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A closer look at LeGarrette Blount's usage in New England

A closer look at LeGarrette Blount's usage in New England

The warning signs were all there when the Eagles signed LeGarrette Blount in May. Yet, even those of us who were skeptical of the move couldn't necessarily have predicted Blount would go without a carry as early as Week 2.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson had his reasons for withholding the ball from Blount in Kansas City on Sunday. For starters, the offense was stuck in 2nd- or 3rd-and-long quite a bit. And in Pederson's defense, Blount hasn't done anything to justify a heavy workload.

Although, after Blount rushed 299 times for 1,161 yards and an NFL-best 18 touchdowns with the Patriots in 2016, some folks simply aren't going to buy the latter explanation. If he was good enough to be the primary ball carrier for the eventual Super Bowl champions, he ought to be good enough to get some looks in the Eagles' depleted backfield. At least, that's the thought process for Pederson's critics.

With that in mind, it's certainly worth asking how New England was able to get a career year out of Blount. Everybody knows he's a beast in short yardage, but what else does he do well? We went into the situational statistics to see if there are any clues as to how Pederson and the Eagles can get the bruising runner more involved moving forward.

Blount carried the ball most often on 1st down

Blount on 1st down: 188 ATT, 720 YDS, 3.8 AVG
Blount on 2nd, 3rd and 4th downs: 111 ATT, 441 YDS, 4.0 AVG

It seems simple enough. If Pederson is worried about the frequency with which the Eagles are winding up in 2nd- or 3rd-and-long, why not hand Blount the ball a few times on 1st-and-10?

From a strategic standpoint, it makes sense. Even if Blount gains only two or three yards, apparently that's no less effective than whatever the Eagles were doing. At the very least, handing off is less likely to result in a negative play, and the clock keeps moving. Plus, committing to Blount on 1st-and-10 might serve to open up the passing game on that situation as well, especially once defenses are forced to worry about being bludgeoned with repeated 2nd-and-manageables.

If the Eagles are going to get anything out of Blount, besides in short-yardage situations, it's clear he needs to be on the field on 1st-and-10 from time to time.

Majority of Blount's carries came when Patriots were ahead

Blount when ahead: 218 ATT, 832 YDS, 3.8 AVG
Blount when behind or tied: 81 ATT, 329 YDS, 4.1 AVG

This stat can be deceptive, because the Patriots are such an incredible team. Did Blount get more carries when New England was in the lead because that's the optimal times to use him, or because New England is typically in the lead?

Let's just assume the answer is "yes" for both. Regardless, it's obvious the best time to use Blount is while ahead. Teams that are tied or losing are trying to stay aggressive and score as many points as possible, which is accomplished largely through the passing game -- an area where Blount is of minimal use. Teams that are leading can afford to run the ball with minimal effectiveness, as the primary concerns become keeping the clock running and winning the field-position battle.

Seeing as the Eagles offense never took the field with the lead in Kansas City on Sunday, you can forgive Pederson somewhat for lessening Blount's role. That doesn't necessarily mean he should go without a carry, but the circumstances were not optimal for a larger role in the game plan.

Blount's most effective runs were outside the tackles

Blount on runs charted as left side, right side, or middle: 257 ATT, 842 YDS, 3.3 AVG
Blount on runs charted as left sideline or right sideline: 41 ATT, 319 YDS, 7.8 AVG

Perhaps nobody is totally to blame for Blount's lack of effectiveness -- not Blount himself, not Pederson, not the offensive line. The reality is, even last season, he was a plodding runner who occasionally broke free from the defense for a big play.

Clearly, the Patriots didn't continue thumping Blount up the gut down after down because he was ripping off huge chunks of yards. They did it on 1st down because it put the offense in more favorable situations on 2nd, and they did it with the lead because it kept the clock running and shortened the game.

The Eagles and fans alike need to submit to the fact that Blount isn't going to be the type of dynamic back who carries the team to victory. He's the guy who does the dirty work, and when everything goes according to plan, maybe he carries the team across the finish line.

If defenses don't get Blount down quickly, he has the ability make them pay. More often than not, he's going to be the living embodiment of "three yards and a cloud of dust."

By December, Blount's numbers were in serious decline

Blount in September, October and November: 212 ATT, 869 YDS, 4.1 AVG
Blount in December, January, and February: 122 ATT, 401 YDS, 3.3 AVG
(includes playoffs)

Numbers don't always tell the whole story, but these certainly suggest Blount was cooked by the end of last season with the Patriots. He turned 30 years old in December, and exceeded his career high in carries by nearly 100 (98, to be exact), so that's not exactly without precedent. Seeing as Blount was then excommunicated by the Patriots, and didn't attract much attention on the free-agent market until the Eagles gave him a one-year contract worth $1.25 million, the rest of the league seems to share those concerns.

Skeptics have maintained all along Blount wasn't going to work out for the Eagles -- his age, lack of scheme fit and underwhelming career being the primary factors. Perhaps Pederson can now confirm what some observers thought from the beginning.

At this point, it's probably crazy to think Blount deserves or will get upwards of 15 carries per game with any consistency. That doesn't mean he's completely useless and should only play six snaps, either. Then again, the Eagles aren't going to play in front of teams all season long like the Patriots, and Pederson isn't the type of coach who's going to settle for 3.5 yards per carry when he has Carson Wentz to sling the ball all over the field.

Whether Blount is cooked or not -- not an unlikely prospect -- the splits don't indicate a huge swing in production is coming regardless. He is what he is, and the Eagles are either going to recognize that and plug him appropriately, or phase Blount out and maybe even grant him his release.

Zhaire Smith has already unlocked the cheesesteak photo op

Zhaire Smith has already unlocked the cheesesteak photo op

Cheesesteaks are great.

People who are new to Philadelphia should eat cheesesteaks. People who are not new to Philadelphia should also eat cheesesteaks.

New 76ers draft pick Zhaire Smith is new to Philadelphia so he went to eat a cheesesteak.

Thankfully, it was a pretty good one at Jim's Steaks on South Street. It appears as if there is no ketchup or other strange substances on his cheesesteak. Hot peppers are not only acceptable but encouraged, in my humble cheesesteak eating opinion.

Congrats, Zhaire for enjoying a cheesesteak successfully without embarrassment.

You can learn much more about Smith and his abilities and fit with the Sixers right here.

Sixers put organization ahead of Mikal Bridges' feelings ... and that's OK

Sixers put organization ahead of Mikal Bridges' feelings ... and that's OK

Brett Brown sold me.

I agree with my colleague Andrew Kulp that the moment the news of the Sixers trading Mikal Bridges broke that I was flabbergasted. His mother works for the Sixers! Bridges was literally talking about how excited she was for him to be in Philly when the news broke. His poor mother! It was pretty much as rough as it gets in terms of optics. 

It looked awful from a PR perspective. There are tons of disappointed Villanova alums today.

But it's an unfortunate situation, in my opinion, not an organizational embarrassment, as Kulp wrote.

An unprotected first-round pick though? Damn. That's enticing.

Then Brett Brown came out after the first round ended and put my mind at ease that the Sixers made the right move.

They did what they believed to be best for the Sixers, a "Godfather offer" if you will. Here's Brown's, incredibly honest and thoughtful opening statement. You can watch it in full above. I think it's worth watching to realize how much thought Brown and his decision-makers put into this one.

"We had 1A and 1B and when the ninth pick was selected you realize, we’re going to get one of our two, and we chose Mikal. And to see that play out knowing the history that he has had in this city and at Villanova, it was very much aligned and he was somebody that could come in a fit with what we had. And so it goes from that level of excitement in the extreme coincidence, given his history in this city, to a situation in between that the phones were active and we knocked back an incredible deal where we would lose him. We didn’t rate it to be a Godfather type of deal, something that really would impact the franchise to the level that it would have to in order to trade Mikal, who we valued very much."

"And then Phoenix came in and offered a 2021 unprotected plus our 1B in Zhaire (Smith), who we value very highly, and you’re in a position that you’re on the clock and you really have a decision to make. And for me, and all of us in that room, what also rules our day is a few things. First — and in this order — what is always best for the organization, I’m going into my sixth season with the Philadelphia 76ers and so what is best for the organization and how do you win a championship, how do you acquire things that can attract stars or develop stars? That pick might be the key to all of this. That pick might be the thing that links a possible trade, and we have our 1B in Zhaire."

The trade was jarring emotionally. There's no sugarcoating that. Bridges is, by all accounts, a wonderful and thoughtful kid. Not to mention a hell of a basketball player who would absolutely help the Sixers in 2018.

Brown later added a line that should make you more comfortable with the Sixers moving on from him: "We are star hunting or we are star developing."

If the Sixers didn't believe that Bridges would be one of those stars, they added an incredibly valuable piece in the unprotected first that can help acquire a star. Either via trade or in a future draft. And they got their 1B on top of it.

Some very smart NBA people even believe that Smith is a better prospect than Bridges. Only time will tell on those two players. But the Sixers did what they believed put them in the best position to land a star.

Isn't that what the Process is all about anyway?

"I'm here to win a championship," Brown said at the introductory press conference for Smith Friday morning.

They pulled off this trade because they believe it helps them get closer to a championship. At the end of the day, are you worried more about one family's feelings or the Sixers winning a championship?

If you watched Bridges speak to the Phoenix media following the trade, he'll be just fine growing alongside Deandre Ayton. That kid is a pro. And the Sixers put them in the position they believe best sets them up to land a star.

Now they just need to go out and do it.

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