Eagles ground game paramount to 2019 success - Metro US

Eagles ground game paramount to 2019 success

Darren Sproles. (Photo: Getty Images)
Darren Sproles. (Photo: Getty Images)

This offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles made it a point of emphasis to address the running back position. This was one of the worst teams when it came to running the ball last year. 

They averaged 98.1 rushing yards per game and 3.1 yards per carry, ranking them 28th and 30th out of 32 NFL teams.

In addition to those horrific stats, the Eagles also lost Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, and Darren Sproles to various injuries throughout last season. The only healthy running backs they had on the roster were Josh Adams and Wendell Smallwood. 

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While Adams and Smallwood did their best to share the workload, the team was still missing a playmaker in the backfield. 

So general manager Howie Roseman traded a 2020 sixth-round draft pick to the Chicago Bears for Jordan Howard. Then a month later, he drafted former Penn State standout Miles Sanders in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

With the additions of Howard and Sanders, along with a healthy Corey Clement, and the re-signing Darren Sproles to a one-year deal, the Eagles seem to have one of the better running-back committees in the NFL.

However, that was not the case to start the regular season on Sunday against the Washington Redskins. Philadelphia’s rushing attack could not get going as Washington held them to just 22 yards on nine carries.

At the half, the team’s leading rusher was Howard, who had 12 yards on two carries. Sproles had eight yards on three carries, while Sanders did not have a single yard on three carries.

With that being known, one could make the case that Washington’s front seven did a great job of containing the Eagles’ trio of running backs. Every time Sproles or Sanders carried the football, a Washington defender was there waiting for them.

However, that changed in the second half, as the Eagles put together a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open up the third quarter.

Out of those 12 plays, nine of them were designed runs which went to Howard, Sanders and Sproles.

With the running game getting on track, it immediately opened up things for quarterback Carson Wentz and the receivers.

“We’re going to keep going after you,” Sproles said via the team’s website. “We have a lot of weapons here. We spread it around and keep a defense off balance. You don’t know what’s coming next.”

Sproles was the game’s leading rusher with 47 yards on nine carries (5.2 YPC). He also had three receptions for 16 yards. 

Howard finished second in rushing behind Sproles, despite only playing 17 snaps in the regular-season opener. The 24-year-old had 44 rushing yards on six carries (7.3 YPC), along with two receptions for 11 yards. 

Lastly, Sanders, who led all the running backs in snaps with 36, had a quiet 25 yards (2.3 YPC) on 11 carries. In total, the Eagles racked up 123 rushing yards on 31 carries en route to a 32-27 comeback victory.

The Eagles saw what happens when you stick to the running game and allow each running back to get into a rhythm. The offense took flight and imposed their will on the Redskins’ defense.

The Eagles will need to do the same thing next week when they play the Atlanta Falcons (0-1) on Sunday Night Football.

The Falcons are coming off a 16-point road loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, which saw their defense give up 172 rushing yards to Dalvin Cook (111 yards) and rookie Alex Mattison (49 yards).

Therefore, expect the Falcons to try and make the Eagles’ offense one-dimensional, which will be a tough task. On Sunday afternoon, we saw how explosive Philly’s air attack can be when Wentz is in a rhythm and hitting his wide receivers in stride.

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