Running back has ben a uosition of sheer intrigue for the Eagles ever since the offseason began. Would the team draft Dalvin Cook in the first round or instead decide to pick up a mid-round marauder? What actually transpired raised even more questions and after an impressive win over Washington, those questions are yet to vanish.
When the Eagles took to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers in preseason, 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 just 9 yards on 4 carries for Blount. 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. Questions were raised. Questions were shrugged off.
Then came the season opener. The excuses of a lack of game-planning began to dwindle as the play-calling of Doug Pederson was placed under the Microscope. If there’s one thing Pederson struggled to do last season, it was balance the offense. A revamped backfield filled with versatility and explosiveness was primed to change that, but in week one, it did anything but.
LeGarrette Blount ended his day with 46 yards on 14 carries. It was his quietest game since the Patriots late-season win over Denver last year and only the third time since the start of 2016 that he’s rushed for less than 50-yards. The rest of the unit trailed, with both Sproles and Smallwood rushing four times each for a combined total of ten yards. So, what happened?
It’s not as if the Eagles were behind by several scores as they were in the game against Cincinnati last year. It’s not as if the passing game was struggling as Wentz connected with eight different receivers throughout the day. Wentz threw 39 passes against the Redskins and that simply shouldn’t have to be the case. It’s why the backfield was rebuilt to begin with.
It all starts up front. The Eagles Offensive line seemed like a never ending rotation of players, with Jason Peters exiting the game at the end of the first half due to a groin injury, and Big V spending time at both tackle spots. The unit simply couldn’t get the push required to open holes for the Eagles running backs, be that on outside sweeps or simple runs up the gut. But it’s not as if the O-Line completely struggled. They were mostly competent in pass-protection, but missed assignments and some sloppy blocking hurt the run-game hugely.
But arguably the biggest sign that something was wrong came on that memorable fourth down. Inside field goal range, the Eagles initially went for the conversion with one receiver lined up outside and Blount facing a whole queue of traffic. The two minute warning came and went and the team kicked for three. Isn’t that why Blount was signed?
Beyond that, this Redskins front seven is largely overlooked and has been for quite some time. Zach Brown ended with 12 tackles after placing a chip on his shoulder following Lane Johnson’s “Players Tribune” promise, but it wasn’t enough to seal the victory.
Has LeGarrette Blount lost a step? Potentially. He doesn’t dart through holes as he once did and those wide open doors are now simple crevices by the time he arrives. The aging Darren Sproles showed shiftiness at the second level, but Donnel Pumphrey was bought in for a reason. If the Eagles were getting production on the ground, they wouldn’t have had to rely so heavily on Carson Wentz. It’s not as if the team simply weren’t trying. Pederson tried to ignite the rushing attack in numerous ways, they all ended in the same vein.
It would be irrational to panic after one game. But something isn’t clicking. Does it start up front with the likes of Jason Kelce, or is it all on two of the running backs who may not be with the team after this season comes to a close? Carson Wentz has come a long way since that loss to Cincinnati, but he’s not invincible and he cannot be expected to carry the team week in and week out. If the lack of rushing production is down to just that and not for the want of trying, then the accountability will quickly move away from Pederson’s head and fall onto the backs themselves. But if the offensive balance continues to be pass-happy and lopsided, then the Eagles Head Coach will only fall subject to more criticism as time goes on.
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