Philadelphia Eagles must address running game

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 08: LeGarrette Blount
PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 08: LeGarrette Blount /

The season is going as good as anyone could expect, and the 4-1 Philadelphia Eagles come into a crucial matchup against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday with a solid lead in the NFC East.

The NFL has a culture of “everything is fine” while you are reeling off wins, but while the Philadelphia Eagles keep winning, and currently have a 76 percent chance at making the playoffs, it’s time to address an elephant in the room, what is going on with the running game?

Before you start yelling at your computer screen or phone and go, “the Eagles are fifth in rushing yards per game,stop your complaining,” hear me out. Yes, the Eagles are fifth in rushing yards at 139 yards on the ground per game, but numbers can be deceiving.

Carson Wentz has run the ball 26 times, the third most rushes for the Eagles, his mobility as a quarterback is obviously going to inflate the teams rushing numbers. Another reason why the Eagles are chunking off close to 140 yards per game on the ground is going to be the game flow. The Eagles have held a lead in every game this season and held a sizable lead in three of five games. As teams usually do, when they have a lead, they will run the ball to chew the clock and keep the other team off the field. In contrast, when teams are losing they will pass the ball more rather than running.

For example – 

Eagles with a 4-1 record have 155 rush attempts

Eagles opponents have 80 rush attempts

Panthers with a  4-1 record have 145 rush attempts 

Panthers opponents have 99 rush attempts

Browns with a 0-5 record have 117 rush attempts

Browns opponents have 133 rush attempts

Giants with a 0-5 record have 100 rush attempts

Giants opponents have 154 rush attempts

You get the point, the teams that are atop the NFL in wins are usually winning during the game, thus running the ball more and the losing team is running less. Will this Philadelphia passing attack be as lethal as it has been in a game where the Eagles are losing? The amount of running the Eagles are doing is definitely opening passing lanes and helping Wentz succeed.

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Doug Peterson and the offensive coaching staff have obviously gone with a running-back-by-committee approach with LeGarrette Blount as the proverbial lead back (other than the Kansas City Chiefs game), Wendell Smallwood (12), Corey Clement (10), Darren Sproles (10) and now Barner, not one running back has received over 16 carries in a single game. If/when this Eagles team is inevitably in another close game it will be interesting to see how this backfield shakes out. Now that is have been five weeks, will any of the running backs take the reigns and become the lead back? Also, will any of these running backs even have an opportunity to get hot and play his way into a featured role?

One of the most concerning aspects of the running game this season is how clunky and out of rhythm this unit has looked. Through five games the Eagles have only three rushing touchdowns and have failed to find a “hot-hand” to ride during the course of an entire game. The running-back-by-committee approach is supposed to ride the hot-hand to get the offense in a rhythm and let the offensive line get use to a specific running backs tendencies while blocking for him. Each running back has their own running style and to think Lane Johnson and company has to think about the different running styles Blount, Smallwood, Barner, and Clements encompass could have something to do with how out of sync the running backs have looked.

All in all, Wentz has looked great, everything Philadelphia fans and coaches could have asked for through five weeks but the Eagles still have three top 15 pass defenses on the schedule. The fifth ranked Carolina Panthers (194), 15th ranked Washington Redskins (223) and the 10th ranked Denver Broncos (210) are on the schedule in three of the next four games and the Eagles running attack are going to have to look and play more dynamic if Doug Pederson and company expect a division title and a long playoff stay.

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It is time to ride Blount, he has proven to be a lead back in years past and has a nose for the end zone. With Blount getting most of the carries they can still use Clement as change of pace back and keep Smallwood for third downs. Philadelphia’s offense is ripe to be refined and start looking like a division winner, now it’s time for the coaching staff to get comfortable with a running attack and stick with it.