in every aspect of the game hurts that much more. Despite the flaws exposed by the Redskins in Sunday’s 20-27 loss, there was a gleaming positive to take..even if the effects of which were less than convincing.
In the Eagles incredible week 3 win over the Steelers, Doug Pederson had his hand forced. A lingering ankle injury limited Ryan Mathews while the Steelers run Defense was far too stout for Darren Sproles to lead the charge..but the team had a weakness to screen passes after allowing Giovani Bernard to receive for 100 yards and a touchdown in week two.
So to combat this, Pederson rotated his backs frequently..limiting the fatigue of Darren Sproles and ensuring he can be effective as a pass-catching back, while giving a less than 100% Ryan Mathews a lighter workload. The result, was beyond impressive.
Rookie running back Wendell Smallwood rushed for his first NFL touchdown along with 79 yards on his 17 carries, while Kenjon Barner showed just how effective he can be, averaging over 5 yards per carry and also scoring his first career touchdown.
The lack of production on the ground from the lead backs was completely overlooked due to the production of Barner and Smallwood allowing Sproles to be utilized as a dual threat. But against the Lions, the narrative flipped completely.
Mathews carried the ball 11 times for 42 yards while Sproles was once again used more frequently as a pass catcher, but still ended the day with 45 total yards. Barner and Smallwood however, both played a single snap and didn’t touch the ball once.
The Eagles may have attained over 100 rushing yards, but the threat was nowhere near as explosive as the attack that was able to run rampant over the Steelers run Defense just one week ago..and a large part of that was the absence of Barner and Smallwood.
The Redskins allowed an average of over 130 rushing yards per game coming into their showdown with the Eagles..and with the birds struggling on third down conversions, there was never a more appropriate time to start trusting in the committee backfield.
The Eagles spread the ball around much more evenly against the Redskins, with Barner and Smallwood combining for 18 snaps and 6 carries while Mathews and Sproles totaled 34 snaps and 13 carries. The backfield was held to under 100 yards rushing for the first time all season, but there were outside factors effecting the production of the running backs.
Offensive line struggles from penalties to penetration didn’t just hurt the passing Offense, but impacted the rushing attack heavily. The unit did extremely well to average 4.5 yards per carry given how frequently the Redskins were able to break through the trenches and plug the running lanes.
The birds may have lost, but Pederson’s willingness to adapt and utilize the committee backfield was a positive that will carry significant weight in the coming weeks. As the Offense develops and the layers of Pederson’s playcalling creativity continue to unfold, the running backs will become more and more dangerous..and the sooner they’re rotated into the game on a regular basis, the better.
After a season where DeMarco Murray was consistently being used as a lateral running back despite the plays rarely ending in a gain and a committee backfield that was drastically misused, it’s great to see that even in wake of a loss to the Lions, Pederson was willing to try new things in what was a very important game.
The Eagles backfield is one of the most versatile in the league and is still yet to reach its full potential..but a willingness to adapt as opposed to a negligence to do so can only mean good things for an Offense that’s building an identity as the weeks go by.
Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports