Anybody who reads the Eagles postgame grades with any regularity knows complaints about Doug Pederson’s pass-happy play-calling are a staple. Yet, strangely enough, when the clock reached zero in a 27-20 loss in Kansas City, I felt more or less fine with the game Pederson had just called.
Officially, the Eagles ran the ball just 13 times against the Chiefs in Week 2, while Carson Wentz dropped back to pass a whopping 56 times. How could anybody be alright with that?
Because, quite simply, play-calling balance was not the reason the Eagles lost Sunday. It probably wasn’t Nos. 2 or 3 on the list, either.
Should Pederson try to run the ball more? Generally speaking, yes. But the Eagles’ game plan was working! The offense racked up 406 yards of total offense, 27 first downs and converted 53 percent of its third downs — all better marks than the Chiefs. The Eagles even had the edge in time of possession.
The inability to run the football with any consistency certainly didn't help matters, but the strategy to attack Kansas City through the air was not misguided.
"Going in, I felt like we could do some things against the secondary against the Chiefs and throwing the ball," Pederson said postgame. "Obviously, you hope your run game is on track, on point. It wasn't, so from that standpoint, It was tough sledding later in the game when sometimes you want to rely on that run game."
Not sure how the Eagles were defeated then? Torrey Smith dropped a touchdown pass, forcing the Eagles to settle for a field goal. Darren Sproles fumbled a punt return in Eagles territory, costing his team a possession and gifting the opponent three points. Jake Elliott missed a field goal. And Wentz tried to throw a screen pass through traffic, it got deflected and ultimately wound up intercepted.
That interception, by the way, came immediately after Wendell Smallwood was stopped for a two-yard loss on a first-down rushing attempt. A lot of good that did.
Up to that point, the Eagles were playing the Chiefs pretty much even and arguably had the home team on the ropes. The score was tied at 13 with 9:23 remaining, and the defense had just forced a three-and-out.
On the ensuing possession after the pick, Vinny Curry was unable to finish a sack that would’ve forced Kansas City to attempt a long field goal. The quarterback got away, scrambled for the first down, and two plays later, touchdown. The momentum had swung permanently to the Chiefs’ side.
The Eagles didn’t make plays. The other team did. Play-calling wasn’t to blame. It was the players.
Granted, the running game is a total mess. LeGarrette Blount, as predicted, is old and one-dimensional. Smallwood hasn’t been getting the opportunities, presumably because he’s a liability in pass protection — which is an especially unattractive feature for Pederson's Eagles. And Sproles is never going to get 20 carries per game, though at this point, hey, maybe it’s worth a shot.
It's a massive problem. It also isn’t a great excuse to go away from the run as frequently and immediately as Pederson often does. Even if the ground attack is destined to be the Eagles’ primary weakness for the remainder of the season, ignoring the running backs aren't going to be an option most weeks.
I would not condone the strategy that was used in Kansas City on a regular basis.
"When you play good teams, like we did, good defenses, you have to have the ability to run the ball. It's an area that we have to fix." Pederson said.
"It's hard. It's tough to always have to rely on the throw."
There is also no hard rule for what a proper run-to-pass ratio is. That’s entirely dependent upon the flow of the game. In this particular case, the Eagles were moving the ball up and down the field with an offense that went through the quarterback for three-and-a-half quarters, and at the time, it was difficult to complain.
Up to that point, it had been successful.
The Eagles lost, so I suppose you can pin that on whatever you like. If play-calling balance is your cup of tea this week, well, Pederson’s game plan wasn’t good enough to secure the W, so have at it.
It’s just that the numbers don’t necessarily justify any kind of significant deviation from what Pederson was doing. The Eagles were moving the sticks and mounting sustained drives. That’s what offenses are supposed to do, albeit preferably with more scoring.
The case can certainly be made a few more runs would’ve benefited the Eagles — though there’s not much evidence to support that claim. It seems it would be a lot easier to admit the players had opportunities but failed to execute, and the Eagles were simply beaten on the road by a superior team.