Eagles have built a committee backfield of unlikely heroes to overthrow NFL’s best run defense

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‘Run the ball.’ If you were to get a tattoo of a single quote that would sum up this season from the perspective of an Eagles fan, that would be it. After losing Jay Ajayi to a season-ending injury, the backfield was in disarray. The Eagles struggled to find any kind of offensive balance throughout the year and as a result, their rushing offense slowly burned out. Carson Wentz was forced to put the game on his shoulders time and time again with little support from the depleted backfield and eventually, enough was enough.

A 48-7 loss to New Orleans brought the Super Bowl Champions spiraling back down into a wake-up call. This wasn’t a nightmare, this was real and something had to be done.

The following week saw Josh Adams breakout for an 84 yard game. While the UDFA stole the show, the fact that the Eagles almost had a perfect 50/50 run/pass ratio was easily the biggest takeaway. In the coming NFC East showdowns, that mantra would remain the same and as a result, the offense opened up. Play-action passes became more dangerous, receivers were seeing less attention outside and the Eagles were able to sustain drives.

But then came the return of Darren Sproles. Nobody really knew how much of an impact the veteran would make during his retirement season, especially having battled injuries all year long. Predictably, Sproles saw most of his shining moments as a receiving option out of the backfield. Unpredictably, in two of the last three games, it’s been Wendell Smallwood who has led the backfield in rushing.

In the space of two months, the backfield has gone from being throned by Josh Adams, to turning into a committee effort once more as it did in 2016. But even though the identity has changed, the mantra has not.

Vs Rams
31 Passes
30 Rushing attempts

Vs Texans
50 passes
22 Rushing attempts

 

Vs Redskins
34 passes
34 rushing attempts

“I think it helps to keep everybody fresh and involved.” Mike Groh said when asked about the running backs. “Everybody has a role in the game and can contribute to the outcome of the game. That keeps everybody’s energy level high not only just on game day, but throughout the course of the week in practice and knowing that they’re going to have a role in the game and the ability to contribute.”

What’s interesting as we head into wildcard weekend is the Eagles opponent. Chicago give up a terrifyingly low 80 yards per game, ranking best in the NFL. Even more stunningly is that in their last three games, they’ve given up an average of just 66 yards per game. The Bears may have pushed the Eagles into the playoffs, but the Birds are going to need a little more than some playoff magic to get past this brick wall.

“I think we broke it down, and there is – probably going to mix the numbers up so you can’t quote me directly but, runs over 10-yards, I think there was less than twenty for the season.” Groh explained. “So obviously do a great job stopping the run. To do that, you have to play great team defense, you have to fit your gap, everybody has to be where they’re supposed to be.”

The Eagles backfield is the most unpredictable it’s been all season. With Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood and Josh Adams all bringing three very different types of rushing style to the table, Pederson’s offense will use unpredictability as its core premise on Sunday, because if they don’t, the result is predetermined. Believe it or not, this backfield consisting of an ageless wonder, a pair of undratfed underdogs and an underwhelming draftee may provide the perfect formula to inject some adrenaline into the arm of the Eagles offense…and if they can even take some of the pressure off of the shoulders of Nick Foles, then who’s to say they can’t win the battle at Soldier Field and prepare for the War to come?

 

Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

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