Identifying the reasons why Eagles are struggling to start fast


A major change from game to game was how Miles Sanders was being deployed. After middling success under center, the team clearly wanted to move Sanders to the shotgun. While it was definitely an improvement, it also took shotgun carries away from Howard, who has had a fair share of solid gains from that formation. He also has a solid career resume running from shotgun (4.2 y/c in 2018). Getting Sanders rolling early on in the season is a fantastic premise, however, it may come at the expense of Howard. While he isn’t the most explosive back, Howard is criminally underrated and has the ability to carry an offense — especially one that has been struggling to find big plays.

The numbers that stand out the most is on first down against the Falcons. All in all, the down was particularly bad, despite some 8-or 9-yard pass plays to Zach Ertz. The biggest difference in the Redskins game was a willingness to take deep shots. Without DeSean Jackson in the lineup, The Eagles were more reluctant to try the long ball against the Falcons. Instead, against Atlanta, the team leaned on their shotgun runs on early downs in the second half.

The Eagles need to take more deep shots on early downs in the first half.

This will be a tall task with DeSean Jackson out of the lineup for at least two weeks. Still, the trio of Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside definitely have the ability to stretch the field and the offense needs to find a way to take advantage. We saw it on the almost-game-winning drop when Nelson was flying down the sideline. Hollins’ only NFL touchdown was a 64 yard burner. JJAW made a name for himself in college continually beating defenders downfield. The absence of Jackson cannot be used as an excuse.

There is also the issue of less-than-stellar pass protection. Especially to start the game, the offensive line haven’t looked quite themselves. Isaac Seumalo’s struggles aside, the group as a whole have looked somewhat lethargic to start games. They’ve failed to generate a consistent push on run plays and Carson Wentz has been dealing with pressure for almost two straight games. The Redskins and Falcons both house talented defensive lines, but the Eagles’ opponents get no easier with showdowns against revamped Packers’ and Lions’ front sevens.

Still, this is a perennially dominant offensive line and in spite of early struggles, the Eagles have not been completely inept fifteen yards and beyond. There are clear examples on field of the offense having the ability to stretch a defense, having particular success on third down. Therefore, the lack of early deep throws is confusing.

There is an argument that on an offense that loves to keep the football, an overemphasis on early deep shots can be counter intuitive. However, the numbers seem to suggest that it’s not an issue of possession. What the Eagles are missing is splash plays — and you can’t make an omelette without cracking some eggs. The old adage rings true, and the offense will need to heed this advice against the Lions’ secondary. Facing a defence that loves to play man coverage, Carson will have to trust his young receivers to make plays down the field.

The Eagles need to run the ball with Jordan Howard on first down.

A complete change of pace from the last point, call this the other side to the same coin. To open room for long throws, the Eagles need to be more successful running the football — especially on early downs. Not only does this suck the safeties towards the line of scrimmage, but it will also tire and slow down the opposing pass rush. There have been countless reports criticizing the Eagles lack of commitment to the run game since the beginning of 2018. Unfortunately, running the football successfully in the NFL isn’t as simple as handing the ball off more frequently.

After finishing third in rushing in 2017, Philadelphia hasn’t been able to replicate their ground-and-pound potency. Last season the team was given excuses based on their unfortunate backfield situation. Smartly, Howie Roseman identified the position as a weakness and added two top calibre runners to the backfield rotation. Rookie Miles Sanders, while showing a ton of positive glimpses of talent, is still clearly fighting a stiff first year learning curve. Jordan Howard, on the other hand, has been inexplicably underused.

Any time you have a running back on the roster that averages over 6 yards per carry in any particular formation, it should be on the game script. Howard’s success running the football was mentioned before, but he has been particularly efficient under center. His four carries from under center have gone for 27 yards (6.8 yard average). Howard ran the ball from under center three times in the first half in Atlanta and all three runs came on second down. In total, he was on the field for only 18 offensive snaps.

If the coaching staff believes the best way for Miles Sanders to prosper is in gun and plan on keeping him on the field, then mixing Howard in for bruising first down runs should be the play. Ideally, the Eagles would turn to heavy use of Howard early in the game to loosen up the defense only for Sanders to gash opponents with his change of pace. Regardless, there’s hardly a reason for a two-time 1,000 yard rusher to have one first down carry in four total quarters.

Howard didn’t run the ball on first down at all in the first half against the Falcons. The Eagles were dreadful on first down in the first half against the Falcons. Coincidence or correlation?

The Eagles need to rely on their running backs and slot receivers to generate yards on early passing downs.

With options like Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor on the field, you may not believe it, but the most dependable play has on early downs has been short passes to the running backs. Such plays have accounted for 22 yards on five receptions (4.4 yards per reception). While that seems insignificant, it has been the one play for the offense that has consistently generated positive yardage. Literally, when targetting running backs on first or second down in the first half of games, the Eagles have generated no incompletions.

It didn’t take long for the veteran Josh McCown to realize the Eagles have some players that can make stuff happen out of the backfield. In his first two plays, McCown checked it down to Miles Sanders both times for solid gains. It’s no coincidence that in his short time on the field McCown seemed to breathe life back into the offense.

The other high percentage play for the Eagles, spanning beyond just this year, has been targeting Nelson Agholor over the middle of the field. Sure, there are some incompletions and missed throws when he gets farther away from the line of scrimmage. However, within 15 yards, the guy is money. You would never know he used to have an issue with drops. He offers more after the catch value than Zach Ertz, and with Dallas Goedert’s status up-in-the-air the Birds will need another play maker on the inside. If nothing else, Agholor has shown the hustle and heart to make things happen.

Although you never want to be without your top receivers, a chance for Nelson and Carson to develop their chemistry would be welcome. In his 8 touchdown season, Wentz seemed to be able to find Agholor at will. Regaining that confidence would be a fantastic addition to the offense.

Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports