Forget a blockbuster trade, loss to Panthers raises a very different question for Eagles backfield

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The fans have been pounding the table all season long to make a move at running back. Would it be Le’Veon Bell? Perhaps the return of LeSean McCoy? The answer has been a flatline on the trade front, with the organization placing all their chips on a depleted backfield. This would be perfectly fine, if they showed that same trust on gameday.

Wendell Smallwood ended Sunday’s loss with 3.6 yards per carry on 9 attempts, while Corey Clement averaged less than one yard per carry. Meanwhile, Josh Adams made a rare appearance, breaking off a 9-yard run and turning heads, but that was the most we’d see from the UDFA, who posted just 17 total yards. The Eagles clearly weren’t getting much going on the ground, but they had a 17 point lead going into the final 16 minutes of the game and more importantly, were coming off of a 9 minute offensive drive that ended in a touchdown. If there was ever a time to mix in the run and drain the clock, it was in that moment.

For the remainder of the game, the Eagles ran ONE rushing play. Other than Wendell Smallwood’s 8-yard rush, a running back didn’t carry the ball for the remainder of the game. The Eagles final 3 drives ended in 2 punts and a fumble, with a total of 14 plays, 13 of which were passes.

The question is now a very simple one. Did the Eagles opt out of running the ball because of a lack of trust in personnel, or did they opt out of running the ball for an unspecified coaching reason? If we look at the history of Doug Pederson’s time in Philadelphia, how often has ‘offensive balance’ come up in conversation?

There were the highs of the rampant 2016 win over Pittsburgh, but his entire first season was unstable. Ryan Mathews would go from being a lead back to only being used in goal-line situations and it even took several weeks for LeGarrette Blount to find his place last season. Remember that week 2 loss to Kansas City where he didn’t carry the ball once? In seven of the next eight games, Blount touched the ball at least 9 times, but after Ajayi’s arrival, that number dropped massively. It also wasn’t too long ago that Ajayi was visibly frustrated with not getting the running back reps he thought he deserved.

The one common denominator through rookie year, to Super Bowl win, to whatever rollercoaster 2018 will be titled, is that the Eagles struggle to balance the offense. When they’re winning, it’s the easiest thing to do. When they’re winning by 17, it should almost be a no brainer…but it wasn’t.

If the Birds pulled the trigger on some blockbuster trade, is that really going to change anything? As mentioned in weeks past, it could take several games to get acclimated with the playbook and terminology in terms of pass-protections and audibles before any kind of efficiency creeps in. If your Head Coach refuses to run the ball, what is the point in signing a running back?

The biggie question we have to be asking is why? Why isn’t Doug Pederson running down the clock in the 4th quarter after completely dominating the time of possession all game long with a beautiful balance of run-pass? What changed?

If it’s down to a lack of trust in personnel and Howie Roseman doesn’t pull any strings to change that, this offense is going to be enduring a very bumpy ride this season. If it’s down to that unspecified reason that has seen the same flaw consistently niggle away at them for 2.5 years now, then this is an entirely different discussion.

 

Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

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