The Eagles committee rushing attack under Doug Pederson has been interesting to say the least. The unit has gone from one extreme to the other this season, from screen passes and full committee efforts, to starters being reduced to goalline roles, the backfield has lacked continuity in 2016..something that Wendell Smallwood could be looking to change.
With Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews suffering injury setbacks in recent weeks, the fifth round pick has been heavily relied on by the team. In his last three games, Smallwood has carried the ball 35 times for 155 yards and has averaged 4.4 yards per carry in that span.
Since recording his first career touchdown against the Steelers, Smallwood has slowly seen his workload increase after such an impressive game in which he carried the ball 17 times. But the real value in Smallwood, has been in the other facets of his responsibilities.
Smallwood played a crucial role in the scramble from Carson Wentz on Monday Night that resulted in a touchdown, blocking Julius Peppers and carving a hole for the quarterback to storm through. Considering that the Offensive line is currently incredibly banged up, having a running back that can create those kind of opportunities is invaluable.
Then, there’s the receiving aspect. Smallwood was extremely versatile during his days at West Virginia, but Darren Sproles has been the primary passing option out of the backfield this season. Smallwood has six receptions for 55 yards this season..which may not sound all that impressive. But five of those receptions and 41 yards have come from his last two games.
Ryan Mathews is yet to return to practice, following an MCL sprain he sustained last week and has officially been listed as inactive for Sunday’s game against the Bengals. This means that once again, the spotlight will be on Smallwood. Although the rookie has shined in small doses, there’s been a pattern of removing him from the game just as the momentum begins to flourish..or even worse, the opposite.
For instance in the loss to Dallas, Doug Pederson gave Smallwood his first carry of the game inside the fourth quarter..a decision that resulted in a fumble. Although Smallwood carried the ball just as many times as the rest of the team combined against the Packers, the Eagles threw the ball 36 times..twice as many times as the Eagles attempted to rush the ball.
Understandably, that is what tends to happen when playing from behind, but it’s no coincidence that in the same number of snaps as Darren Sproles this season, he’s also rushed for the same number of first downs.
It’s clear that Smallwood has a new found confidence in his ability..and the coaches have a new found confidence in him. But in a game where passing attempts happened twice as many times as rushing attempts, perhaps Doug Pederson still has his reservations when playing from behind.
The Bengals give up an average of 120 rushing yards per game and have had a habit of giving up big plays to backup running backs. Kenneth Dixon and Mike Gillislee have been among those to thrive in recent weeks and if Wendell Smallwood can do the same on Sunday, it would not only give the Eagles a huge boost, but make a very clear statement.
Smallwood is a back who can do it all, receiving for 41 yards in his last 3 games, rushed it for 155 and has returned 7 kick returns for 221 yards this season. The rookie has shown a glimpse of the potential he possesses, but a big game in the absence of a starter here would reaffirm the coaches trust in Smallwood and potentially carve him a much greater role in the backfield on a long-term basis.
Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports