Carson Wentz is being asked to do too much, and that’s because the Eagles running game isn’t being asked to do enough.
In two weeks — in a win and Sunday’s loss in which they were tied halfway through the fourth quarter — head coach Doug Pederson put the ball in Wentz’s hands 101 times and has called just 33 handoffs. Without a more balanced offense, defenses can go after Wentz on virtually every play. Without some semblance of a run game, there’s no way Wentz will survive the season.
The run game is terrible, granted, and while the offensive line has struggled to create holes for backs that have been disappointingly slow to hit them, it’s hard to blame the players when the sample size is so small. This is on the guy who calls the plays. This is on Pederson.
Through two games the Eagles are fifth in the NFL in yards per game, but 19th in rushing yards. Take away the 61 yards by Wentz on the ground — he had 55 key yards Sunday, leading the team in rushing — and the Eagles’ three running backs have a total of 104 yards this season.
Much of the focus after Sunday’s loss was on LeGarrette Blount, but it’s hard to blame the bruising back when he never got the ball. In Week 2 the Eagles ran the ball 17 times, with just 13 carries going to running backs. Blount had zero recorded carries. He did have a one-yard rush on the Eagles’ first drive that was negated by penalty, one play after he caught a pass for no gain. Those were the only two times Blount touched the football all game, as he was on the field for only six offensive snaps.
Wendell Smallwood, who had just three carries for four yards and one reception on two targets for negative three yards, was on the field for just 14 of the team’s 72 offensive plays.
Darren Sproles was on the field for 50 of the team’s offensive snaps, and led the Eagles running backs with 10 carries for 48 yards, catching two balls for an additional 30 yards.
Sure, Blount was brought in to carry the load when the Eagles needed a short-yardage first down and to push the ball into the end zone when they got near the goalline. But that never happened this Sunday. The Eagles were barely in the Chiefs’ red zone all game. The only time they crossed the 10-yard line was on the touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor in the waning seconds. Only two other times did the Eagles get closer than the Chiefs’ 19-yard line, one being the handoff to Blount that got negated by a holding call, while the other was a touchdown throw to Alshon Jeffery. Only two other red zone plays were runs, with handoffs to Sproles from the 19-yard line.
As for short-yardage plays, the Eagles had second-or-third down and five-or-fewer yards nine times. One was whistled dead for a false start, but of the other eight plays, seven were passes, with one a handoff to Sproles. Of the 15 first-and-10s in the first half, five were designed runs. Of the 20 in the second half, just three were handoffs.
What was Pederson’s reason for the Eagles wholly abandoning the run six days after telling us they pride themselves on doing it?
“It’s an area that we have to address, we have to fix, offensively,” Pederson said after Sunday’s loss. “Obviously I wasn’t pleased with how we ran the ball really the first two weeks. It’s not one individual, it’s a team effort, so we’ve got to fix that going forward.”
When pressed about not using Blount, Pederson stressed it was a team effort and that “it’s tough to always have to rely on the throw.”
But that’s the thing: The Eagles didn’t “have to rely” on the throw. They chose to.
On 72 offensive snaps, they handed the balls to backs just 13 times. Sproles averaged 4.8 yards per carry, a very solid average, but he got just three carries in the second half.
“I felt like we could do some things against the secondary of the Chiefs throwing the ball,” Pederson said. “Obviously you hope your run game is on track and on point. It wasn’t, so from that standpoint it was tough sledding later in the game when sometimes you want to rely on the run game.”
Again, if Pederson wanted to rely on the run game he should have. It wasn’t as if he tried Blount against the Chiefs a dozen times in the first half and it failed. He had one chance. Sproles, who fumbled earlier on a punt return, was serviceable when he had chances to run, but the only times he was targeted late in the game seemed to be on screen passes. Is Pederson that frustrated with his backs in practice that he’s predisposed to assume they’ll fail in the game and that’s why he’s not even giving them a chance to possibly succeed?
Maybe. But that logic is going to get his quarterback killed.
Blount was asked about his lack of touches Sunday and the veteran back was pretty cool about it, saying “it’s the way the game went. I can’t argue with how the game is going, the flow of the game. You just have to ride the wave and whenever your number is called, it’s called.”
So while much is being made about Blount, specifically, today — this is the part of this post where I eat crow while reminding everyone I wrote that Blount could turn the Eagles into a Super Bowl contender when he was signed — more needs to be made about the total abandonment of the run in the second half of games. Against Washington, Eagles backs carried the ball nine times in the second half. This week, again, it was nine times.
— John Clark CSN/NBC (@JClarkCSN) September 17, 2017
Pederson admitted after the Eagles beat Washington that the running game wasn’t good enough and vowed to work in practice and on film review to figure out the problem.
“Obviously at the end of the day, it’s not good enough,” Pederson said after the 30-17 victory. “The running game is not good enough. We pride ourselves on running the football here and we’ve got backs and linemen and tight ends, really, that can help us do that.”
But they don’t. In Week 1, remember, Eagles running backs carried the ball 20 times for 52 yards. Blount rushed 14 times for 46 yards, catching one pass for a touchdown. By comparison, Wentz attempted 39 passes, ran the ball four times himself and was sacked twice. This week he attempted 46 passes, ran four times and was sacked six times.
“We’re close.” Pederson said earlier in the week about the running game.
That’s a lie. The Eagles aren’t close at all. In fact, they seem to be getting further and further away.