The Eagles are coming off of a big win over Washington, but what lies ahead may turn out to be Doug Pederson’s biggest challenge yet as the team’s Head Coach. Philadelphia travel to Arrowhead Stadium to face a well rested Kansas City Chiefs, more importantly a team coached by Andy Reid. It was Reid who helped pave the way for Pederson not only in the coaching world, but even as a quarterback. Reid was Pederson’s QB coach for two years in Green Bay before the tandem ended up in Philly back in 1999.
It’s needless to say that Pederson has inherited the intricacies of the West-coast system and Head Coach tendencies and molded them into his own style. Personnel wise, the offenses are nearly identical and both teams have stern Defenses. The need for an X-factor is clear. To go outside the box and try and outfox the other, it’s going to be an intense coaching chess match from start to finish. As Doug Pederson told the media in his press conference earlier today, it’s a balance that’s difficult to maintain.
“You want to go out of the box a little bit and present a few different things.” The Eagles Head Coach explained. “I mean I know he’s going to do the same thing with that offense and try to present some things out of the box that way. But at the end of the day, we understand we’re going into a hostile environment. It’s very loud. We want to make sure that we’re doing right and not reinventing the wheel. We want to stick to our game plans, stick to the plays that have got us to where we are and the success we’ve had and just try and maximize our personnel on the field and making sure that we’re doing that right, because [I have] been around long enough to know that if you start changing things up, it’s hard on the players on three days of work really and a walkthrough on Saturday. And the other thing, too, is if coaches don’t know what you’re teaching, if it’s a new concept, it’s hard to teach the players. So there will be a couple of things, but at the same time it’s our offense, their offense and defense, and we’ll go play.”
What options do the Eagles have? Well, there’s one very clear candidate for some extra playing time on Sunday and that man is Donnel Pumphrey. The SDSU running back was inactive during the first week of the season, with Corey Clement contributing on the very first special teams play of the day. Pumphrey was seemingly forgotten about despite so much hype and excitement surrounding his name when preseason arrived. Is this the week where things change and Pumphrey is able to prove the world wrong?
Pumphrey struggled in preseason, there’s no denying it. Every run was stopped just moments after he touched the ball, lanes never opened and the flashes of production he did have were largely overshadowed by what Clement, Marshall, and Smallwood were all able to do consistently. But after an offseason where he was one of the star attractions, the Eagles took a leap of faith and kept him on the roster…and it’s just as well.
Against the Redskins, the Eagles rushing attack was anything but explosive or versatile as described on the package of the Eagles Offense. 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. Carson Wentz threw the ball 39 times while the backfield simply struggled to muster any kind of production behind a wobbly line.
Pumphrey wouldn’t have single-handedly changed the running back production against Washington, but he would have added optionality. The Eagles backfield is no longer just a one-dimensional threat with the occasional change of pace. At any one moment, the team could pony-up with Sproles and Pumphrey, or line any of their backs up in the slot as they did with Pumphrey during the preseason.
The multi-dimensional threat was seen as just that in preseason. He saw a bulk of playing time and was a focal point for Defenses without much game-planning to help. But after being inactive in week one and a preseason of disappointment, he’s well and truly under the radar…giving the Eagles an ace up their sleeve, which is exactly what the Doctor ordered.
The Chiefs may have a stout backfield with an exciting young talent, but the Eagles backfield looked no different to how it did this time last year with Ryan Mathews heading the pack. By activating Pumphrey, the Eagles are getting a flex player who could line up in the slot, pony-up with Sproles, or simply bounce to the outside himself. The Cheifs wouldnt’ expect it…or at least not often.
Forget preseason. Production is what really stands out. As the only player in FBS history with at least 5,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards, Pumphrey shattered school records, passing Marshall Faulk’s records in his final season. With six 200+ yard rushing games under his belt and 14 of 150+, production is not something that evades Pumphrey..and it was just as prominent at the Senior Bowl, an event which as we all know by now, the Eagles love to pluck talent form.
With 82 special teams yards during the game, Pumphrey followed up with 4 rushes for 28 yards. The burst of Pumphrey, who rushed for 17 touchdowns in his senior year is what really stood out. His acceleration and ability to hit the hole assertively, despite his small frame would have resonated well with the Eagles..and may have been the catalyst in his selection on Saturday.
He may take a while to develop and he may not be a day-one starter. But in a game where both Offense are so incredibly similar and both coaches approach the game with the same mentality, it’s going to take an X-Factor to decide the fate of it all. The Chiefs don’t have a Donnel Pumphrey on their roster. The Chiefs won’t be focusing their gameplan on a fringe rookie running back who showed next to nothing in preseason.
The beauty of it is that if Pumphrey can’t get rolling, the Eagles still have a flurry of talent ahead of him. Pumphrey won’t see the Lion’s share of carries…but it only takes one Hyena to break up the pack.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports