No Jay Ajayi or Darren Sproles in the backfield? No problem for the Eagles, who instead fielded the dynamic three-headed monster of Corey Clement (yes!), Josh Adams (okay…) and Wendell Smallwood (really?).
Clement, Adams and Smallwood combined to rush 32 times for 142 yards — a 4.4 average — and a touchdown in the Eagles’ 20-16 win over the Colts on Sunday (see Roob's 10 observations). Clement and Smallwood tacked on an additional six receptions for 54 yards in a strong, all-around performance.
It was exactly the effort the Eagles needed from a young, unheralded group of running backs. Despite missing Ajayi (back) and Sproles (hamstring) with injuries, the emphasis was on running the football due to Carson Wentz returning under center after a nine-month hiatus.
“We tried to keep the game very balanced and not just put it all on Carson out there,” Clement said.
As expected, Clement saw the biggest workload of the trio, carrying 16 times for 56 yards to go with three catches for 19. His 14-yard rush in the fourth quarter helped set up the game-winning score.
It was an impressive display of toughness by Clement — who also played a ton on special teams — after popping up on the injury report himself Friday with a quad injury.
“We can’t miss a beat just because two players are down,” Clement said. “It comes down to young guys being able to step up and rise to the occasion.”
Adams echoed that sentiment. Appearing in his first NFL game, the undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame pitched in six attempts for 30 yards.
“I just tried to take advantage of all the opportunities I got because you never know when it will be your last,” Adams said. “When I look at it, I’m going to want to see what I could’ve done better, but I’m excited to look at it.”
Yet it was Smallwood who turned out to be the unexpected star of the game. The third-year veteran has been lost in the shuffle going back to midway through last season, but led all Eagles backs with 91 total yards from scrimmage, including a 34-yard catch, and waltzed into the end zone for the winning four-yard touchdown.
Smallwood credited the play of the offensive line for his touchdown.
“I felt like that was almost one of the easiest touchdowns I’ve had,” Smallwood said. “(Eagles center Jason Kelce) and (left guard Stefan Wisniewski) worked up the double team, and I knew what was coming. We practiced that play all week.
“They blew those guys off the ball and I ran it in behind them.”
Smallwood’s tough running extended a number of plays and gained valuable extra yardage, though all three backs were physical. He suggested the group imposed its will on the Colts defense as the game went on.
“The coaches told us all week we’re going to run the ball, we’re going to make that a force, and I believe today everybody took it to (the Colts),” Smallwood said. “I believe that toward the end they kind of started wearing down against the run.”