Eagles

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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Eagles vs. Patriots live: Highlights and analysis from NFL Week 11 game

Eagles vs. Patriots live: Highlights and analysis from NFL Week 11 game

8:41 a.m.: Good morning, everyone! The Eagles have an unusual 4:25 p.m. start today, so we have a little bit of waiting on our hands. 

The big news as you was up this morning is that Jordan Howard (shoulder) will reportedly be out for this game. He has a stinger and hasn't yet been cleared for contact. That means Miles Sanders, Boston Scott and recently signed Jay Ajayi will have to carry the load.

As you wait for kickoff today, here are five matchups to watch in Eagles-Patriots.

At least we have Cowboys-Lions to watch at 1 p.m. 

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Report: Jordan Howard expected to miss Eagles-Patriots Week 11 game with injury

Report: Jordan Howard expected to miss Eagles-Patriots Week 11 game with injury

Eagles leading rusher Jordan Howard is not expected to play Sunday as he deals with a shoulder injury, according to a report by ESPN's Adam Schefter.

The Eagles have officially listed Howard as questionable for the team's Super Bowl rematch Sunday afternoon against the Patriots at the Linc.

Howard suffered a stinger in the Eagles’ win on Nov. 3 against the Bears, his former team.

That means Jay Ajayi, who the Eagles re-signed on Friday, should be active for the first time in over a year and will likely have a role.

Howard, in his first year with the Eagles, has 525 rushing yards, a 4.4 average and seven touchdowns, including one receiving. 

Since Week 4, Howard has been the 13th-leading rusher in the NFL, averaging 71 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry.

Howard was limited in practice during the week and head coach Doug Pederson said Friday he had not been cleared for contact, which left him with a remote chance to be active on Sunday.

Howard has never missed a game because of injury. He didn’t play in the Bears' 2016 opener against the Texans — opening day of his rookie year — but he did dress for the game and was active, he just didn’t get onto the field.

Since then, he’s played in 57 of a possible 57 games.

Howard has the second-most rushing yards in the NFL since 2016 behind only Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys.

The Eagles are already down two running backs. Super Bowl hero Corey Clement is on Injured Reserve with a shoulder injury and Darren Sproles joined him on Injured Reserve this week with a season-ending quad injury.

The Eagles will go into Sunday with Miles Sanders, Ajayi and Boston Scott. They also have a rookie, De’Angelo Henderson, on the practice squad.

Sanders, after a slow start, is averaging 4.4 yards per carry on 76 for 336 and has 22 catches for 305 yards.

Ajayi, acquired by the Eagles from the Dolphins midway through the 2017 Super Bowl season, hasn’t played since injuring his knee in a game against the Vikings on Oct. 7 of last year.

Ajayi has battled knee injuries most of his career but his 4.5 career average is fifth best in the NFL since 2015 among running backs with at least 500 carries.

Scott has 16 carries for 68 yards, a 4.3 average in limited duty.

The Eagles have averaged 141 rushing yards in their last six games. The Patriots are allowing an NFL-worst 5.6 yards per carry over their last six games.

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