Birdfeed: Vol. 23.8; Run Game Walking

Despite an NFL best 7-1 record, the Eagles are missing something of late. Time to bring back the ground and pound.

The Eagles defense was the biggest issue last weekend. Unfortunately, my NFL+ wasn’t working this week, so I was unable to confirm what the exact issue was against Washington. However, if I had to guess, it was a combination of little pressure and a secondary that is still figuring each other out, especially at safety. Kevin Byard just showed up last Wednesday. It was only Sydney Brown’s second game in a month. Reed Blankenship was injured last week and returned to play with a guy he barely played with early in the season and another guy he never played with before. While not acceptable, the struggles on the back end were somewhat understandable. I’m sure (or at least hope) that will improve over the coming weeks as the roster settles. For now, let’s raise the worry alarm for the running game.

After garnering only one touch in Week 1 against New England, D’Andre Swift racked up 75 rushes and 431 yards over the next four weeks. The Eagles ground game was churning out rushes at 4.6 yards per carry at that time and totaling 164 rushing yards per game. Good enough for 2nd in the NFL. Fast forward to today. Over the last three weeks, Swift’s numbers have plummeted to 41 carries and 137 yards. The Eagles yards per rush is down half a yard to 4.1 and the team averages 132 rushing yards per game, dropping them to 7th.

First of all, I get it, 7th is still really good. However, the Eagles are not bullying opponents via the ground game lately. Against the Jets, Philadelphia had three separate opportunities in the 4th quarter for one of their classic “we’re better than you” run the ball down your throat drives to clinch the game. Instead, the Eagles committed two turnovers and missed a field goal. The run game is this team’s knockout blow.

I’m not going to consider how good opposing defenses were against the rush because it really never mattered before. This Eagles team has been good enough over the past two seasons to run the ball whenever they wanted against whomever they wanted. The passing game was a mess in the NFC Championship game, so the Eagles pounded the NFL’s 2nd best run defense into the ground. It’s only November. There is time to get it back on track, but this isn’t the same team if they can’t ground and pound.

While we’re here… are we sure Rashaad Penny can’t be of any assistance? Penny is a 5’11, 220 pound battering ram. His career rushing average is well over 5.5. Do the Eagles really need both Kenny Gainwell AND Boston Scott in uniform? Don’t get me wrong, they are both talented and contribute to the offense, but there is some redundancy there. Did I mention both are at least three inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than Penny?

The other possible explanation for the Eagles run game decline could be the Cam Jurgens injury. It’s probably not a coincidence that since Jurgens went down a month ago the run game went down with him. I still think the offensive line is good enough to overcome such an injury, but it’s likely a contributing factor. Guards are the lifeblood of a great ground game.

Finally, Jalen Hurts is clearly injured and the Dallas Cowboys are coming to town. Dallas’ pass rush is a bit overrated as a unit, but Micah Parsons is not. The defense, as a whole, has also been great against the pass, allowing the 4th fewest passing yards per game. Let’s go over that again… Injured Hurts. Elite Parsons. Very good pass defense.

That’s right… the Eagles need the running game Sunday. Can they win without it? Probably. They’ve found ways to win despite a plethora of issues thus far. Last week they beat Washington despite two fumbles inside the five. The margin for error will be much lower this week. Thus, the run game must produce to protect Hurts, slow the pass rush and even protect a vulnerable secondary that’s still working its way through the gelling process.


Thursday Night Pick; Steelers -3

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