If there’s one thing we can take away from the Eagles’ week 8 win over Jacksonville, it’s that there’s more to come from this backfield than meets the eye. While Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement continued to battle inconsistency against one of the league’s best run defenses, there was one man who shined; Josh Adams.
A Pennsylvania native, Adams was a day 3 back on the draft boards of many. Injuries held him back, forcing him down into the pool of undrafted free agents and more crucially into the laps of the Eagles. At 6’2, 213 lbs, he is easily the biggest running back on the team and packs quite a punch as a result.
Adams is a one-cut back who uses his thick base to plough through contact. A willing pass protector, Adams runs with power and that much was clear during his time at Notre Dame, where he amassed 3,201 total rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. Fans hoped to see Adams step up in his first season with the team as Clement did one season ago, but injuries during the offseason limited his activity, leaving him lost in the shuffle.
As injuries ripped through the backfield like a tidal wave, Adams slowly began to creep back into the picture. Biding his time, the Notre Dame product carried the ball 6 times for 30 yards against the Colts in week 3, showing an early sign of promise. However after that, he seemed to disappear once more.
In the last two weeks however, he’s racked up 78 yards on 13 carries, with 61 of those yards coming against the Jags in explosive fashion.
“We liked what Josh did the other day.” Offensive coordinator Mike Groh, told reporters earlier this week. “He needs to take care of the ball in that one circumstance a little bit more. That was a little bit closer than we all would like, but Josh has done a good job when he’s been given the opportunity. That’s what you want from everybody. Hey, just keep working, and when your opportunity comes, try to maximize it.”
The Eagles backfield has noticeably been missing those explosive plays that Blount and Ajayi became renowned for last season. Smallwood and Clement both bring versatility to the table, but at the expense of being able to punch the ball up the gut reliably to pick up those key yards. In his last two games, Adams has a longest run of at least 9 yards and is averaging 5.4 yards per carry on the season. He may not be as polished as Ajayi or as brutal as Blount, but Adams at least provided an injection of physicality against one of the NFL’s toughest run defenses.
“I like his skill set. He’s got good size, and he’s been running downhill, running behind his pads, and making guys miss.” Groh continued. “For a big guy being able to stick his foot in the ground and make the first one miss or break a tackle, he’s done a good job of that. He’s got good hands out of the backfield, and he’s been on his assignments from a protection standpoint, which is the hardest thing for most rookie backs to do, and he’s been on it, and he’s demonstrated that in practice and earned people’s trust.”
This week, the Eagles offense will match up against an unpredictably efficient Cowboys defense. With good protection on the perimeter from their linebackers, Dallas is giving up under 100 yards on the ground per game and statistically ranks 4th in total defense. This is nothing new for the Eagles, but their zonal rushes and outside looks may be quickly extinguished by a very well equipped linebacker corps. Not only that, but without Lane Johnson and with a wounded Jason Peters, getting to the outside in itself may prove to be more difficult than some expect.
Then, there’s the potential return of Richard Rodgers, who has missed the opening half of the season. If the Eagles can get Rodgers up to speed ahead of this Sunday, the trademark 3 TE sets that saw Ertz, Burton and Celek wreak havoc last year could return and only enhance the strength of the interior running game.
Combined, this may just force the hand of Doug Pederson to turn to Josh Adams once more, thumping it up the middle between Jason Kelce and a pair of extremely athletic guards.
Wendell Smallwood isn’t exactly feared by opposing defenses…
#Eagles RB Wendell Smallwood is only facing 8+ defenders in the box on 3.33% of his attempts. Far fewest in the NFL. League average is just over 21%.
In other words, teams really do not fear him at all.
— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) November 5, 2018
… and Clement hasn’t been as dangerous has was one year ago. Is this finally the time for Josh Adams to sieze the moment? After an offseason of having the carpet ripped from under his feet due to injury, the undrafted free agent has the biggest chance of his career to turn heads at the next level, building on the success he enjoyed against the Jags.
Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports