An Eagles issue flying under the radar

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An Eagles issue flying under the radar

While a lot of the focus for the Eagles' recent inconsistency has been on Nick Foles' erratic play and the defense allowing big plays, one other area has emerged as an area of increasing concern.

The running game.

The Eagles, among the NFL's best teams running the football much of the season, have struggled to run consistently the last month.

The first 11 games of the season, the Eagles ranked second in the NFL with 148 rushing yards per game and third with 4.7 yards per carry.

The last four games, they're 23rd in the league with 106 rushing yards per game and 24th at 4.0 yards per carry.

That's a huge dropoff.

"In the running game, there's still a lot of positive signs," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Wednesday morning.

"It tends to come and go in waves. We're still extremely confident in the schemes and the players getting it done. We feel like we've made good progress. Always trying to find new ways and creative ways to put our players in position and that's our job as coaches and we'll just continue to do that."

On Monday night, the Eagles started out strong, with 53 rushing yards on 12 carries in the first quarter.

The rest of the game? They were 9 for 25.

"Whenever it’s stalling, it’s easy to get away from it as a play-caller, I think," Jason Kelce said. "We just have to do a better job executing; that’s what it comes down to.”

The Eagles rushed for 150 or more yards five times through the Bears game in Week 12 but none since.

Their 78 rushing yards against the Raiders were their fewest since they had 58 on opening day against the Redskins and their fewest at home since a game against the Redskins late in 2015.

"It's been solid," head coach Doug Pederson said Tuesday. "We weren't as consistent (Monday) night, obviously. I wouldn't say there were assignment errors but give the Raiders credit. There were some good plays by them defensively. We got some penetration in there that just stopped some of the runs.

"When you have that kind of penetration on the D-line, it's hard for our guys to get up to second-level defenders. Just missed on a couple opportunities (and) a couple holding penalties and things of that nature set us back."

The natural question is how much the quarterback change is affecting the running game.

Certainly, Carson Wentz's ability to run changes the way teams defend the Eagles. Wentz ran for 299 yards with a 4.7 average in his 12½ games. Foles has three rushing yards this year.

But Pederson said the Eagles are still seeing the same concepts defensively.

"We're still seeing seven- and eight-man boxes, just like we did with Carson in there," he said. "With the ability of the RPOs (run-pass options), you're going to have an eight-man box with safeties and things of that nature. We're still seeing it even with Nick."

"The run game, defensively, we're not seeing anything real dramatically different between the two."

LeGarrette Blount's dropoff has been dramatic.

The first 11 games of the season, he averaged 4.8 yards per carry — seventh-best in the NFL during that span.

The last four weeks, he's at 2.6 yards per carry — third-worst during that span.

He's the first Eagles back with four straight games with five or more carries and an average of 3.5 or lower since Duce Staley — now his position coach — in 2001.

But Pederson said he doesn't see any difference in Blount and doesn't plan on changing the rotation the Eagles have used all year.

"I'm not seeing that," he said. "We'll continue with the plan that we've had set forth when we got Jay (Ajayi) in. They're both effective, and Corey (Clement) is a nice change of pace as well. We just have to continue to keep working at it."

Ajayi is averaging 5.8 yards per carry and Clement 4.4.

But Pederson said he doesn't plan on changing the current rotation.

"I think about that, but I'm big on, ‘If it's not broke, don't fix it,'" he said. "We've just got to get better at it. The plan would still be to continue the way we're going."

Another sign of a declining running game: The Eagles had an NFL-best seven runs of 30 yards or more the first 11 weeks.

They have none the last four.

"Still really close," Pederson said. "We've just got to keep working on it."

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.