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A closer look at LeGarrette Blount's usage in New England

A closer look at LeGarrette Blount's usage in New England

The warning signs were all there when the Eagles signed LeGarrette Blount in May. Yet, even those of us who were skeptical of the move couldn't necessarily have predicted Blount would go without a carry as early as Week 2.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson had his reasons for withholding the ball from Blount in Kansas City on Sunday. For starters, the offense was stuck in 2nd- or 3rd-and-long quite a bit. And in Pederson's defense, Blount hasn't done anything to justify a heavy workload.

Although, after Blount rushed 299 times for 1,161 yards and an NFL-best 18 touchdowns with the Patriots in 2016, some folks simply aren't going to buy the latter explanation. If he was good enough to be the primary ball carrier for the eventual Super Bowl champions, he ought to be good enough to get some looks in the Eagles' depleted backfield. At least, that's the thought process for Pederson's critics.

With that in mind, it's certainly worth asking how New England was able to get a career year out of Blount. Everybody knows he's a beast in short yardage, but what else does he do well? We went into the situational statistics to see if there are any clues as to how Pederson and the Eagles can get the bruising runner more involved moving forward.

Blount carried the ball most often on 1st down

Blount on 1st down: 188 ATT, 720 YDS, 3.8 AVG
Blount on 2nd, 3rd and 4th downs: 111 ATT, 441 YDS, 4.0 AVG

It seems simple enough. If Pederson is worried about the frequency with which the Eagles are winding up in 2nd- or 3rd-and-long, why not hand Blount the ball a few times on 1st-and-10?

From a strategic standpoint, it makes sense. Even if Blount gains only two or three yards, apparently that's no less effective than whatever the Eagles were doing. At the very least, handing off is less likely to result in a negative play, and the clock keeps moving. Plus, committing to Blount on 1st-and-10 might serve to open up the passing game on that situation as well, especially once defenses are forced to worry about being bludgeoned with repeated 2nd-and-manageables.

If the Eagles are going to get anything out of Blount, besides in short-yardage situations, it's clear he needs to be on the field on 1st-and-10 from time to time.

Majority of Blount's carries came when Patriots were ahead

Blount when ahead: 218 ATT, 832 YDS, 3.8 AVG
Blount when behind or tied: 81 ATT, 329 YDS, 4.1 AVG

This stat can be deceptive, because the Patriots are such an incredible team. Did Blount get more carries when New England was in the lead because that's the optimal times to use him, or because New England is typically in the lead?

Let's just assume the answer is "yes" for both. Regardless, it's obvious the best time to use Blount is while ahead. Teams that are tied or losing are trying to stay aggressive and score as many points as possible, which is accomplished largely through the passing game -- an area where Blount is of minimal use. Teams that are leading can afford to run the ball with minimal effectiveness, as the primary concerns become keeping the clock running and winning the field-position battle.

Seeing as the Eagles offense never took the field with the lead in Kansas City on Sunday, you can forgive Pederson somewhat for lessening Blount's role. That doesn't necessarily mean he should go without a carry, but the circumstances were not optimal for a larger role in the game plan.

Blount's most effective runs were outside the tackles

Blount on runs charted as left side, right side, or middle: 257 ATT, 842 YDS, 3.3 AVG
Blount on runs charted as left sideline or right sideline: 41 ATT, 319 YDS, 7.8 AVG

Perhaps nobody is totally to blame for Blount's lack of effectiveness -- not Blount himself, not Pederson, not the offensive line. The reality is, even last season, he was a plodding runner who occasionally broke free from the defense for a big play.

Clearly, the Patriots didn't continue thumping Blount up the gut down after down because he was ripping off huge chunks of yards. They did it on 1st down because it put the offense in more favorable situations on 2nd, and they did it with the lead because it kept the clock running and shortened the game.

The Eagles and fans alike need to submit to the fact that Blount isn't going to be the type of dynamic back who carries the team to victory. He's the guy who does the dirty work, and when everything goes according to plan, maybe he carries the team across the finish line.

If defenses don't get Blount down quickly, he has the ability make them pay. More often than not, he's going to be the living embodiment of "three yards and a cloud of dust."

By December, Blount's numbers were in serious decline

Blount in September, October and November: 212 ATT, 869 YDS, 4.1 AVG
Blount in December, January, and February: 122 ATT, 401 YDS, 3.3 AVG
(includes playoffs)

Numbers don't always tell the whole story, but these certainly suggest Blount was cooked by the end of last season with the Patriots. He turned 30 years old in December, and exceeded his career high in carries by nearly 100 (98, to be exact), so that's not exactly without precedent. Seeing as Blount was then excommunicated by the Patriots, and didn't attract much attention on the free-agent market until the Eagles gave him a one-year contract worth $1.25 million, the rest of the league seems to share those concerns.

Skeptics have maintained all along Blount wasn't going to work out for the Eagles -- his age, lack of scheme fit and underwhelming career being the primary factors. Perhaps Pederson can now confirm what some observers thought from the beginning.

At this point, it's probably crazy to think Blount deserves or will get upwards of 15 carries per game with any consistency. That doesn't mean he's completely useless and should only play six snaps, either. Then again, the Eagles aren't going to play in front of teams all season long like the Patriots, and Pederson isn't the type of coach who's going to settle for 3.5 yards per carry when he has Carson Wentz to sling the ball all over the field.

Whether Blount is cooked or not -- not an unlikely prospect -- the splits don't indicate a huge swing in production is coming regardless. He is what he is, and the Eagles are either going to recognize that and plug him appropriately, or phase Blount out and maybe even grant him his release.

Joel Embiid: 'I don't think you want to try me'

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Joel Embiid: 'I don't think you want to try me'

We've seen it plenty and we love it.

Joel Embiid talking trash and trolling the opposition.

But is he ever concerned with possible payback?

It doesn't sound like he is, and for pretty decent reasons.

Embiid, entertaining us like always, explained those reasons beautifully on ESPN's Tuesday edition of "SC6."

Here was his answer:

Oh, no, I'm not worried about that. If those guys that want to get their feelings hurt, if they're not strong mentally, that's not my fault. I think when it comes down to it, and if we all got to square up, I mean, I'm 7-2 and I'm a big dude. I don't think you want to try me. And I'm African, too, so.

That's the whole point of playing basketball — having fun, go out there, have fun, kick someone's ass and just play basketball.

Not sure if Embiid will ever have to square up with an opposing player. He may have to look out for a big dunk when he's protecting the rim or some extra fire from the competition, but it's good to know he's ready to rumble if necessary.

For the video of Embiid on "SC6," you can watch it here, via The Athletic's Rich Hofmann.

Sixers pick up first boring win of the season against Jazz

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Sixers pick up first boring win of the season against Jazz

There was a time as Sixers fans when being 16 games into the season meant it legitimately felt like there was no chance the team would ever win another game of basketball. Now, we're beating teams at home by a lot because we're better than them, moving to multiple games over .500, and -- as of last night -- even breaking even with our overall scoring differential. Yawn. 

The Philadelphia 76ers beat the Utah Jazz last night by a score of 107-86. Joel Embiid had something of an off night (15 points on 7-16 shooting), our shooters couldn't quite get it going (4-15 from deep), but we still won by 21. It wasn't quite a blowout, but it definitely wasn't a nail-biter. It wasn't an upset or a moral loss or a validating triumph. It wasn't anything, really, except a win. 

In it's own way, of course, that makes it the most meaningful W of the season for Philly. It has been a very long time -- maybe since the Doug Collins era -- since the Sixers won a game without it being a referendum on either team. The Sixers simply won because they're a better team with more good players -- especially with the Jazz missing a couple key dudes, though we also beat them in Utah a couple weeks ago without Joel Embiid, so whatever. And the Jazz aren't even the worst team in the league, or really even one of them -- they're just a not-totally-terrible team that the Sixers are still decisively superior to. 

Long have I dreamed of wins like this, to have a game where there was nothing to say in the recap except how there's nothing really to say in the recap. Next time the Sixers pick up another W this casual -- and it probably won't take all that long, either -- I won't even be able to write this column again. I'll probably have to try writing in haiku or cryptogram or something to attempt to make the story interesting. 

And that's fine: After four years of historic losing, we'll trade narratives for Ws any time. You keep it real boring, Sixers.