How will the Eagles utilize Saquon Barkley in Kellen Moore’s new offense?

Philadelphia Eagles running back Saquon Barkley runs with the ball during practice at the NFL football team’s minicamp, Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Among the many moves that the Eagles have made this offseason there is one addition that is sparking quite the amount of curiosity. Eagles fans have grown quite excited about the team’s new Offensive Coordinator, Kellen Moore, and how he will involve their new running back, Saquon Barkley, in the passing game

Taking a deep dive into the running back targets during his time as OC was surprising, as the numbers are low. Which begs the question if fans should temper their expectations?

Kellen Moore’s Offense

FILE – Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) looks for running room as he rushes with the ball during an NFL wild-card football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jan. 16, 2023, in Tampa, Fla. A person familiar with the terms tells The Associated Press that three-time Pro Bowl running back Elliott has signed a one-year deal with the New England Patriots worth $4 million. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team has not announced the move. (AP Photo/Peter Joneleit, File)

Running back targets in Kellen Moores’ offense was 28th last year, while Philadelphia’s was 27th, virtually the same. Over the last 5 seasons as OC, Kellen Moore’s offenses rank 26th in RB screens. The Eagles have utilized it even less, coming in 32nd out of 32 teams three years in a row.

In fairness, the Eagles did not have starters known for their hands the last 5 years, while Kellen Moore had Pollard, Ekeler, and even Zeke

So what is Kellen Moore bringing?

An offense that consistently runs the ball! 

Many fans have wanted the Eagles to run the ball more and that will likely happen next season.

In his last 4 years as OC with Dallas (2019–2022) the Cowboys were 6th in rushing attempts. That would be a welcomed addition to a team that sometimes went multiple drives without rushing attempts. 

An offense using innovative play designs!

Having Jalen Hurts taking snaps under the center, and possibly incorporating the pistol formation should go a long way to pleasing most fans. 

A coordinator who gets the most from his Quarterback. 

Dallas averaged 29.9 PPG with Dak as their QB from 2019–2022. 

Kellen Moore’s points-per-game offensive rankings in the NFL are as encouraging as the new wrinkles and play designs he brings to Philly.

  • 2019- 6th
  • 2020- 17th (the COVID year is an outlier that is hard to count)
  • 2021- 1st
  • 2022- 4th
  • 2023- 20th (with SD and many, many injuries)

Dallas running backs averaged 99 targets per year during the four seasons when Kellen Moore was their OC (19–22). Dallas’s RB1 averaged 55 targets a year in Moore’s offense over that same span. 

The Eagles have not had an RB with 55 targets since Miles Sanders in 2019. 

While most of those stats seem great, many more factors are at play that will ultimately determine how successful the team will be in adding the RB as a true weapon into the offense. Mainly Jalen Hurts. 

The Quarterback

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) throws a pass against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Some of the results are based on the play design, but what determines a large percentage of a team’s RB targets is the QB and his desire to use running backs as a checkdown. Most offenses have that outlet available, but it is not always utilized. The same can be said for throws between the hash marks as well. 

Jalen Hurts is targeting the middle of the field significantly more in the open practices. As a team, the Eagles were last in pass attempts in the middle of the field at 37.1% last season, Hurts was next to last. 

The only QB in the league who threw over the field less in 2023 was the player the Philadelphia Eagles traded for this offseason, Kenny Pickett. Those totals have to improve. 

Since becoming the full-time starter, Hurts has averaged 75 running back targets a season. 

Last season was higher with 86 targets between Swift and Gainwell. The Eagles should have a lot more with Saquon Barkley added to the nest.

The Saquon Effect

Philadelphia Eagles running back Saquon Barkley runs a drill during practice at the NFL football team’s minicamp, Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Barkey has over 5,200 rushing yards in his 6 years with the Giants and 288 receptions for another 2,100 yards. In his rookie season, Saquon was targeted 121 times. He has only averaged half that many ever since. 

During the last three seasons, Saquon has been involved in the passing game, but not as heavily as some believe. 

  • 41 rec for 263 yards and 2 TDs 
  • 57 rec for 338 yards and 0 TDs 
  • 41 rec for 280 yards and 4 TDs

When the Giants made the playoffs in 2022, New York relied heavily on him in the ground game and he totaled 1,650 yards from scrimmage.

In 2023 Saquon ran for 962 yards, good for only a 3.9 YPC average, in 14 games, totaling six touchdowns, and added 41 receptions for 280 yards and four scores.

In fact, since 2019, Saquon has only exceeded 4 yards per carry just once. Many of his struggles have been due to injury and a dreadful Giants’ offensive line.

So which version will the Eagles be getting?

By almost any measure you want to use, PFF, the eyeball test, or SIS, the Eagles had the best run-blocking unit in the NFL last season. Even with the loss of Jason Kelce, this will still be the best O-line Barkley has ever ran behind. 

Saquon will be the best 3 down back Philadelphia has watched on their team in a while. He can run, pass protect, and catch. 

Last season, the Eagle’s lead back D’andre Swft averaged 4.6 yards per carry and all of the Eagle’s backup RBs were over 4.2 yards per. Anything less than Saquon matching or besting those totals would be surprising. Would 1,269 rushing yards from the new Eagles RB be a successful season toting the rock? That is how many Miles Sanders had in 2022. 

That total should be attainable, coupled with far more receiving yards than Miles had that same season. (78 receiving yards in 2022)

The sky is the limit for these Eagles to soar

Reason for optimism, Howie Roseman and the Eagles did not spend $37.7 million for Saquon not to be a featured part of their offense. 

An offense featuring Jalen Hurts and Saquon Barkley as running threats should open up the field for the receiving options (Aj, Devonta, Dallas, etc) and vice versa. 

Saquon has come into town stating that he is comfortable and happy. He and Jalen Hurts share a similar work ethic and have been training together since Saquon was signed. They share the desire to lead by example and have a champion’s heart. 

A new coordinator, a determined running back, and a rejuvenated QB should have the offense back on track and flying high in 2024. 

As always, Thank you for reading

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AP Photo/Chris Szagola