“The Eagles need to run the football to make the playoffs. It’s that simple.”
Maybe some home cooking will do the trick. Maybe playing at Lincoln Financial Field after two road games to open the regular season will cure what is ailing the Eagles’ running game, which has not been anything close to a strong point in the team’s 1–1 start.
An offense that received a transfusion of talent in the offseason as the Eagles signed wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and running back LeGarrette Blount figured to be off and, well, running from the jump this season. Instead, the Eagles have been off-kilter in their run/pass ratio and have relied on quarterback Carson Wentz to carry things.
He’s done his best, throwing 85 passes, with 640 yards and four touchdowns in the two games. But 85 passes is too many, and Wentz’s 61 rushing yards, while not conjuring memories of Randall Cunningham, are enough to lead the team.
And that’s not a good thing.
“We pride ourselves on being able to run the football,” right tackle Lane Johnson said. “That’s something that every team needs in the NFL to win games. You have to be able to run the ball. We’re just having too many breakdowns. It’s never one guy. We’re not consistent. We know we need to be a whole lot better.”
So how do they do that? There is no magic-wand solution here, and there aren’t any Pro Bowl running backs available for the asking. And, the truth is, it’s not just a matter of subbing out the running backs, because while the group as a total — Blount, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement — aren’t putting up any substantive numbers, they aren’t getting help from the blocking execution.
Maybe it’s a mindset. Maybe head coach Doug Pederson needs to commit his play-calling to running the football, which is easier said than done with the formidable run defenses of the New York Giants and Los Angeles Chargers waiting. No doubt, though, that the Eagles need to be more physical up front and create some running lanes.
In the backfield, the Eagles need to establish roles. Who is the go-to running back? Who gets the football when the Eagles have a lead with four minutes remaining in the game and a three-point lead?
Blount was expected to be that back, but he went from 14 carries at Washington to zero at Kansas City. Sproles is a gamer and an all-time great, but he’s in his 13th season and not suited for such heavy duty. Smallwood, in his second season, has not yet taken the next step that everyone anticipated.
How about Clement, the rookie from Wisconsin who had such a strong preseason?
“We’re going to get the running game going. I have a lot of confidence,” Wentz said. “It’s just taking some time. We’ve played two good defenses. We will get on track.”
As soon as possible, please. Wentz has taken some big hits in two games. He’s on the road to greatness, but the second-year quarterback shouldn’t have to shoulder so much of the burden.
The Eagles need to run the football to make the playoffs. It’s that simple. The time is now to do the self-analysis and massage what needs to be fixed and get it right.