All summer, the debate was whether the Eagles would lean on Jordan Howard in the ground attack, or if rookie Miles Sanders would overtake him as the primary ball carrier.
But in Week 1, it felt like Darren Sproles was the Eagles’ lead back — and some people weren’t happy about it.
Sproles didn’t actually top Eagles running backs in playing time or carries against Washington on Sunday. His 23 snaps and nine rushing attempts were well behind Sanders with 36 and 11, though slightly ahead of Howard’s 17 and six.
Sproles’ 49 yards rushing did lead the team however, while the 36-year-old’s 17 total touches between runs, receptions and punt returns was his highest total since 2016. It begged the question why, especially when the Eagles’ offense got off to its slow start.
“When we construct games, we have multiple run schemes and they are designed for different guys,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “The ones that were kind of clicking today were the Darren ones, and so just kept calling his number there.”
Like the rest of the offense though, Sproles was ineffective early. He ended the first half with three runs for eight yards and two catches for nine yards, and a pitch that went for a two-yard loss on 3rd-and-1 stood out as an especially egregious call.
The general sentiment on social media during the first half: Love the guy, but too much Sproles.
Pederson stuck with Sproles, and the 15th-year veteran rewarded his patience, rushing four times for 32 yards on an Eagles touchdown drive to open the third quarter, and tacking on a two-point conversion in the fourth. He also returned four punts for an 11.5 average.
“When I got in there the first half, I felt kind of rusty a little bit,” Sproles said. “But in the second half I kind of got going a little bit.”
The negativity over Sproles’ usage mostly subsided with his turnaround. He’s a useful cog in the offense and a terrific return specialist. He’s also about to move into fifth on the NFL’s career all-purpose yards list at 5-foot-6, which players and fans of all allegiances respect.
"I love that guy and how hard he works for us," Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz said. "Situationally, from third downs, to punts, he’s a leader on this football team."
Still, the heavy workload raises some concerns. Sproles missed 23 games due to injury in the last two seasons. And he wasn't the Eagles’ most effective back toting the rock on Sunday — it was Howard, his 7.3 yards per carry more than two full yards better.
Pederson does seem to get enamored with Sproles at times and has never been shy about using him in short yardage situations or giving him the bulk of the carries in defiance of physical stature and age.
It’s understandable to a degree, as Sproles is capable of powerful and explosive plays as a runner or receiver from almost any position in the offense.
Yet, as long as Howard, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, and Sanders, a second-round draft pick, are both in the fold, relying too much on Sproles is going to draw more criticism than ever — especially when it isn’t working.
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