Crunching the Numbers: It’s time for Josh Adams to take charge of the Eagles backfield

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The wave of anticipation for UDFA rookie Josh Adams has been building since he entered the NovaCare Complex early this summer. With the success of fellow UDFA running back Corey Clement last season, and the loss of bruising back LeGarrette Blount, some thought Adams might be thrown into the fire early on. That didn’t happen, and Adams was forced to watch as the Eagles’ run game struggled through the early part of the season, especially following the loss of Jay Ajayi. Patiently biding his time, the rookie runner broke out against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London to the tune of 61 yards on nine carries and one reception for six yards.

It wasn’t so much what he did, but how he did it. Despite a near-costly fourth-quarter fumble, recovered by the Eagles, Adams displayed the poise and patience of a back with years of professional experience. Admittedly, there is a youthful bounce to his step and he could serve to slow his feet down in the backfield. He was also solid in pass protection. Offensive Coordinator Mike Groh was notably impressed by Adams’ performance in his press conference:

“I like his skill set. He’s got good size and he’s been running downhill, running behind his pads and making guys miss. For a big guy to be 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 rookies to do. He’s been on it, and he’s demonstrated that in practice and earned people’s trust.”

The first play in the video below exemplifies the patience and one-cut ability Adams has. Where Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood might look, and habitually do look, to bounce the stretch play outside, Adams instead waits for his blocks to develop and picks up an extra four yards for his trouble. The next play we see more of the same, however he takes one too many steps getting to his leverage point and misses a sizable hole. Chalk that one up to jitters. The next run, at 0:14, we see Adams make the first man miss with a little wiggle and fight for extra yards. This play reminds me of what we saw and fell in love with early on from Clement last season. Talent to make guys miss and the drive to punish opponents when they do.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmZd4jRX5G8

I believe it is his fourth carry that showcases just how effective Adams can be behind this big athletic offensive line. At 0:20 you’ll see the Eagles attempt to take advantage of Jacksonville’s overeager linebackers. The line collectively down-blocks left and Zach Ertz comes in motion behind the line to seal the defensive end left unblocked. This is a bread-and-butter play for the Philly offence. What the team didn’t expect is that the Jacksonville defense actually does a good job of filling in vacated space. With his eyes up field, not focused on the clutter in front of him as is common for young running backs, Adams is able to recognize this early and makes a jump-cut in the backfield to widen the containing linebacker. He then quickly cuts underneath him, breaking a tackle for a nice gain.

For those of you wondering who this reminds you of — this is DeMarco Murray 101. We see it again at 0:31, where Adams creates huge lanes for himself without making any noticeable moves but instead by getting skinny through the hole and showing a second gear getting to the open field. His lone reception was a nice one. He displays good hands away from his body and turns what could have been a short gain into a six-yard pickup all by changing the gate of his stride and freezing the pursuing defenders. He then puts his head down and protects the football. Savvy stuff from the young guy. His final big run of the day comes as a culmination of his work until that point. Seeing the line down-block to the left and Ertz move in motion, the defense is weary of the cutback lane and does not fill the front side gaps with urgency. Adams makes no mistake and hits the lane with a burst of speed.

Now, let’s pump the brakes. While everything the young running back displayed was indicative of an ability to be an asset in the run game going forwards — it was only nine carries. Let’s look at why this is more than just a one game wonder and put it into perspective for this Sunday night’s showdown against the Dallas Cowboys.

First, in his small sample size, Adams has proven to be the superior pure-runner in the Eagles running back room. While I like Corey Clement more than most, I can admit he hasn’t really been what I expected so far this season. Wendell Smallwood has woken up a bit in his third year in the league, but ultimately he can’t create much for himself. Below is a breakdown of exactly that.

PlayerProfiler.com Josh Adams Wendell Smallwood Corey Clement
Carries 20 60 50
Rush Yards 107 257 167
Rush Tds 0 1 2
Snap Share 13.5% 47.0% 37.4%
True Yards per Carry 5.1 4.3 3.2
Yards per Touch 5.4 6.0 4.4
Breakaway (15+) Runs 3 0 2
Breakaway Rate 15.0% 0% 4.0%
Evaded Tackles 12 23 10
Juke Rate 57.1% 30.7% 15.6%
Yards Created 49 82 55
% of Yards Created 45.8% 31.9% 32.9%
Yds Created per Carry 2.33 1.09 0.89

When comparing a small sample size to a larger one, the most important indicator of success is comparable percentages. It is in these statistics that Adams shines. On his 20 carries so far this season, he has impressed with a 15.0% breakaway rate, 57.1% juke rate and 2.33 yards created per carry. Adams has created 45.8% of his total yards with his own ability. Why are these numbers significant for the Eagles offence?

Last season, when the Eagles were the third best team running the football, they were also fourth in the league in second level (5-10) yards with 1.30 per carry and 3rd in open field (10+) yards with 1.14 per carry. This year they rank 11th and 28th, respectively. Philadelphia needs to create more big runs down the field, period. While common sense would be to turn to a quick, athletic back to accomplish this, is was in fact 250-pound Blount that led the Eagles in long runs last season.

That’s because the team is much more efficient running the ball through the middle of a defense than attempting to stretch runs around the tackles. This is even more so the case this season. Jason Peters has been awful in run situations this year and the Eagles are the league’s worst rushing attack when running behind him this season, according to Football Outsiders. Unfortunately, both Smallwood and Clement’s skill set lends most favorably to outside stretch plays. Not so for Josh Adams. Moreover, despite what seems to be the contrary, the Eagles O-Line has been creating more space than last season. This year they are giving running backs an average of 4.25 yards on run plays, up from 3.85 last season. The issue is that Smallwood can’t create for himself and Clement takes too many negative plays due to indecision. This has resulted in a drop in RB yards per run play from 4.52 in 2017 to 4.03 in 2018. These numbers also mean that based on blocking, the Eagles RBs have basically lost an average of 0.49 yards a play. By the figures above, Adams has proven the ability to create for himself and can make people miss at a much higher rate than the other two backs. He’s also a much harder back to bring down than Smallwood, who the Eagles have mainly been using on their inside runs.

It should all come to fruition during Sunday Night Football. In fortunate fashion, the Cowboys will be without stud linebacker Sean Lee manning the middle of their defense. Doug Pederson and the Philadelphia offence should look to attack the Cowboys defense straight up the gut on Sunday. While their run defense as a whole has been fairly stout they have had trouble containing running backs. In all games except one this season — a 40-7 win against Jacksonville that was never really in reach for the Jaguars — the Cowboys defense has allowed running backs to tally either 70 yards rushing or 70 yards receiving. They have pretty much demonstrated an ability to stop one, but not the other. My guess is with the acquisition of Golden Tate and the potency of the Eagles screen game, the Cowboys opt to thwart short passes out of the backfield. This leaves the door wide open for Adams to gash the ‘Boys with his one-cut downhill running style. Philly boasts the 10th best power run offensive line which also holds the 11th best run-stuff rate. So long as Adams can reduce the happy-feet in the backfield and get up field — something he has shown the ability to do — the Eagles should have success running the football.

 

Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

 

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