Philadelphia Eagles: Sorry Doug Pederson, but this team was born to run

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

If the Philadelphia Eagles are going to reach their potential, they must commit to their identity as a zone run team – much to the chagrin of Doug Pederson.

Philadelphia Eagles head Doug Pederson loves to throw the ball.

A career quarterback who spent 10-years playing in the NFL for four different teams – including the Eagles – Pederson still has a pension for throwing the ball early, late, and often – even when the numbers would suggest otherwise.

But unfortunately for Pederson, the Eagles aren’t a prolific passing team.

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Now don’t get me wrong, the Birds’ aerial assault is fine, good even, but through Pederson’s first four seasons in the league, the team’s passing offense has never ranked higher than seventh in yards-per-game over a full season; and that came while fielding one of the worst running back corps in the league in a largely disappointing 2018 campaign.

No, despite having a deep desire to set passing records like his mentor Andy Reid, Pederson’s offense has been at its best when they’re moving the ball on the ground.

Need proof? Look no further than the 2017 season.

Fielding the third most prolific rushing attack in the league – a stat made even more impressive when you consider the team’s top two rushers are currently free agents – the Eagles tore up the NFC East in route to the team’s first Super Bowl appearance since 2004 – and the rest, as they say, is history.

But for whatever reason, since that glorious parade down Broad Street all what feels like a lifetime ago, the Birds have consistently inched further and further away from their offense’s biggest strength – dropping from an average of 30 attempts a game in 2017 to less than 25 in 2018 and 25.6 over the first three games of 2019.

Now on paper, an extra five rushes a game shouldn’t amount to a 34.1-yard swing (132.2 versus 98.1), but in a weird way, it kind of does.

You see, most teams run the ball consistently in the first half to keep the sticks moving and establish the tone, but if they fall behind, rushing attempts are the first thing to go. In 2017, the Eagles routinely outgunned their opponents in the first half with stellar performances from Carson Wentz and then wasted away the clock with the three-headed monster of Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, and Corey Clement. In 2018, on the other hand, the Eagles seldom came out of the gates hot and had to routinely pick up chunk plays to remain competitive in second halves.

Furthermore, establishing a strong running game can open up the passing game with alarming consistency, as teams will eventually commit extra defenders into the box and free up favorable matchups on the outside for 50-50 ball playmakers like Alshon Jeffery, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, and Zach Ertz.

Simply put, the Eagles can’t routinely count on their passing game to win week-in and week-out.

But their rushing attack; that is evergreen.

Unlike teams who rely on power to win in the trenches, the Eagles have assembled the most athletic offensive line in the NFL; capable of scheming open holes through zone run concepts. With two athletic tackles capable of leading the way on outside zones, and a trio of formidable interior linemen with experience pulling, Duce Staley, Pederson, and company should be able to make plays and keep the ball moving even against some of the league’s most dominant fronts.

Who knows, maybe after dominating the Green Bay Packers‘ front seven with a whopping 176 yards on 33 attempts, a philosophy shift could be in order for the Eagles moving forward.

With arguably the best one-two punch at running back since LeSean McCoy and Brian Westbrook shared a backfield back in 2009, this season’s Eagles’ rushing game could return to the top three in no time, and maybe even challenge the Baltimore Ravens for the top overall spot – though with a quarterback (Lamar Jackson) averaging nine rushing attempts for 57 yards a game, that seems unlikely.

Next. Can someone please sign Jay Ajayi already?. dark

No, despite Doug Pederson’s best wishes, Howie Roseman and company have built this iteration of the Philadelphia Eagles to win with the run, and to optimize their effectiveness, and the team should wholeheartedly commit to making that their identity moving forward.