By fixing what wasn't broken, Eagles got even better

By fixing what wasn't broken, Eagles got even better

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — The Eagles were 7-1 with the sixth-best running game in the NFL. 

The old adage about not fixing what ain't broke? The Eagles laughed in its face.

With LeGarrette Blount established as the Eagles' No. 1 running back and the Eagles rolling through the league, all of a sudden here's 2016 Pro Bowler Jay Ajayi in the middle of the season.

And like everything else the Eagles have done? It worked.

"It can be difficult coming to a new team in the middle of the season, but I just tried to be myself, be true to myself, and I knew that with my personality and the way I play the game, hopefully, the team would gravitate toward me," Ajayi said Wednesday.

"There was a little bit of a period where we were all feeling each other out, but the running back room was really welcoming and the locker room was really welcoming."

How well have Blount and Ajayi worked together? The Eagles are in the Super Bowl.

And they actually had the fourth-best running game in the league after the Ajayi acquisition.

"Doug (Pederson), Howie (Roseman) and Duce (Staley) brought me in that day, and they told me about the trade, the whole ordeal, and I was cool with it," Blount said.

"They didn't make it seem like he was coming in to do this, that and the other, they just said, 'We got another playmaker,' and I said that's perfect.

"You can never have too many playmakers on the team. That's how we got here. So I accepted it. Although there really wasn't anything to accept."

Blount finished with 766 yards and a 4.4 average, and Ajayi added 408 yards in half a season with a 5.8 average. Undrafted rookie Corey Clement also contributed 321 yards and a 4.3 average.

Ajayi has gotten the bulk of the carries in the postseason, with 127 yards and a 3.8 average. Blount has 15 carries and is at 2.7 but with two touchdowns.

The only reason this works is because Blount and Ajayi respect each other, like each other and ultimately want what's best for the team.

"Me and L.G., we have a high respect for each other," Ajayi said Wednesday. "I respect him very highly. He's a winner, he's won Super Bowls.

"We understood coming in we'd be in this position where we both get carries here and there and it's really about competing with each other and pushing each other to be great, helping each other on the sideline with keys and things one or the other don't see and also just being great teammates to each other. It's been a great ride so far."

This is only the second time in franchise history the Eagles have had three running backs with 70 or more carries and a 4.3 average or higher.

The first, not surprisingly, was 2003, when the famed Three-Headed Monster of Staley, Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter did it.

Now Staley is coaching the next group to do it.

"Why does it work? It's all about communication, it's all about respect, it's all about treating men like men," Staley said. "First thing I did was I brought in LeGarrette and I told him, 'Hey, we're bringing in Jay Ajayi and this is why we're doing it.'

"I told him you guys can be that tag-team 1-2 punch so we won't miss a beat when he's off the field and we won't miss a beat when you're off the field. LeGarrette, he wants what's best for the team. And it's working."

Ajayi's 5.8 average is highest by an Eagles running back with 70 or more carries since Bosh Pritchard averaged 6.0 yards per carry for the 1949 NFL Championship team.

"Obviously, he made our team better," Blount said. "He's a great player. Obviously, I'm a great player. "

The Eagles acquired Ajayi on Oct. 31 in exchange for the Dolphins' 2018 fourth-round draft pick.

Five days later, he made his Eagles debut, rushing for 77 yards and a 46-yard touchdown in a blowout win over the Broncos.

"I think it was great to get into that first game against the Broncos so that the team could actually see what kind of player I am, and I think that helped kind of show guys what I can do and how I can help this team," Ajayi said.

"It's really all about the team. I knew that my role would be to come in and whatever Coach asked, get it done and be a spark for the team and it's been a great, great time so far and now we're here at the Super Bowl trying to finish it the right way."

How the loss of Jordan Howard has damaged the Eagles

How the loss of Jordan Howard has damaged the Eagles

Jordan Howard still hasn’t been cleared for contact nearly five weeks after he hurt his shoulder, and at this point it certainly seems more likely than not that he will miss a fourth straight game when the Eagles face the Giants Monday night at the Linc.

A lot of factors have contributed to the Eagles’ three-game losing streak, but Howard’s absence is an under-rated huge one.

The Eagles were 5-4 and averaging 23 points per game with the fourth-year running back, and they’re 0-3 and averaging less than 17 points without him.

With Howard on the field, the Eagles were controlling the clock and keeping defenses off-balance. Doug Pederson spoke more than once about how an authoritative running attack had become the team’s identity.

That identity no longer exists.

Howard injured his shoulder in the win over the Bears on Nov. 3.

Pederson didn't mention Howard's injury after the game or the next day, and when the Eagles went into the bye there was no reason to believe it was serious.

Pederson first referred to Howard's injury as a “stinger,” or nerve damage in the shoulder area, on Nov. 15, nearly two weeks after Howard first got hurt.

Howard has practiced on a limited basis since the injury, but Pederson said Thursday he still hasn’t been cleared for contact and said there’s no change in his status.

Although rookie Miles Sanders has played very well, the Eagles miss Howard tremendously.

Through nine games, he was 14th in the NFL with 525 rushing yards and averaging 4.4 yards per carry.

Most importantly, he was moving the chains and getting in the end zone.

Going into Week 10, he had rushed for 28 first downs, 14th-most in the league (despite averaging just 13 carries per game), and he had six rushing TDs, 6th-most in the league.

In the three games Howard has missed, Sanders has averaged 4.6 yards per carry but has only 40 carries as Pederson has moved away from the running game.

The Eagles don’t have a rushing touchdown since Howard got hurt.

Interesting to note that in the nine games Howard played, the Eagles ranked 5th in the NFL in time of possession at 32:13 per game. Without Howard, they’re 13th at 30:44.

There are obviously other factors, but the Eagles’ offensive scoring is also down dramatically without Howard, from 23.3 to 16.7.

And most notably, instead of increasing Sanders’ workload with Sanders out, Pederson has simply decided not to run nearly as much.

In the nine games with Howard, the Eagles had the 6th-most rushing attempts in the NFL and a 55-45 pass-run ratio.

In the three games without Howard, the Eagles have the 3rd-FEWEST rushing attempts in the NFL and a 69-31 pass-run ratio.

The Eagles, who have lost running backs Corey Clement and Darren Sproles to season-ending injuries, signed Jay Ajayi a few weeks ago, but he’s only averaging 3.1 yards on eight carries so far.

When can we expect to see Howard?

It’s impossible to tell.

Pederson said Thursday he doesn’t expect this injury to be season-ending, but the season is over in 24 days, and Howard hasn’t played in 32 days.

Adding to the equation is the fact that Howard is scheduled to become a free agent after this season and the Eagles need to decide whether to offer him a long-term deal or not.

The season is slipping away, the Eagles haven’t won a game in over a month and one of the players they miss the most remains sidelined with an injury that won't go away.

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Eagles sign training camp standout receiver Marken Michel to practice squad

Eagles sign training camp standout receiver Marken Michel to practice squad

The Eagles on Thursday signed preseason and training camp standout Marken Michel to their practice squad.

Michel, 26, had an impressive summer in Philadelphia and was a strong contender to make the initial 53-man roster but was released at final cuts. The Eagles kept just five receivers out of training camp.

The Eagles reportedly had Michel in for a workout earlier this week.

During the preseason, Michel had four catches for 117 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown on a deep post against the Titans from Nate Sudfeld.

Michel is the older brother (by about a year and a half) of Patriots running back Sony Michel. While Sony has found a home in the NFL, Marken’s route has been more circuitous to this point.

Marken Michel went undrafted out of UMass in 2016. He spent one summer with the Vikings and then carved out a career in the Canadian Football League for two years. He was a teammate of Eagles linebacker Alex Singleton on the Calgary Stampeders when the Stampeders won the 2018 Grey Cup.

With this move to sign Michel (5-11, 190), the Eagles’ practice squad is now at capacity with 10 members and three of them are receivers. They have just four receivers on the 53-man roster.

The Eagles also have Robert Davis (6-3, 210) and Marcus Green (5-8, 191) on the practice squad.

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