I’ve never been a big “YOU HAVE TO RUN THE BALL” guy. The NFL has become a big-time passing league, never more than it is now.
You win by throwing.
I get it.
The average NFL offense this year has thrown the ball 60 percent of the time and run it 40 percent.
The Eagles throw a little more than that — 63 percent through nine games. That’s eighth-most in the league, which isn’t out of whack.
Their running backs are getting 21½ carries per game, which is a reasonable number.
A running game has to be at least part of even the most high-powered vertical offense just to keep defenses guessing, to run the clock, to keep pass rusher off the quarterback.
My biggest issue with the Eagles’ running game isn’t the number of carries the backs are getting.
It’s the way they’re getting them.
The Eagles are essentially trying to operate a running back-by-committee system with three backs — Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement and Josh Adams — despite running only 21 times a game.
What that does is prevent any of the three backs from getting enough carries to ever get into any sort of rhythm.
There just aren’t enough carries to go around.
As soon as one guy gets hot, another guy is taking his place.
So you end up with a situation where Smallwood is the Eagles’ leading rusher but hasn’t had double-digit carries in back-to-back games all year, Clement has gotten only 28 carries in four games since returning from his quad injury, and Adams has only 27 carries all year despite showing some real positive signs the last few weeks.
Only once in the Eagles’ last five games has a running back gotten even 10 carries, and that was the Giants game, which the Eagles won easily.
Forget trying to figure out who the last Eagle with 20 carries in a game was (Ryan Mathews, who’s been retired for two years) or the last with 800 yards in a season (LeSean McCoy, who’s been a Bill for four years).
The Eagles haven’t had a back with more than 70 yards in a game this year. And since Week 5 they haven’t had a back with more than 51 yards in a game.
Too often it seems like the running game is an afterthought for Doug Pederson.
He’ll throw in a running play here and there, but the running attack never really seems to have a purpose. Running plays don’t seem to set up other plays. And when a couple in a row don’t work, don’t hold your breath waiting for the next one.
And the rotation often seems odd and counterintuitive.
One drive we see Clement, the next we see Smallwood, and then we see Adams.
A guy works up a head of steam and then you don’t see him on the next couple drives.
What is the Eagles’ philosophy when it comes to the running game? What are they trying to achieve? I honestly don’t know.
Certainly, the absence of Jay Ajayi has hurt. He was so good down the stretch last year and in the playoffs.
Clement? I’ve seen him make huge plays on the greatest stage in sports. But since returning from a two-week layoff, he’s gotten only 17 carries and 24 total touches in four games. He just hasn’t had a chance to get going.
Smallwood? He’s the Eagles’ leading rusher, but he isn’t even on pace for 500 yards and has had four games with five or fewer carries.
Adams? He’s had runs of 17, 21 and 29 yards the last two weeks and looks like he might be a player. He’s averaging 5.7 yards per carry but averaging fewer than 4.0 carries per game since being promoted to the 53-man roster.
I’m not positive what the Eagles’ best option is at running back right now. I think it’s probably Adams.
But I am fairly certain that trying to shoehorn three backs into an offense that runs the ball as infrequently as the Eagles do isn’t the answer.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.