Doug Pederson changes his tune on Eagles' RB rotation

Doug Pederson changes his tune on Eagles' RB rotation

Doug Pederson has sworn by a running back rotation all year. With the playoffs on the horizon, that could be changing.

Pederson said Tuesday there's a chance Jay Ajayi, who's been the Eagles' most effective running back down the stretch, could have an expanded role once the postseason begins.

LeGarrette Blount finished with a team-high 173 carries for 766 yards, and Corey Clement had 74 carries for 321 yards. Ajayi carried 70 times for 408 yards in seven games after the Eagles acquired him from the Dolphins in October.

Wendell Smallwood (47 carries), Kenjon Barner (16 carries) and injured Darren Sproles (15 carries) were also part of the mix at one time or another.

But Ajayi's 5.8 average is third-highest in the NFL over the second half of the season, behind only Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (6.3) and Saints rookie Alvin Kamara (6.1).

Ajayi has also become a factor in the passing game, with a career-long 32-yard catch against the Giants and his first career receiving touchdown against the Raiders. He didn't play against the Cowboys on Sunday.

Pederson has stuck to a running back rotation all year, but on Tuesday he said Ajayi could very well be the featured back when the playoffs begin.

"I think that's a possibility," he said. "What he's shown us down the stretch here and giving him rest last week and we'll see where he's at this week health-wise. I think he's one of the guys that we can rely on.

"Again, I don't want to get away from the things that got us to this point, too. That's the other thing. You don't want to just abandon ship on everybody else. But I do think there could be a little more role for him down the stretch."

Ajayi has lingering knee soreness, so that's a consideration, too. Including his time with the Dolphins, Ajayi had 208 carries for 873 yards and 232 total touches in 14 games this year.

Pederson said Tuesday Ajayi either won't practice or will be limited on Wednesday. The Eagles don't play until Jan. 13.

Ajayi and Blount both have postseason experience. Ajayi ran 16 times for 33 yards in the Dolphins' wild-card round loss to the Steelers last season. Blount has played in eight career playoff games, all with the Patriots, with 111 carries for a 4.2 average and eight touchdowns. He won a Super Bowl rings with the Patriots after the 2014 and 2016 seasons.

Pederson said whatever happens with Ajayi, Blount will remain a key part of what the Eagles are doing

"LeGarrette has embraced his role," Pederson said. "I'll tell you what, he's been a pleasant surprise, particularly with the younger guys. He understands his role. He's going to be a big part of the success and has been a big part of the successes this year already.

"He has been to the pinnacle. He's been there and understands it, what it takes. Those are the things I'm going to lean on him with our team and with the guys that haven't been there. How to practice, how to prepare. So he's really done a nice job this his role."

Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

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Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

When Doug Pederson said back in July that the 2017 Eagles "probably have more talent" than the Super Bowl Packers teams of the 1990s that Pederson played on, more than a few eyebrows were raised.

Millions of eyebrows maybe.
The Eagles? Who hadn't won a playoff game since 2008 and were coming off a 7-9 record in Pederson's first season?
More talented than a team that went to the playoffs virtually every year from the early 1990s through the mid-2000s behind Hall of Famers Brett Favre and Reggie White and reached back-to-back Super Bowls in 1996 and 1997, winning one?
"I look back on my time in Green Bay as a player when we were making those playoff runs, those Super Bowl runs there," Pederson said on July 17.
"And do we have as much talent on this team than we did then? We probably have more talent, right?"
Seriously, Doug?
Six months later, Pederson's comments — which seemed so ridiculous at the time — don't seem so ridiculous, do they?
Because here are those 2017 Eagles, sitting 13-3 with a playoff win over the Falcons in the books and a berth Sunday in the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings despite a rash of injuries to some of their best players.
The Eagles haven't lost a game with postseason implications since Carson Wentz was lost for the season, and they're one home win from reaching their third Super Bowl.
Pederson, who had two stints backing up Brett Favre with the Packers — from 1996 through 1998 and 2001 through 2004 — was reminded of his comments Friday before practice.
"I don't have a crystal ball, obviously, and it's hard to predict," he said. "You'd love to sit here and go, 'Yeah, in the summer, (I thought we were) going to be 13-3 and win the NFC East.' You'd love to be in that situation, or 16-0, or whatever it might be.
"I did have a feeling back then when I made that statement that we could be, we had the potential to be a good football team because of the way we've practiced and the talent that we brought to the roster and the progression of Carson in his second year.
"And then defensively, the front, the way they performed, and the back end, I saw a lot of the same similarities. So you just have that gut feeling when I made that statement."
Back in July, when Pederson made those comments comparing the Eagles to the Packers, he tempered them by saying talent isn't always enough. It takes much more for a team to have success.
"I (said) it takes great coaching, teaching, mentoring to also have our guys prepared each week to be in this position," Pederson said. "So all of that has kind of culminated. I think you look back on it and you go, 'Wow, maybe it was a true type of thing.'
"But we just keep doing our jobs, keep doing what we've been coached to do. Players play what they can do and what's in their control, and we're here today."

Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

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Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

Veteran linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring) is the only Eagles player listed as questionable for this week's game. Everyone else on the 53-man roster is expected to be available. 

Ellerbe, 32, missed practice on Wednesday and was limited on Thursday and Friday. 

The Eagles' starting MIKE linebacker was also listed as questionable last week and was able to play, so expect him to be good to go. After all, this is the NFC Championship Game. There's no resting for anything else. 

In Minnesota, wide receiver Adam Thielen (lower back) and safety Andrew Sendejo (concussion) are both listed as questionable. 

Thielen, the Vikings' top receiver, missed Wednesday's practice and was limited on Thursday and Friday. Just like Ellerbe, there's no saving him for next week. 

Sendejo was limited on Wednesday and Thursday, was a full participant on Friday, but is still technically in the NFL's concussion protocol. He'll need to clear that before he's able to play, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said he's optimistic Sendejo will be able to play. 

Meanwhile, third defensive tackle, Shamar Stephen (knee/ankle), missed practice all week and has been ruled out. While Stephen isn't a starter, he played just under 40 percent of the Vikings' snaps this season, so missing him is still a loss.

After practicing indoors on Wednesday and Thursday, the Eagles loaded up on buses and spent their Friday practice outside at Lincoln Financial Field. Head coach Doug Pederson likes to get his guys outside for at least one day per week. 

The Eagles will have a walkthrough on Saturday before they'll be back at the Linc for Sunday's 6:40 p.m. kickoff in the NFC Championship Game.