Doug Pederson, Eagles need to stick with run, find balance for success

Doug Pederson, Eagles need to stick with run, find balance for success

New year. Same ratio.

The Eagles won a football game Sunday without much of a commitment to the running game.

Their final pass-run ratio against the Redskins was 45 pass plays and 20 running plays, but following the first quarter it was 36 pass plays and 13 running plays, and we saw Sunday at FedEx Field what we saw a lot last year.

Doug Pederson wants to establish the run early, then just abandons it, regardless of the score.

The Eagles escaped with a win, thanks mainly to the front seven's domination of the Redskins' offense and Carson Wentz's improvising when things broke down. And any time you can open the season with a road win over a division opponent, it's a great day.

But at some point, if the Eagles are going to be an elite team, a playoff team, three things have to happen.

1. Pederson has to find a way to stick with the run.

2. The offensive line has to open up some holes for the backs.

3. The backs have to produce.

I understand that the NFL of 2017 is a passing league. You win games by chucking the ball up and down the field. I'm OK with that. And the Eagles certainly have the quarterback to do it. But even in this era of super-charged passing attacks, you also need some balance just to keep the opposing defense off your quarterback and to run out the clock when you have a late lead.

In the two middle quarters Sunday, the Eagles ran 33 plays — 27 passes, six runs. And then when Pederson tried to dial up the run with a late lead, there was nothing there.  

The Eagles won Sunday, but let's be honest: The offense showed little rhythm.

Their two touchdown drives went 39 and 56 yards and both were the product of good field position and Wentz's improvisational wizardry. Those are both good things to have, but you sure can't count on them. Not over 16 games.

Take away Wentz's six rushing yards on four carries and the Eagles' backs averaged 2.6 yards per carry Sunday and 1.9 yards per carry in the second half.

The Eagles recorded just one rushing first down Sunday, making this the first time in 17 years they've won a game with just one rushing first down.

Let's look at the running game by quarter:

First quarter: LeGarrette Blount ran five times for 17 yards, including a couple six-yard gains. Decent start.

Second quarter: Blount had a seven-yard gain on a 1st-and-10 with 8:30 to go in the quarter, then didn't touch the ball again until the second half.

Third quarter: Blount went 13½ minutes between carries.

Fourth quarter: With the Eagles clinging to a two-point lead, Pederson finally tried to lean on the ground attack, but seven carries by Blount, Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles produced only 12 yards.

I get that if the running game isn't producing, you need to try something else. But Pederson generally doesn't give it a fair chance before abandoning it.

And I also get that this isn't the world's greatest collection of running backs. There's no Westbrook here. No Shady. There's not even a Ryan Mathews.

But at one point from the start of the second quarter until late in the fourth quarter, the Eagles ran 33 pass plays to nine running plays, and you're just not going to win many football games with your ratio that out of whack.

Committing to the run does a lot of things. It allows the offensive linemen to dictate to the defense. It keeps defenses guessing, which gives the O-line the ability to do a better job protecting the quarterback. It generates rhythm. It wears down a defensive front. It runs the clock.

Sunday's win was a great way to start the season, but the opponents are going to get tougher and the defenses are going to be stronger.

Last year, the Eagles averaged 42 pass plays per game, and Sunday they finished with 45.

There's a lot to like about this team. That front seven is a machine. Special teams is always fantastic under Dave Fipp. Wentz is evolving into an elite young quarterback. The secondary looks improved — maybe dramatically improved.

But somehow, some way, Pederson has to balance this thing out just a little.

You can't win consistently playing football like this.

How will NFL’s new national anthem policy affect Eagles?

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How will NFL’s new national anthem policy affect Eagles?

The NFL has adopted a new policy it hopes will eliminate on-field protests during the national anthem. 

Sparked by Colin Kaepernick and then various other players in the NFL, demonstrations during the anthem had popped up in many cities over the last couple of NFL seasons. It also included the Eagles as Malcolm Jenkins led the charge of demonstrating against social injustice in an attempt to further discussion about racism in the United States. 

At one point before last season, Jenkins questioned whether or not he would continue his protest, not because he didn’t believe in his cause, but because he was concerned the focus was being placed on the demonstration rather than the reason for it. 

This policy attempts to eliminate demonstrations, seemingly without addressing the impetus for them. 

“It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were patriotic,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement released by the league. “This is not and was never the case. 

“This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem. Personnel who choose to not stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room until after the Anthem has been performed.” 

Here are the specifics of the policy: 

1. All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

2. The Game Operations Manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the Anthem.

3. Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the Anthem has been performed.

4. A club will be fined by the League if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

5. Each club may develop its own work rules, consistent with the above principles, regarding its personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

6. The Commissioner will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.

So what does this mean for the Eagles? 

Well, the Eagles have traditionally been one of the most socially aware teams in the NFL, with players like Jenkins and Chris Long at the forefront. Jenkins is the leader of the Players Coalition. 

During last season, Jenkins discontinued his anthem demonstration of raising his fist after he became encouraged by the NFL’s efforts regarding social injustice. The league pledged $100 million to causes aimed at combatting social injustices. 

This offseason, however, the Eagles traded for Michael Bennett, who sat through the anthem last season as a protest. Bennett has previously said he plans on continuing his protest, which would put the Eagles in an interesting position. 

Based on the new policy, the NFL will not fine individual players, but will fine the team of players who don’t show “respect.” It will then be up to the club to determine the punishment to hand down to that player, if any. Jeff Lurie is considered one of the more socially-forward thinking owners in the league, but this is tricky. The policy was said to be passed unanimously, but the 49ers' owner apparently abstained

The Eagles did not immediately have a comment on the NFL’s new policy. 

In the statement from the league, the NFL says the policy was created “in concert” with a commitment to local communities and that the league is dedicated to “continuing our collaboration with players to advance the goals of justice and fairness in all corners of our society.” 

But an NFLPA spokesman said their group was not involved in these discussions. 

What NFL kickoff rule changes mean for Eagles

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What NFL kickoff rule changes mean for Eagles

The NFL is changing the kickoff rules again in an attempt to make the most dangerous play in the game a little safer.

There will be a trial run in 2018 and the league will take a look at its findings next spring.

For now, here are the basics of the new kickoff rules:

• No more running starts for kicking team

• Eight of 11 kick returning players must be in setup zone (15 yards from the ball)

• No blocking in setup zone before the ball is touched

• No more two-man wedge blocks

• Kickoff team must have five players on each side of the ball

So what does this mean for the Eagles and Dave Fipp’s unit, which has been considered one of the best in the league since he took over?

Well, we’ll start with the Eagles when they kick off because that’s where we might see the most drastic change. Last season, Jake Elliott kicked off 84 times and had 42 touchbacks. There were 16 kickers in the league (at least 35 kickoffs) who had a higher touchback percentage. And it’s no coincidence.

During last season, in October, Malcolm Jenkins actually challenged Fipp to allow players to make plays (see story). Basically, the Eagles kicked the ball short of the goal line, betting that they could bring players down before the 25-yard line.

The rule restricting that running start might make them think twice.

When the Eagles are returning kicks, maybe they’ll try to return more. Last year, the Eagles were 26th in the league in kick return average at 19.7 yards per return. And they returned just 18 kicks, the fewest amount in the NFL.

The Eagles lost their primary kick returner, Kenjon Barner, in free agency. So they’ll have a new returner, who might have some extra space to work with.

It has been argued that these rules will actually increase the number of kick returns, while also making the play safer. We’ll see.