Do you remember Carson Wentz’s rookie season? It feels like forever ago, right? The year was 2016. Doug Pederson was a rookie head coach, Frank Reich was still in town, this website was in its second year of existence, and it was a year of sporting miracles. It was also a season of transition for Philadelphia.
Wentz was thrust into the firing line as a rookie, with the original plan to sit him behind Sam Bradford for a year being blown to smithereens by a shock trade just heartbeats before the season started. The year ended in plenty of promise, with flashes of elite potential from Carson Wentz, but there was a lot for Doug Pederson to learn too.
He needed help at receiver. Jordan Matthews (24 at the time) was the oldest in the room, Nelson Agholor was overcoming mental obstacles and Dorail Green-Beckham was, well, Dorial Green-Beckham.
Because of this, most of the attention that year went over the middle. Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz dominated targets as Wentz found solace in the safe hands of both, especially in the early goings. That couldn’t stay the same however, as teams like Seattle started to bait Wentz into throws thinking he had a lane before it all collapsed before his very eyes. Defenses were no longer phased by….Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner. That had to change.
Carson Wentz attempted 608 passes in his rookie season, while the Eagles backfield combined for a total of 381 carries. That did not scream consistency, nor did it scream balance. The only picture that it did paint clearly, was that the Eagles simply couldn’t figure out how to maximize the potential of an elusive and dynamic unit.
Ryan Mathews hit his stride early on, rushing for 77-yards against the Browns. But then just one week later, Darren Sproles led the team in rushing, with 40-yards. Against the Steelers, the Eagles arguably had their best rushing performance of the year. Both Smallwood and Barner scored their first NFL touchdowns as the committee effort completely stifled the Pittsburgh Defense, putting up 125 yards of rushing in a dominant win. But roles began to change. The back who led the unit one week, would be relegated to a goal-line back the next. A man used predominantly on screens and outside-zone one week, would receive 15+ carries the next.
The Eagles have come a long, long way since then…but history has a funny way of repeating itself.
The Eagles offense looked terrifying ahead of week one and even moreso afterward. DeSean Jackson posted 154 yards and 2 touchdowns upon his return, while Alshon Jeffery notched a pair of his own scores. Although there was some concern over the running back deployment, everything seemed sunny in Philadelphia after an emphatic second-half comeback.
But then week two happened. A heartbreaking loss to Atlanta was the least of the team’s concerns when boarding the plane back to Philly. 13 players would feature on Wednesday’s injury report and the receiving corps was hit harder than most.
Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson will both miss this week’s game at the very least and we got a glimpse of how the offense would look without them. Nelson Agholor led the team in receiving last week with 107 yards and a touchdown, with Zach Ertz amassing 72 yards of his own. Mack Hollins and JJ Arcega-Whiteside both saw a bulk of playing time and they’re bound to be more efficient this week after getting time to practice with Wentz and the one’s, but one can’t help but feel a slight sense of familiarity here.
Without any renowned perimeter threats, the Eagles offense echoed the flaws it presented in 2016. Below are some notable numbers from the opening two weeks.
Three different leading rushers in 4 games. Three games where a slot receiver led the way in receiving. Now Zach Ertz did miss weeks two and three, but the sentiment remained strong throughout the year.
What’s been the main critique of the offense so far? A lackluster run game.
Miles Sanders is averaging just 2.5 yards per carry as he continues to find his feet in the NFL, while Darren Sproles uncharacteristically led the way in week one. But sat on the sideline twiddling his thumbs was the bruising Jordan Howard, who averaged 7.3 yards per carry when he was actually used.
Week 2 saw the Eagles line up against a Falcons defense that was ripped to shreds by a rampant Dalvin Cook, but still, the Eagles prioritized Miles Sanders’ development over a proven between-the-tackles rusher. The difference is this time, Sproles was nowhere to be seen.
As we head into week 3, the Eagles have an unpredictable rushing effort that’s been underwhelming thus far and an offense that while having more talent on the perimeter than it did in 2016, it’s safe to say that Wentz will likely lean on Ertz and Agholor, who make their money carving up defenses over the middle, just as he did in his rookie year with Matthews and Ertz.
I can’t tell if this is coincidental, or maybe something that just aligns because of injury. But the run-game inconsistency and attention to playmakers over the middle is so circa 2016. The question is, can the Eagles avoid the same result against the Lions as the one-point loss suffered that season?