It’s been a tough few weeks for the Philadelphia Eagles and Doug Pederson in particular. After a stunningly hot start, the Eagles have proceeded to lose five of their last six games. An embarrassing display against the Bengals certainly didn’t ease the pressure that’s mounting on Doug Pederson..but the game did show one thing in particular. Doug Pederson has failed to do one thing since arriving in Philadelphia..and that’s run the ball consistently. Ultimately, it’s this lack of balance that’s killing the heart of the Offense.
The Eagles may rank tenth in overall rushing yards, but generic stat lines can be deceiving. In fact, Philadelphia are one of only two teams to rank inside the top ten in rushing, but have a losing record..the other is San Francisco.
Despite averaging over 26 rushing attempts per game this season, the Eagles have averaged just 21 in their last 3 games. The only teams with fewer attempts?
New York Jets
All of whom have either wounded Offensive lines or a lack of a lead running back. The Eagles are an odd exception here as even though injuries have certainly limited options at running back, they haven’t hindered production.
The problem is that the backfield hasn’t established an identity. With four running backs on the roster, it was always going to be tricky to balance the rushing attack..but it’s been so hit and miss that it’s often hurt more than it’s helped.
Ryan Mathews led the charge in the season opener against the Browns before a stunning committee effort against the Steelers saw both Smallwood and Barner record their first NFL touchdowns.That level of production is yet to be repeated. The backfield will go from a screen heavy nature, allowing Darren Sproles to rack up receiving yards, to a stunning committee effort and then a game like Sunday’s loss in which the team rushed 19 times for 53 yards.
Ryan Mathews has gone from being declared the starter, to being relegated to a goal-line back role, Wendell Smallwood has been randomly inserted into games deep in the fourth quarter, Darren Sproles has either flourished as a dual threat back or been marginalized into rushing up the gut and Kenjon Barner has just 24 carries on the season.
There’s just a complete lack of direction and shape in the backfield..and it’s fair to say that it’s hurt the Eagles more than the 1,317 accumulated yards this season suggest. When Doug Pederson first arrived, many were beyond excited at the idea of utilizing such a multi-dimensional and dangerous backfield, filled with depth and explosiveness. But as we approach the back end of the season, those same people are just waiting to see if the backfield will ever come close to the production that Pederson’s backfield achieved a year ago in Kansas City.
How much does an Offensive balance matter to the Eagles? The team are 0-5 when they have less than 100 rushing yards..and 5-2 when they have more. Last season, Sam Bradford was 7-1 when his team had a backfield that rushed for over 100 yards per game, ranking among the winningest quarterbacks in that category. It’s clear that the Offense works far smoother when the Eagles have a balance..the problem is, they can’t find one.
The immediate reaction to this is to blame the lack of backfield production on a banged up Offensive line, injuries to Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles and the fact that the team constantly have to play from behind, encouraging them to be more aggressive with the football.
The fact is that in their last seven games, the Eagles had at LEAST 95 yards of rushing. Their most recent losses saw the team rush for 81 and 53. But the loss to the Bengals simply amplified an underlying problem.
Carson Wentz was forced to throw 60 times..which should not happen regardless of the score or the opponent. To make matters even more confusing, the Bengals rush Defense allowed an average of 120 yards per game coming into the matchup.
The “committee” aspect of the backfield has been completely vacant in recent weeks, but with Ryan Mathews likely returning from an MCL sprain this week, Doug Pederson has one more shot to try and get the most out of such an explosive unit.
Through all the play-calling struggles, the penalties and now a questionable media approach..the one chain that has constantly tied Doug Pederson down is that he can’t balance the Offense consistently..and as the season has progressed, it’s haunted the Offense.
In the first five games, the Eagles attempted 157 passes and 138 rushing attempts. Three of those games were wins. In the most recent five, the Eagles have rushed the ball 126 times and passed it 224..losing three of their last four.
Forget the total rushing yards, forget the touchdowns and forget the excuses. Team’s naturally pass the ball more when playing from behind, but the Eagles passed nearly three times as much as they rushed on Sunday and it hurt them massively.
Carson Wentz has an entire city on his shoulders with a complete lack of help outside and a wobbly O-Line. A coherent run game would not only take some of that pressure away, but give the Offense an opportunity to sustain drives and manage the clock as Pederson craves.
The truth is that the Eagles simply have not found a way to get the best out of what is arguably one of the most dynamic backfields in the NFL. The stats suggest a stable running back corps that’s able to hold its own…but 60 passes against the Bengals highlight a problem that has been eating away at the Eagles Offense all season long..and it’s Pederson’s inability to recognize this that could well be his biggest flaw given how much emphasis is placed on managing the game and controlling the tempo.