Have you noticed a recent trend? A lot of Eagles fans have. The Eagles started the season 3-0, and through the first six games of the season they were 4-2. Carson Wentz looked good and sharp, probably in part because opposing defenses didn’t have much tape on what he could do in a pro offense.
But it also probably helped that Wentz was averaging just barely 30 pass attempts per game. With a well-functioning defense, and a head coach who understood how to preserve leads, the Eagles were running the ball 27.3 times per game, compared to 30.8 passing attempts per game from Wentz.
In the past six games, however, things have come off the rails.
Carson Wentz’s first six games: 185 pass attempts— Adam Hermann (@adamwhermann) December 4, 2016
Carson Wentz’s last six games: 267 pass attempts
Wentz — remember, he’s a rookie — is averaging 44.5 pass attempts per game, throwing to a wide receiver corps that on Sunday included two undrafted free agents and two severely underperforming second-year wide receivers, behind an offensive line missing its starting and backup right tackles.
In those same six games, the Eagles have run the ball 25 times per game, but in the last two outings, both hideous losses, they’ve run the ball just 39 times total.
Entering Week 13, the Eagles were a Top 10 team in rushing yards. It’s been rocky at the running back position, and on the offensive line, this year, but Doug Pederson had Carson Wentz throw the ball 60 times against the Bengals.
That’s an unacceptable number.
Run the ball more, Doug; everyone else does
As I said, heading into Week 13, the Eagles ranked eighth in rushing yards. Their rushing play percentage — that is, the percentage of their total offensive plays that were run plays — ranked 11th in the league at 42.8%.
Let’s take a look at the 10 teams who were ahead of the Eagles:
1. Dallas: 52%; 2nd in rushing yards
2. Buffalo: 50.6%; 1st in rushing yards
3. Titans: 48.3%; 3rd in rushing yards
4. 49ers: 49.9%; 4th in rushing yards
5. Patriots: 46.2%; 7th in rushing yards
6. Dolphins: 45%; 6th in rushing yards
7. Broncos: 44%; 19th in rushing yards
8. Panthers: 43.9%; 13th in rushing yards
9. Texans: 43.7%; 5th in rushing yards
10. Bucs: 43.5%; 16th in rushing yards
The combined record of those 10 teams, heading into Week 13? A very solid 66-49, or a winning percentage of .573.
Now, yes, there is the obvious chicken-and-egg approach to be taken when talking about teams who run the ball a lot. Teams with an offense that can score fast and early in the game, and a defense that can get a few big stops, will be more likely to run the ball in the second half to protect that lead.
However, if you look at teams like the Titans — a team with a young quarterback and only six wins in 12 tries this season — you’ll see the kind of balance the Eagles should be striving for. It helps that their quarterback can run the ball, but hey, so can the Eagles’ QB, right? Marcus Mariota has only thrown the ball 40 times twice this season.
(Don’t ask yourself who Mariota’s running back is. It’ll only make you sad.)
Doug Pederson, for Carson Wentz’s sake, needs to take a few steps back and run the ball with more consistency. A 10-point deficit isn’t the end of the world. Take a deep breath and run the ball. The Eagles should be Top 10 in the league in rushing play percentage. If not, Pederson isn’t doing his job.
Consistency sure would be nice
Now, one saving grace for Doug Pederson is the fact that he hasn’t had a consistent lead running back this season. Ryan Mathews is injured every other week, leaving who the team’s lead running back will be each week anyone’s guess. It makes it hard to build continuity with an offensive line, quarterback, and play caller when Mathews is so infrequently available.
For comparison: the top six teams in the league in rushing play percentage entering Week 13 have a running back with at least 170 carries and at least 680 yards. The Eagles, for comparison, have Ryan Mathews, who has 102 carries for 427 yards this year. He’s been productive enough when healthy this season, but he simply hasn’t been healthy enough to do much of anything consistently.
Even the Denver Broncos, who ranked seventh in run play percentage and a surprisingly low 19th in rushing yards, have TWO running backs with more carries and yards than Ryan Mathews. And that’s a team who lost C.J. Anderson to injury after Week 7.
So, yes, here Doug Pederson has at least one skeleton of a reason to not run as much as he should be. He doesn’t have a bell cow runner in Darren Sproles, a 33-year-old scat back who’s more dangerous catching the ball, or Wendell Smallwood, an undersized rookie who isn’t physical enough off the line to be a lead running back.
Still: run the dang ball, Doug. Wentz is a rookie. The Eagles are not competing for the Super Bowl. Losing games isn’t a big deal, but losing games in which your rookie quarterback throws 60 passes and still loses by 18 points is. That’s bad game managing, and bad coaching.
Run the ball.