Ignoring the Achilles Heel: Who is responsible for Eagles backfield bedlam?

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Week one came and went and Doug Pederson was left facing the same criticisms as he was one year ago. Some questionable play-calling went hand-in-hand with a completely unbalanced offense that almost mirrored what we saw with Ryan Mathews at the helm. Seven days later and it’s those same criticisms wrapping their roots around the franchise.

Carson Wentz was forced to throw the ball 46 times in a tightly contested loss to Kansas City, his third highest career total. To make things worse, Wentz led the team in rushing with 55 yards after being consistently flushed out of the pocket and forced to improvise. Darren Sproles rushed the ball ten times and Wendell Smallwood only three. LeGarrette Blount? Nowhere to be found.

In a game that was largely kept at a three point margin until the bitter end, there was simply no excuse for abandoning the run so early. It’s a common theme that runs deep into the DNA of the West-Coast system. It feels like yesterday that Andy Reid was receiving similar criticism during his tenure with the Eagles. But this time it’s different.

The Eagles front office haven’t tried to reinvent the wheel as such, but they’ve certainly tried to put their own spin on things and create an entirely new direction. Drafting Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round at the time was seen as a brilliant move that could give the team some much needed optionality and longevity behind Darren Sproles, and the arrival of the league’s leader in rushing touchdowns last season only helped cement the direction…but then things went wrong.

Two weeks into the season and LeGarrette Blount didn’t receive a single carry while Pumphrey barely crept onto the roster and has since been placed on injured reserve. The Eagles are once again down to bare bones at running back.

The finger pointing immediately turns to the front office. In what was a historically deep running back class that has seen Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook and Kareem Hunt all explode onto the scene, the Eagles traded up for what seems like a player who will make minimal impact during his rookie season. They signed a free agent veteran who appears slow hitting the holes and can’t make those “punch up the gut” type runs without a lead blocker, something the Eagles can’t bring him from their offensive line and have seemingly ignored altogether at the fullback position.

The Eagles aren’t at a complete loss however and that’s where the fingers turn back to the coaching staff. Controversially, the Eagles kept five running backs on their final roster and with now potentially out of the picture, is it time we see more of them? It’s strange that in a game where balance was needed, it was a 35-year old veteran who saw the lions share of carries, while Wendell Smallwood barely saw the ball and Corey Clement was kept as a near exclusive special teamer. The Eagles need a difference maker, and they’re simply denying themselves an opportunity to find one.

So why are the Eagles abandoning the run so early? It may all start up front, as with most things. Starting LG Isaac Seumalo simply didn’t have a good game. Allowing two sacks in the first half, Seumalo hardly picked up the pace as the game went on. The Chiefs flooded his view with dominant pass-rushers and largely overwhelmed the versatile lineman, leading to plenty of scrambles, sacks, QB hits, and blown up rushing plays. Again, the Eagles seem so insistent on tunnel-vision that they’re ignoring the consequences right now. The Eagles signed Chance Warmack to an extension for a reason but we’re yet to see him even active this season…just how much more is Seumalo’s slow-growth going to haunt what could be an elite line if they had a competent C/LG pairing?

The split of the blame in this accountability era that Lurie has instilled seems to be 50/50. From a refusing front office to acknowledge the Eagles need for a running back, to the coaching staff almost ignoring that aspect of the game altogether, the franchise just seems completely disjointed when it comes to organizing and building up the backfield. Whether Lurie will pile the pressure on both Roseman and Pederson to fix what may turn out to be the achilles heel of the team or not could have huge bearings on the team’s offensive success this season.

 

Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

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