The Philadelphia Eagles need to empower Duce Staley in 2020

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

If the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense is finally going to find balance in 2020, they need to empower Duce Staley to supercharge the running game.

On Wednesday, Doug Pederson gave his final press conference of the 2019 season, and oh boy was it a doozy for fans of the Philadelphia Eagles.

With tons of interesting tidbits about the players (Carson Wentz), coaches (Mike GrohCarson Walch, and Press Taylor), and a notable absence of Jim Schwartz talk – as he’s set to interview with the Cleveland Browns for their vacant head coach position on Wednesday – this sub-hour long presser will provide fans, pundits, and analysts alike a ton of content for months to come.

But one person who was woefully under-discussed during the press availability of both Pederson and general manager Howie Roseman was the team’s running backs coach/assistant head coach Duce Staley.

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Why? Easy, he may be the key to unlocking the Eagles’ offense in 2020.

For all the talk of the Birds’ offensive blunders in 2019 – whether it be the team’s woeful lack of speed behind DeSean Jackson, their lack of play-calling creativity, or just a general sense of offensive malaise – one aspect of the team’s attack that was never, ever mentioned, not even once, was their commitment to running the ball – or should I say the lack thereof.

You see, when the Birds’ offense is rocking, or should I say rolling, it’s typically on the backs of a strong rushing assault. In 2017, the Birds’ running game ranked third in the league in average yards per game with 132.2, and they rode that all the way to a Super Bowl victory.

And when you dig into the numbers, things get even more impressive.

Over the entirety of the 2017 season – regular season and playoffs – the Eagles ran for 100 or more yards 13 times and amassed a 12-1 record over those contests. In games where the Eagles’ didn’t hit the century mark, their record dipped to 2-3, including their divisional-round loss to the New Orleans Saints.

By contrast, the Eagles had the fifth-worst rushing attack in the league in 2018 and struggled mightily for long stretches of the season – but again not because of their lack of rushing ability. Much like in 2017, in games where the Eagles’ picked up 100 or more yards, the team had an 8-1 record, with their only loss coming against the Titans in overtime.

But why did this happen? I mean granted, the Eagles went from employing the three-headed monster of LeGarrette Blount, (eventually) Jay Ajayi, and Corey Clement, to a platoon headlined by Josh Adams, but that doesn’t explain why the team would remain aggressively effective in games where they ran the ball effectively. No, the biggest reason why the Birds’ offense flew in 2017 only to falter in 2018, has a ton to do with their offensive hierarchy.

After fielding arguably the best offensive coaching room in the league with the ‘QB Incubator’ of Pederson, Frank Reich, and John DeFilippo, the Eagles went into 2018 with a new offensive coordinator in Mike Groh, and Mack Hollins‘ college receivers coach Gunter Brewer.

Now in theory, this shouldn’t be a huge deal, as Pederson calls all of the Eagles’ offense plays in-game, but what the team really lost outside of a pair of quality offensive minds, was accountability. Without DeFillipo and (let’s be honest, mostly) Reich in Pederson’s ear, the Birds threw the ball 35 more times in 2018 then they did in 2017, and ran the ball 166 (!?) fewer times.

That is not a winning formula.

So with the Eagles’ 2019 collection of offensive assistants set to make a return in 2020, is there any hope that the team will learn from their ways and make improvements in 2020?

Duce Staley, you may be our only hope.

After interviewing for the Eagles’ head coaching vacancy back in 2016, Staley was retained as the team’s offensive coordinator after a three-year tenure as Chip Kelly‘s running backs coach and was eventually promoted to assistant head coach in addition to his usual duties in 2018.

That means that in theory, Staley should have even more say in the team’s goings-on than even Groh, both in how to formulate scheme, and how to execute said scheme in-game.

Come on Duce: Get Doug to run the ball.

I mean, the team has two fantastic young running backs under contract in Boston Scott and Miles Sanders, the potential to bring back Jordan Howard in free agency, and the best zone-blocking offensive line in football with or without Jason Peters, why not empower Staley to build a creative, RPO-heavy rushing attack the likes of which we haven’t seen since, well, 2017?

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For better or worse, Doug Pederson wants the Philadelphia Eagles to win the game through the air, on the strength of his franchise quarterback Carson Wentz‘s arm, but that just isn’t how this team is built. No, if 2017 is going to become the rule, not an exception, Duce Staley needs to engineer a rushing attack so potent around Sanders and his young corp that the team can’t help but not run it 30 times a game.