Michael Bennett done being reserved, ready to become more vocal

Michael Bennett done being reserved, ready to become more vocal

Coming to Philadelphia, Michael Bennett was in a bit of a strange situation. 

Bennett, who just turned 33 this week, had been a leader in Seattle for years, but this offseason he was traded to an Eagles team that was coming off a Super Bowl and seemed to already have a leadership group intact. 

So he felt like he had to tread lightly for a while. 

"But there's times where you know you're supposed to lead," Bennett said to NBC Sports Philadelphia this week. "And for me, that time is now. I can't hold back anything anymore because you don't have time to hold back."

Early in the season, Bennett wasn't even a starter and he wasn't producing at his normal rate. But recently, not only has Bennett assumed a starting role after Derek Barnett went to IR, he's also been one of the best players on the team. In the last six games, he has 5½ sacks. And he's feeling more empowered to let himself be heard. 

In recent weeks, Bennett has been speaking up more and he said he wants to start becoming even more vocal. He thinks his experiences can help the rest of his teammates and vice versa. 

I feel like people are responding to it. At first, you want to be reserved, but that's not me. That's not who I am as a person. The person I am, I've always stood for what I believe in, regardless. This is not a moment not to do that, not to remind us of what it takes to rekindle a relationship. Sometimes, when you play sports, you assume the relationship is great every single day. You have to be able to work on those relationships, work on evolving with the team. That's where we're at now. 

"Doing the little small things that we did before when we were the underdogs, not as the champions. 'Oh, maybe we don't need to run.' No, we need to run harder. We need to take one more step. 'Maybe we don't need to study.' No, we need to study five more minutes. Everything is about taking the next step for the growth that we need as an individual and as a team.

Bennett has been a reigning Super Bowl champion before too. After winning the Super Bowl at the end of the 2013 season, the Seahawks went back the following year, only to lose to the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX. That means he's the only guy on this roster who has been to back-to-back Super Bowls with the same team. He might be the only guy who truly knows what it takes. 

So as the Eagles try to recover from a 4-5 start, they could stand to listen to Bennett a little more. 

"After you go to the Super Bowl, the essence of everything is 'win, win, win.' And sometimes, you start to lose a little bit when you lose," he said. "And that's what you can't do. You have to still keep your swagger regardless of what's happening. Because the world doesn't want to see you win. The story is you losing. You have to be able to stand tall with your teammates."

That's similar to what the Eagles' captains said this week about their roles as leaders and similar to what Doug Pederson said he wanted from his leaders. The younger players on this team are watching. They're going to feed off of the energy provided by the vets. They're going to notice if there are heads hanging and folks are moping around the facility. 

And Bennett also echoed Pederson's message. He said everyone needs to ask themselves if they can do more. He said he thinks it now comes down to leadership. 

When I approached Bennett to chat on Thursday, he was apprehensive. He didn't want to become a willing participant in a story he thought might end up sounding negative. The Eagles are 4-5 and that's probably not what Bennett would have expected when he was traded to Philadelphia in March. But it's clear he's staying positive through these early-season struggles. 

"I feel like it's just beginning," Bennett said. "I feel like a team is not judged on what they do in a comfort zone. They're really judged on adversity. How well can you face adversity? And there've been times where we haven't faced it very well, so it's time for us to face it. And we've been in every game except for, really, the Buccaneers game. And really getting back into the fold of everything and capitalizing on it is the big thing. I just think we need to finish."

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Will Eagles start using Jordan Howard more in coming games?

Will Eagles start using Jordan Howard more in coming games?

If there’s one upside to having a small workload, Jordan Howard has definitely found it. 

His body feels fresh. 

“I’m definitely feeling great,” Howard said. “Not as sore after the games and stuff like that. It’s easier to get out there and run at practice.” 

If Howard is upset about the limited workload he’s had in the first two games of the 2019 season, he certainly isn’t showing it. Speaking at his locker on Friday, Howard was all about the team. Instead of talking about his carries or snaps, Howard simply talked about the need for the offense, as a whole, to perform better. 

But through two games, Howard has just 14 carries. It’s the fewest amount of carries he’s had in a two-week span since his first two NFL games back in his rookie year in 2016. 

Last season with the Bears, he had single digit carries just once. He’s done that twice in two games to start 2019. 

“I didn’t really have any projection of how I was going to be used,” Howard said. “I just know whenever my opportunity comes, I just try to take advantage of my opportunities.” 

While head coach Doug Pederson has expressed faith in rookie Miles Sanders, the Eagles do have the third-leading rusher in the NFL since 2016 waiting for his opportunity to get a bigger piece of the offensive pie. 

“We brought him here for a reason,” Pederson said. “Long season. We're just kind of getting off the ground, so we should hopefully see more of him.”

Here’s the running back breakdown so far: 

Overall, the Eagles’ rushing attack hasn’t been good enough. Their backs have a combined 162 rushing yards; eight backs league-wide have more than that. 

And as a team, the Eagles are averaging just 86.0 yards per game. But it’s early. 

“I feel like we’re pretty close,” Howard said. “A few little things here and there. But I feel like we’re definitely going to get it going. And when it’s going, it’s going to be hard to stop.”

It’s obviously early, but Howard has looked decent in the limited chances he’s gotten. His average of 4.4 yards per carry is higher than he had in his last two seasons. 

Howard said he isn’t sure what the rotation will look like going forward, but thinks that once they find something that works, the Eagles will stick with it. 

“When his time is called, you kind of see what he can do,” Sproles said. “They’re gonna work him in there a little bit more, though.”

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The real issue with the Eagles' running game

The real issue with the Eagles' running game

When last season ended, I felt like upgrading the running game was one of the biggest priorities facing the Eagles.

With Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement handling the ground attack after Jay Ajayi’s season — and perhaps career — ended, the Eagles averaged only 3.9 yards per carry and 98 yards per game in 2018.

They ranked 30th in the league in yards per carry and 28th in yards per game.

Not good enough. Not even close.

So Adams and Smallwood are gone, replaced by Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard, and the running game is now worse.

At least through two games.

That 3.9 figure is down to 3.3 and the 98 is down to 86.

With an offensive line considered by many the best in the league, a prized second-round pick and a workhorse fourth-year veteran, the Eagles haven’t been able to run the ball with any authority in the early going.

And it’s a concern because as much as this is a passing league these days, situationally Doug Pederson needs to be able to dial up enough running plays to run clock with a lead and keep defenses off balance.

The Eagles have run the ball 51 times, if you remove one Carson Wentz kneel-down from the opener.

Of those 51 runs, only three have gone for more than 10 yards and none for more than 19 yards. 

And 30 — nearly 60 percent — have gone for three yards or less.

This is a problem. Big one.

Jordan Howard had some nice runs in the fourth quarter of the opener, but other than that the running game has been shockingly ineffective.

Miles Sanders is only a rookie and gets some slack, but that 2.5 average is concerning. 

Darren Sproles was 9-for-47 in the opener, then didn’t get a carry in Atlanta, which tells you how wary Pederson is of overusing the 36-year-old 15-year veteran.

We all thought the Eagles would go into Atlanta and hammer the football on the ground against an undersized Falcons defense that allowed 172 rushing yards in the opener in Minneapolis.

It didn’t happen. The Eagles wound up 21-for-49 rushing, and that 2.3 average is the lowest in a regular-season game under Doug Pederson.

A lot of people are clamoring for Pederson to run the ball more. And especially going into a home game Sunday against the Lions, it makes sense to try to take some pressure off a quarterback with sore ribs and a receiving corps potentially missing three of its top five weapons.

I know people think of Pederson as an Andy Reid clone, but Pederson likes to run.

The Eagles actually rank 11th in the NFL since Pederson became head coach in 2016 in rushing attempts at 27 per game. They’re at 26 per game this year.

But so far it’s just not working.

The issues start up front, where Isaac Seumalo has struggled, Brandon Brooks doesn’t look quite like himself yet, and the holes we all anticipated just haven’t been there.

And it goes to the running backs, who, with the exception of Howard in the fourth quarter against the Redskins, haven’t produced.

Howard in 4Q vs. Redskins: 5-for-36 (7.2)

All other RB carries: 47-136 (2.9)

The concern isn’t Pederson’s unwillingness to run.

It’s the offense’s inability to run.

And if that doesn’t change very soon, the Eagles are going to be in big trouble.

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