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Doug Pederson’s run-pass ratio wasn’t the problem against the Dolphins

Should Miles Sanders have gotten more carries? Probably not.

Philadelphia Eagles v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

There are lots of things to be mad about after yesterday’s 37-31 loss to the formerly 2-9 Dolphins in Miami, but the attention being focused on Doug Pederson’s run-pass ratio shouldn’t be one of them.

There’s no doubt Pederson has allowed himself to get away from the running game in recent weeks, specifically against Seattle and New England, both tight affairs in which the defense was shutting down established quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Tom Brady.

Against the Patriots, the Eagles threw it 40 times and ran it 21, however, it’s fair to note New England, whose passing offense is only slightly better than Philadelphia’s, threw it 48 times and ran it just 22. And that was with a lead for most of the game. The Seahawks were much more balanced as you might expect, attempting 25 passes against 26 runs. The Eagles, meanwhile, chucked it up 45 times and ran it just 23, despite a 4.6 yard-per-carry average.

Both games were close and, if you go through the play-by-play logs of each, you’ll see instances where Pederson ran the ball on 1st and 2nd downs. In those early downs, he mixed it up well, but on third down, the run game was virtually non-existent.

That’s understandable on 3rd & long, which is about six yards or more to go for the first. Against New England, the Eagles unsurprisingly passed on all eight of their third and longs, but they also passed on their other four third down plays — two 3rd & 2s, and two 3rd & 5s. Not a single run play on third down. Against Seattle, the Eagles had five third and longs and passed on all but one of them (the only run being on a 3rd & 14 deep in their own territory on the final play before halftime). However, they had eight third downs of less than six yards and ran the ball just twice. They converted on a 3rd & 1 in the first quarter and failed to convert on another 3rd & 1 in the fourth quarter. They passed on a 3rd & 2, a 3rd & 3, a 3rd & 4, and two 3rd & 5s.

An argument could be made that some additional rushing attempts on those third downs might have kept New England on their heels, but one also must take into consideration what kind of defense Carson Wentz was facing.

Clearly, the Eagles were pass-heavy in these two low-scoring games and they could have run the ball more. Would having Jordan Howard around convinced Pederson to run it a bit more? Maybe. Would it have changed the outcome of either game? Hard to say, but let’s discuss yesterday’s game against Miami and start with the premise that whatever Doug Pederson did through their first possession of the third quarter was just fine. They had built up a 28-14 lead and, in the very recent past, that kind of offensive production has been more than enough to bank a victory against a bad opponent.

So I’m not even looking at the distribution of run vs. pass up to that point. If they threw on every down it didn’t matter because the offense had put up 28 points and had five scoring drives in all. Despite missing some plays, the offense was having a much better day.

That’s when Jim Schwartz’ defense melted like microwaved butter. They allowed a six-play, 75 yard drive that only took 2:59 off the clock and made it a 28-20 game. When the offense got the ball back, they started on their own 25 with 8:45 left in the third quarter.

As you can see, they ran Miles Sanders on 2nd and 1 and got an 8-yard play and first down. On the next play, Carson Wentz hit Dallas Goedert for a big gain, then Alshon Jeffery hauled in an 11-yard grab and suddenly the Eagles had 1st and 10 at the Dolphins’ 23. They ran Sanders for a three-yard gain to make it 2nd & 7.

Folks, you don’t want your offensive playcaller drawing up running plays on 2nd and long.

Pederson listened to the analytics here and Wentz threw a strike to Zach Ertz that Ertz dropped at the five yard line. It was a killer physical error and led to another physical error that resulted in a 10-yard sack that forced the Eagles into a long field goal, which Jake Elliott missed.

A dropped pass, sack and a missed field goal were the culprits that drive, not a lack of commitment to the run.

After that, the Dolphins went right back down the field and scored easily on a six-play, 61-yard drive that pulled them to within 28-26. Now, the offense realized the defense wasn’t going to put this team away. They were going to have to keep scoring and, in my eyes, everyone started to clench up a bit.

You could argue the Eagles should have run the ball on 1st down here, but instead, Wentz threw incomplete short to Jeffery. So Doug did what we said he shouldn’t do and ran the ball on 2nd & 10, but still got five yards out of it. That set up a third & 5 that led to a deep ball to Jeffery that resulted in a pass interference call. Now, at midfield, another Wentz pass to a wide open Jeffery was overthrown and incomplete.

That first down could have been a running play, too and if you think Doug should have run it there, I won’t argue. But on 2nd & 10, he certainly wasn’t going to run it and, instead, tried a pass to Sanders that went four yards backwards. Now, with a 3rd & 14, a long pass to Jeffery fell incomplete and the Birds had to punt.

The defense continued their implosion, allowing an astonishing 9-play, 96 yard drive (a drive that averaged 10.67 yards per play) that gave Miami a 34-28 lead. But there was still 11:06 left in the game, plenty of time for the Eagles to “establish the run” and put together a long, time consuming drive that would give the defense some rest.

Pederson attempted to do that, running Sanders off right tackle for four yards, setting up 2nd & 6. Should they have run again? Maybe, but a two-yard pass to Sanders gave the Eagles a makeable third and short. Instead of looking for five yards and a first down, Wentz threw a questionable “50-50” ball to Jeffery (although with Alshon it’s more like a 20-80 ball at this point) and the Eagles had to punt.

Again, not running the ball wasn’t the issue. Poor play design and execution was.

After that, the Dolphins kicked the field goal that put them up by two scores, forcing the Eagles to pass for the entirety of their final two possessions.

Look, Doug Pederson is not having a banner year and no one on the team has a clear explanation for what’s happening, other than they’re all playing bad.

There is certainly a lot to criticize about a coach whose team has a 5-7 record after starting the season with Super Bowl aspirations. But if you’re talking about Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins specifically, the run-pass ratio narrative is one that should be shelved for another week.