There are football traditionalists – call us dinosaurs – who’ve spent years imploring Doug Pederson to, “Just run the damn ball.”
Sometimes the coach complies. Last season, behind Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount, the Eagles ranked third in the NFL with 132 rushing yards per game. As you may recall, they also won the Super Bowl.
These days, Ajayi and Blount are gone. And before Sunday’s game against the Giants, the Birds averaged a lowly 98 rushing yards per game – 25th in the league. Not coincidentally, they were 4-6.
As Sunday’s game unfolded, it looked like more of the same. Eleven of the Eagles first 17 plays were designed passes. And they fell behind 19-3.
Well, right around that point, Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks and a few linemates approached Pederson on the sideline.
“We said, ‘Doug, put it on us,'” Brooks recounted after the game. “‘Let’s just run the ball.'”
To Pederson’s credit, he listened. And by game’s end, he got 27 fumble-free carries for 129 yards from his running backs, Josh Adams and Corey Clement.
The in-game strategy shift made perfect sense. Given the Eagles injuries in the secondary, shortening the game by running the ball proved a great boost to the defense. It helped the Eagles offensive line, which has struggled to pass protect. And it was a boon to quarterback Carson Wentz, who – let’s be honest – hasn’t played at peak form the last few games.
After the 25-22 win, Pederson insisted that running the ball was his intended approach from the start.
“I knew going in we were going to have to control the ball,” he said. “I just wanted to help out those young guys on defense, quite frankly.”
I’d praise Doug more here if he had seemed less intent on forcing the pass in the first quarter. But, regardless, he eventually found the winning formula.
He also may have found a new lead running back. Josh Adams is a terrific story. Undrafted out of Notre Dame because of a foot injury, Adams began this season on the practice squad. He finally got his chance when Ajayi and Darren Sproles went down and is averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
On Sunday, he became a workhorse for the first time, rushing for 84 yards on 22 carries – not including a 52-yard touchdown sprint up the middle that got called back because of a Jason Kelce hold. Adams muscled in another one-yard touchdown and also ran in a two-point conversion.
Now, of course, the question becomes whether Pederson sticks with him. The record shows the Eagles have averaged 127 rushing yards in their five wins this season, and just 79 in their six losses. Obviously, other factors are at play that impacts those stats, but here’s hoping the coach remembers what kept playoff hopes alive against the 3-8 Giants.
So it’s on to hosting Washington at Lincoln Financial Field next Monday night. The Skins have lost three of their last four, as well as starting quarterback Alex Smith. Their hopes rest on Colt McCoy, a 32-year-old journeyman with a mediocre career QB rating of 78.6. Oh, and they like to run the ball a lot through a resurgent Adrian Peterson. Imagine that.
I’m not going to look beyond that game and forecast an Eagles return to the playoffs. This season has been too up-and-down to expect any contest to be easy.
But they’re alive. And running the ball proved a great tonic Sunday. Here’s hoping Pederson keeps listening to his offensive lineman moving ahead.