It was made known today that Darren Sproles is back practicing with the Philadelphia Eagles and should be expected to feature in Sunday night’s clash between two bitter NFC East rivals. But what will this mean for the Eagles offense?
A change of pace:
After the breakout enjoyed by Josh Adams against Jacksonville, it’s safe to say hope has been restored for the Eagles backfield. Even though the team went into that matchup ranked 12th in the NFL in overall rushing yards, the unit lacked any kind of consistency. Adams proved himself as being perfectly able to carry the load in back-to-back weeks, picking up up 78 yards on 13 carries, with 61 of those yards coming against the Jags in explosive fashion.
Given that Wendell Smallwood has remained largely ineffective and Corey Clement doesn’t look anywhere near as dangerous as he did last year, the Eagles would really benefit from the presence of Sproles in the backfield, even if it was just for a few carries in his first few weeks back on the field.
The probable future hall of famer’s ability to make even the most experienced defenders miss is something that will always wow anybody watching, no matter how old he gets. But one other area Sproles excels in that often gets overlooked is pass protection. The Eagles have given up more quarterback hits (63) than 30 other teams in the NFL, leaking pressure all season long. Smallwood and company have improved in picking up assignments and chipping, but Sproles is a seasoned vet who always delivers on this front. With the O-line banged up, this could be a welcome injection of stability.
It’s unlikely Darren Sproles steps in and carries the ball 10+ times as he did in 3 occasions in 2016, but he will be a key component in keeping Josh Adams and the rest of the committee at their freshest. If Sproles can become a ‘change of pace’ back, it will not only keep defenses honest, opening up the passing attack for Carson Wentz, but it will give the Eagles some much needed unpredictability in their rushing offense.
Darren Sproles may be one of the best dual-threat backs in league history, if not the best. In 2017, he still found a way to total 73 yards on 10 receptions before his injury, building on the 427 yards and two scores he caught for in the year prior. In fact, Sproles caught a pass for 10+ yards in 9 games during the rookie season of Carson Wentz and I’m sure we can all remember a few iconic plays.
The Eagles have missed that. Wendell Smallwood has caught more passes in eight games than he did during the entirety of 2017, which says a lot about the Eagles trying to forcibly fill that void. With an inability to run the ball effectively, Pederson resorted to screens, swings and everything in between as a way to pick up short yards and keep the clock moving. With Sproles back in the fold, the ability to add a ‘pony’ look and split the backfield, or simply motion Sproles into a wider position could all be terrifying for defenses, again opening up some new ways to move the ball for Carson Wentz.
The return game:
Surprisingly, the Eagles waived DeAndre Carter in order to make room for Sproles, a move that didn’t go down swimmingly well with a fanbase that has recently become acquainted with the specialist who despite some struggles, has enjoyed some flashes. Doug Pederson had this to say on the potential of Sproles being unable to play on Sunday, therefore not returning punts:
“Well, again, I’m not going to divulge all our secrets, but we have a backup plan if that’s the case.”
A backup plan would usually involve a player who already has some experience doing so, you know, like DeAndre Carter, whom was waived to make room for Sproles? If that’s not a vote of confidence, I don’t know what is. Expect to see plenty of Sproles fielding kicks and punts this weekend.
The areas of focus:
What this ultimately comes down to is two areas of focus. The red zone, where the Eagles offense have dropped from 2nd in scoring last year to a dismal 18th this year, and third down conversions, where the team have also tumbled from 2nd place to 13th. The inclusion of Darren Sproles in the offense opens up the potential to turn that around massively.
The Eagles are 5-10 on 3rd & 2 this season and 3-8 on 3rd & 5. These are very manageable downs for the offense and the problem is if it’s a run, the defense knows it. If Wentz is going to throw, defenses cover Ertz and blanket Alshon. Having Sproles stood alongside Wentz, even if he’s a non-factor, creates a very different threat and one defenses simply have to account for.
With that in mind, expect to see those key third downs be converted a little more regularly as Sproles begins to find his feet in the offense for the final eight games of his incredible career.
Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports