Why are the Eagles so afraid of running the ball consistently?

NFL: OCT 18 Ravens at Eagles
PHILADELPHIA, PA – OCTOBER 18: Philadelphia Eagles Running Back Miles Sanders (26) carries the ball in the first half during the game between the Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles on October 18, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

There’s a lot wrong with the Philadelphia Eagles and listing everything might take an entire week, but something that was previously under the radar and soared to the top of the concern pile on Sunday is Pederson’s reluctance to run the ball.

This isn’t a new concern. It feels like every season, at some point or another, Twitter catches fire with ‘RUN THE BALL, DOUG’ tweets. But after Miles Sanders broke out as a rookie and amassed 818 yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry, it was assumed this would be the dawn of a new era.

Sanders started the season on the sidelines but made his debut against the Rams. He missed some time a little later, but Sanders has been around for most of the season. In 86 carries and 6 games, he’s picked up 519 yards and averaged 6 yards per carry. So, why isn’t he being used more?

One would think in an offense void of playmakers, fronted by a wounded offensive line and captained by a struggling quarterback, that using your most dynamic and explosive player, who also happens to be a running back, would be a no-brainer. Through 8 games, the Eagles rank 30th in rushing plays, calling them just 36% of the time. That’s a significant dip from the 41% mark we saw last season.

The obvious reaction would be ‘but the Eagles are throwing from behind and constantly trying to force themselves back into matchups’. Six of their nine games so far have been two-possession games and all of them have seen the Eagles riding very close to the line until they shoot themselves in the foot.

Doug Pederson spoke with reporters on Monday to discuss potential reasoning.

“I think one of the things we learned is that we have been a lot more effective in our 11 personnel grouping, our 12 personnel. 12 has kind of been a mixed bag for us. We are either going to get base defense or we are going to get some nickel defense and it’s been a little bit of a mix.

The Giants gave us a little bit more of a base defense as the game wore on, but we are a little bit better in our 11 personnel on offense where we can kind of spread guys out. That, too, becomes important, because we can take advantage of the zone-read a little bit better in those situations, which have been hopeful for us, some of the advantageous throws you’re seeing Carson make on the perimeter to [WR] Greg Ward or the guys. Those are all things that we study during the bye.”

It could well be that the absence of Zach Ertz has hurt the team in the run-game. Ertz has come on leaps and bounds as a blocker over the past couple of seasons, but he’s not the be-all and end-all.

Look no further than the team’s 0-9 third down record against the Giants yesterday. Pederson blamed it on there being too many ‘third and longs’ which simply wouldn’t have happened if he ran the ball more.

Against the Cowboys, who were among the worst run defenses in the NFL, the Eagles scraped to a win, but put up 119 yards on the ground, allowing Boston Scott to feast for 70. There was still a bit of a tilted balance, but nothing like what we saw against New York and many times this season.

As far as what the future holds, all leverage has disappeared for the time being. Rushing against 3 top-10 run defenses in the next month, in winter, is probably the worst-case possible for a team who absolutely needs to establish a ground-game early.

Browns: 8th
Seahawks: 4th
Green Bay: 12th
New Orleans: 2nd
Arizona: 16th
Dallas: 31st
Washington: 21st

Maybe Sanders is on a pitch-count, or maybe the Eagles just really like being aggressive despite having every reason not to be. Either way, a failure to pound the rock with a franchise running back is not only a disservice to the team, but to the sophomore star who was easily a Rookie Of The Year candidate. Time is running out for the Eagles and if they don’t start leaning on the ground-game soon, it could only lead to more problems.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire