After a blowout win against the Giants in Week 6, the Philadelphia Eagles will play the streaky (0-2 on the road) Carolina Panthers at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. With Carson Wentz getting critical game reps following his ACL tear, the Eagles offense finally seems to be clicking. The lone “hole” seems to be the seemingly weak running back group. With Jay Ajayi out for the year, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, and Josh Adams have to step up and take a bigger role. Clement has shown that he can be a jack of all trades back in the Eagle’s system, but the team needs a reliable change of pace type runner to take the pressure off of Wentz. Luckily, Wendell Smallwood can take that role for this team.
Coming out of West Virginia in 2016, there was a lot to like about Smallwood. He finished as the Big 12’s leading rusher in his final season while amassing 1,519 rushing yards, and caught 57 balls in his final two years. Smallwood stands at 5’10 and 210 pounds, which enables him to keep a low pad level at the point of contact. He hits the hole better than any back on the Eagles roster, and leads with his shoulder, almost encouraging contact. The WVU product has solid vision and can do damage to defenses as a pass catcher, which makes him such a great complementary piece to Clement.
Both backs give Wentz the ability to hit quick passes to running backs out of the backfield. Smallwood also is a willing passblocker, and can be seen on tape time and time again picking up creeping blitzers and stepping over to meet them. Smallwood has all of the tools necessary to be an absolute weapon for the Eagles this season. He has produced well in a limited sample size this season. averaging 4.7 yards per carry this season, with 8.7 yards per reception. Smallwood knows how to get the entire offense pumped up and feed of his own energy stating:
“I think just fighting, especially on short yardage, second-and-longs, first-and-longs, you get 8, you get 9, it makes your second-and-short, third-and-short easier,” Smallwood said. “I think just fighting for extra yards and getting that line pumped. The line loves when the running backs run hard. They kind of feed off of that.”
Even Doug Pederson has been impressed with Smallwood’s limited performance this season, by going on to say
“Wendell has always impressed me. He’s worked extremely hard. He’s really improved his craft and put himself in a position to help us. He did it again in training camp, again here in the first part of the season. Got to have guys like that. Might be role players, but you know what, their role is pretty big in games like this, when your two top guys are down in the backfield.”
Wendell is excited about his expanded role against the Panthers this upcoming game. The Panthers are a talented team, but NFC East opponents have given them fits over the past two weeks. Carolina barely squeezed out a win against the Giants, and even lost to the Redskins in a physical game last week. The Eagles under Wentz are a different beast at home, as they have the best winning percentage in the NFL at home since 2016. The comfortable atmosphere of the “Linc” is surely to help Smallwood breakout against the Panthers. Smallwood has few true “flash” plays, but he is a consistent and hard nosed runner. Against a Carolina Panthers team that has to account for the threat of star tight end Zach Ertz and receiver Alshon Jeffery, stopping Smallwood will not be their primary focus. The Panthers are ranked 15th in the NFL in rush defense, allowing over 100 yards per game.
With Carson Wentz at the helm, the Eagles are 19-5 when they rush for over 100 yards. 19-5.
This is the ideal game for Smallwood to breakout as a rusher. Facing a Carolina Panther team that has not been able to perform on the road, and a front 7 that has been decimated by injuries and mediocre play outside of Luke Kuechly makes for a great matchup. Smallwood’s ability to churn out yards consistently will give the Eagles a running edge this Sunday. And with Howie Roseman hinting at a trade for a new running back, a new fire has been lit under Smallwood.
Smallwood stands firm to his beliefs, claiming
“I’m extremely confident. I know what we have in that room I know how hard we work and know how hard we compete…I know we are guys you don’t count out and if you do, then you all will be mistaken. I have the confidence in every guy in our (running back) room and every guy (in there) believes in me.”
Let’s see how well the intelligent, change-of-pace back fares on Sunday, with all the conditions ripe for a highlight studded performance.
Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports