When the Eagles took to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers, there was plenty of excitement surrounding the new-look backfield and more importantly, LeGarrette Blount. The veteran running back who signed during the offseason was set to bring a much needed sense of danger in short-yardage situations, as well as carrying the bulk of the workload. That night ended with more questions than answers however, as Blount amassed just 9 yards on 4 carries. Concerns were quickly shrugged off and rightly so. One week later however, those same questions have resurfaced.
The 30-year old was coming off of a career year in New England where he totaled 18 scores…so it’s not like he needs pre-season action. One week later, the Eagles hosted the Buffalo Bills and that same narrative played out. Blount was largely inefficient, rushing for just 8 yards on 5 carries. To make life even more difficult, the likely starter then coughed up the ball. This in itself wouldn’t be concerning, but when Corey Clement entered the game later on and ran those same outside sweeps, fans were treated to an explosion of speed that Blount appeared to lack in both weeks.
To make a comparison that will send shivers down the spines of Eagles fans everywhere, Blount looked very reminiscent of DeMarco Murray during his days in Philadelphia. A true pole-to-pole runner who was simply being used in the wrong way. Is there a reason behind the Eagles early decisions to send Blount in every direction but forward, and should they be concerned with his lack of production thus far?
“Again, it goes back to the game plan thing.” Doug Pederson told the media after the game. “We really don’t scheme the front with any kind of design runs. We’re working our training camp concepts, evaluating our guys, and so that’s really the bottom line. I think when we start to really hone in on game plans, you’ll see a little bit different style and being able to kind of open up our playbook at that time.”
If it’s evaluating talent that is still the priority then two things become inherently clear:
- With a wounded offensive line, the Eagles struggle to open holes in the trenches or get the push to the second level.
- Corey Clement’s dominant style of rushing is balanced with a sense of speed that Blount simply doesn’t have.
Gameplans or not however, the Eagles continued to send Blount the long way round against the Bills with very little success. If we take the offensive line out of it for one second, there is one reason that stands out and correlates directly to what we saw in Green Bay. The Eagles don’t want to give away how they deal with blitzes just yet.
The Packers brought the pressure early and often and so did the Bills. That pressure was even more visible when Blount was in the backfield. Why? Because he’s such a dominant and physical rusher, team’s cant allow him to have space to work against a linebacker. The Bills simply looked to shoot the gaps in order to contain one of the most dangerous downhill rushers in the game. In order to combat this, the Eagles are rushing the ball outside, drawing the pressure away from the backfield and giving Blount the downhill window he craves. The problem with that is getting to the opening itself. Blount simply doesn’t have the acceleration to take the ball around the outside cleanly and consistently for positive yardage.
The Bills sent pressure all game. Corey Clement and Donnel Pumphrey experienced similar floods of defenders throughout, although the windows of opportunity widened as the game went on.
For Blount, it doesn’t make a difference whether or not the Eagles decide to make him use inside or outside. Talking to the media after last night’s win, Blount said the following:
“I feel like as long as you know your assignments and you know what you’re reading, what you‘re aiming for, what you’re looking at, what to look for, what kind of defense you are playing against, it doesn’t really matter if they run you outside or inside.”
The former Patriots running back also spoke in detail about why he’s not overly worried about the pre-season so far.
“Obviously we have a lot to improve on. We have a lot of corrections to make. It’s not going as smoothly as any of us want it to go. But like I said, it’s the preseason. We are still in camp; this is the time to make the corrections and not take it over into the regular season so we are going to work on it.”
“There is nothing that we are doubting or that we feel like we are lacking. I feel like we have all the pieces that we need to be a good running team. Obviously, like you said, we haven’t been game-planning anybody. We haven’t been going into details about what we are going to do in the run game and stuff. We are just trying to get out there and make sure that things are going to be clicking on all cylinders by the time we start that first game.”
Blount hasn’t exactly shown blistering speed, nor has he benefitted from schematic game-planning or a strong offensive line. It’s also worth noting that the veteran has missed a lot of time during the offseason so it’s reasonable to wonder whether or not he’s in pinnacle shape.
It’s all a case of experimenting for the Eagles. But if one things for sure, the team have to learn from their previous mistakes in the Chip Kelly era. For whatever reason, the circle isn’t fitting the square hole. Maybe the team are already aware of that predicament and are prepared to combat it during the regular season…or maybe there is an underlying concern that Blount’s short-yardage specialism and strength between the tackles aren’t enough to carry the heavy workload. Either way, it’s simply too early to tell and too early to worry about.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports