Eagles Film Review: Run game struggled early against Bengals

Eagles Film Review: Run game struggled early against Bengals

Carson Wentz threw 60 passes on Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati. Sixty!

That's an incredible number, but it came from the fact that the Eagles got down in the 32-14 loss very early. At one point, they were down 29-0, so they needed to pass to get back into the game. 

But, believe it or not, they tried to establish the run early. Of their 16 called rushing plays during the game, nine of them came on their first three drives. They were wildly unsuccessful running the ball early. 

On those nine carries, they picked up just 14 yards (1.56 yards per attempt) and lost yardage on three of them. Six of those carries belonged to Wendell Smallwood, who did break off a nine-yarder, and three belonged to Darren Sproles. As you'll see, the Bengals didn't simply just stack the box on every play early. The Eagles had opportunities and they didn't make the most of them.  

Perhaps the Eagles really did miss Ryan Mathews in this game. In the two games without Mathews, the Eagles rushed for 81 and then 53 yards. 

Here's a look at what went wrong early for the Eagles' run game against Cincinnati: 

The Eagles came out ready to run. This is the very first play from scrimmage on Sunday afternoon. Carson Wentz is in shotgun with Smallwood lined up to his left. Brent Celek is on the left side of the line. Smallwood is about to run off the left end. 

Linebacker Vincent Rey clearly saw where this play was going; it was pretty clear it was going left. Had this been an inside draw play, or if he cut it upfield, Smallwood might have had a hole. 

Instead, the linebacker pushes him wider and eventually Jason Peters loses his block. This play was a loss of two yards and helped expedite a quick three-and-out. 

On the next drive, after the Bengals went up 3-0, the Eagles are sticking with the run. It's still early, Smallwood is in the backfield and the Eagles have a hat for a hat in the box. 

Off the snap, right guard Brandon Brooks does his job and opens up a hole. At this point, Smallwood is probably thinking he has a nice gain coming his way. 

But Domata Peko, who seemed to disrupt the Eagles for much of the afternoon, sheds his block from Stefen Wisniewski and quickly fills the hole. 

Smallwood is swallowed by Bengals defenders after a short two-yard gain. Now, the next run did go for nine yards, but eventually the Eagles' drive stalled and they punted away. 

Now, the Eagles are on their third drive of the game and they're already down 10-0. But they still don't want to give up on the run just yet. In fact, on their third drive of the game, they ran the ball five times. 

By the time this play happens, early in the second quarter, they have already picked up three first downs on this drive and they're moving. Doug Pederson is going to stick with the run. It's 1st-and-10 from the Cincinnati 33-yard line. 

On this play, Wentz is in pistol with Sproles behind him. They have Celek off the right tackle at the snap. 

The Eagles have Brooks pull to the left side of the line, which briefly creates a hole up the gut. And the little misdirection at least gets linebacker Karlos Dansby leaning the wrong way and is about to get picked up by Peters. 

But safety Shawn Williams doesn't get fooled by the little misdirection. He's there to fill the hole and stop this play for a 1-yard gain. 

The Eagles followed this play with an incomplete pass and then a run that went for a loss of one before Caleb Sturgis doinked a field goal off the right upright. 

On the ensuing drive, the Bengals went up 13-0 and never really looked back. The Eagles showed that they wanted to establish the run on Sunday, but they failed. And then they had to try to pass to get back in the game. 

How simply navigating locker room can be a difficult task for some Eagles

Tom Finer | NBC Sports Philadelphia

How simply navigating locker room can be a difficult task for some Eagles

As soon as a towel-clad Jaylen Watkins walked out of the showers and into the Eagles' locker room Thursday afternoon, his shoulders slumped and he let out a near-silent sigh. 

He approached the horde of reporters near his locker stall before he locked eyes with one who was standing directly in his space. The two chuckled as they awkwardly sidestepped each other to swap positions. 

The media contingent that covers the Eagles is one of — if not the — biggest in the entire league. That's great news for fans, who have plenty of options. 

It's not great news for Watkins, who just wants to get changed. 

See, Watkins' locker is positioned just to the left of team leader Malcolm Jenkins'. Jenkins holds court with reporters a couple times per week, which can be a slight inconvenience for Watkins and Patrick Robinson, who also shares a wall with him.

And Watkins knows whenever there's a political story in the news, reporters are going to want to talk to his outspoken teammate. 

"I guess that's what comes being next to Malcolm," Watkins said. "You get good insight on stuff, but you also have to deal with the baggage that comes with him." 

NFL locker rooms are weird places and it's not because of the nakedness. After all, locker rooms are meant for changing. But trying to change while a group of media members slowly infringes upon your personal space makes it a little strange. 

But for three 45-minute windows each week, reporters fill the room. On any given Wednesday or Thursday during the week at the NovaCare Complex, there can be as many as 30 to 40 media members in attendance. It's just a part of the deal in Philadelphia.

For Shelton Gibson, this is all new. 

The rookie receiver said reporters weren't allowed in the West Virginia locker room. They met with players in a different space.

Being placed next to Torrey Smith has been a great thing for Gibson and the two have become close. But Smith is one of those guys who draws a crowd. 

"It's funny," Gibson said. "Last week I was looking at it. It's just like, you can't interrupt. You're not hoping that he'll hurry up or anything. It's just funny because it just be a big ass [crowd] around your locker." 

While Watkins normally stands behind the media scrum, waiting for his moment to pounce, Gibson has taken a different approach. While waiting for the crowd to disperse, he takes walks. He'll find a teammate in another part of the locker room to visit. Sometimes, though, he will hang around as Smith gets interviewed. He wants to see how the veteran handles it all and he always comes away impressed. 

In the middle of the locker room, on the right side, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are neighbors. Two of the best defensive players on the team, they are both pretty popular interview subjects.

So just about every week, one of them will walk out of the showers and see a seemingly impenetrable wall of camera and recorder-holders in their way. As veterans, though, they're beyond patiently waiting. 

"It's cool, man, because I just tell everybody to move out the way," said Graham, one of the more jovial players on the team. "That's all. That's my cue to have a little fun with the reporters." 

Watkins has dealt with this long before he was placed next to Jenkins. In fact, during his first training camp in 2014, he was in a popup stall in the middle of the floor. The locker on the wall nearest to him belonged to LeSean McCoy. It used to be annoying, especially when he didn't have a good day of practice, but there's not much he can do about it. 

After practices, the coaching staff will tell the players if that day is a media day. When Watkins knows it is, he hurries into the locker room as fast as he can and if he's lucky, he gets out before Jenkins gets in. 

But sometimes it backfires. Sometimes when Watkins goes to the cold tub and for treatment, he'll get back in the room at the same exact time Jenkins is about to start answering questions. 

And then the waiting begins. 

"So I just kind of stand by the side and let it happen," Watkins said with a shrug. "I'm used to it now."

5 statistical Eagles milestones within reach Monday night

USA Today Images

5 statistical Eagles milestones within reach Monday night

Five statistical milestones within reach Monday night, when the Eagles host the Redskins at the Linc:

• Carson Wentz has thrown 13 touchdown passes this year and needs just three more to match his total from the entire 2016 season. He threw four against the Cardinals and three against the Panthers, and with three TDs Monday night against the Redskins, he would become the first Eagles quarterback in 64 years to throw three TD passes in three straight games. Bobby Thomason did it against the Steelers, Giants and Colts in 1953.

• Zach Ertz has 54 career catches against the Redskins. The only player to catch more passes against the Redskins in his first five NFL seasons was Cardinals split end Sonny Randle, who caught 56 from 1959 through 1963. So with three catches Monday night, Ertz will have more catches than anybody has ever had against the Redskins in his first five years in the league. 

• The Eagles have allowed 80 or fewer rushing yards in four straight games for the first time since 2010. If they hold the Redskins to 80 yards fewer — and the 'Skins had only 64 in the opener — it will be the first time the Eagles have held five straight opponents to 80 or fewer rushing yards since 1992, when they had a five-game streak. The last longer streak was in 1991, when they held seven straight to 80 or fewer rushing yards.

• The Eagles have scored 28 or more points in four straight games for the first time since 2004. If they score 28 Monday night, it will be their first five-game streak since one over the 2003 and 2004 seasons. The last longer streak was a six-gamer in 1953.

• LeGarrette Blount goes into Monday night with four straight games with 12 or more carries and a 4.5 or better yards-per-carry average. The only player in his 30s to put together five such games in a row is Fred Taylor of the Jaguars, who did it against the Jets, Texans, Eagles, Titans and Texans again in 2006.