Three Philadelphia Eagles Numbers That Matter

Ryan Mathews' struggles, Washington's weakness, and more.

Ryan Mathews. (USA Today Sports)

Ryan Mathews. (USA Today Sports)

With Week 5 of the 2016 NFL season in the books, here’s a look at three Eagles numbers that matter. The main focus this week involves Philadelphia’s rushing attack.
3.3 – The amount of yards per carry Ryan Mathews is averaging through the first four games of the 2016 season. Among qualified NFL running backs, Mathews ranks 34th out of 39 in this category. Now compare his stats to other Eagles rushers.

Ryan Mathews – 44 attempt for 146 yards, 3.3 average, 3 TD, 1 fumble, 8 first downs

Darren Sproles – 24 attempts for 96 yards, 4.0 average, 5 first downs

Wendell Smallwood – 20 attempts for 96 yards, 4.8 average, 1 TD, 7 first downs

Kenjon Barner – 14 attempts for 86 yards, 6.1 average, 1 TD, 6 first downs

Mathews’ has clearly been Philadelphia’s least efficient rusher by a significant margin. He hasn’t been very explosive.

The 29-year-old running back’s struggles aren’t limited to this year, either. Take a look at Mathews’ splits since he suffered a head injury last season.

It’s also worth noting Mathews had surgery on a groin injury he suffered in 2015. Mathews began 2016 training camp on the non-football injury list due to an ankle issue. That same injury flared up and forced the Birds to limit his touches in Week 3 against the Steelers. Mathews has been listed on the injury report a whopping 54 times since he was drafted in 2010, so injury issues are a constant concern with him.

Mathews’ late-game fumble in the Lions matchup is obviously a big reason why Philadelphia suffered their first loss of the year. Despite his struggles, however, Doug Pederson said the Eagles will stick with Mathews as a lead back.

“Yeah, you know, Ryan and Darren, as I’ve said before, are the two primary guys,” said Pederson on Monday. “Wendell had a role against the Steelers, obviously, when Ryan was out, and we were able to pick up sort of the slack there. I think Kenjon is the same way. When we get opportunities to put them in the game, we will. But going forward it’s Ryan and Darren, and we’ll spell those other two guys when we need to.”

The feeling here is the Eagles are making a mistake by being so committed to Mathews. As previously stated, the suggestion isn’t for the Eagles to bench him entirely. Rather, the Eagles should look to decrease his touches to some extent while getting Smallwood and Barner more involved in the offensive game-plan.

For what it’s worth, Pederson did say on Wednesday he would like to use Smallwood and Barner a little bit more this week. Both players failed to register a carry in Week 5. We’ll see if that changes this Sunday.

5.1 – The average opponent yards per rushing attempt Washington has allowed this season. The Redskins’ run defense ranks dead last in the NFL by this metric. Football Outsiders also has Washington’s run defense ranked 32nd in terms of DVOA.

The Eagles should look to exploit this weakness on Sunday. Philadelphia already ranks fifth in rush attempts per game (29.2) so there’s a good chance they will. The Birds are averaging 4.1 yards per rush attempt, which ranks 13th best in the league. Maybe Mathews can even find a way to bounce back against Washington. Poor tackling has been a big issue for Jay Gruden’s team.

Then again, it remains to be seen how the Eagles’ run game holds up in the absence of Lane Johnson. The Eagles’ starting right tackle had been playing very well prior to his 10-game suspension, which became official on Tuesday. Now it’s up to rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai to replace him. The 2016 fifth round pick has never played a regular NFL season snap before so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him struggle. Vaitai has a very tough draw this week in going up against Ryan Kerrigan.

How Vaitai holds up in pass protection will also be key. Part of the reason why Carson Wentz is off to such a strong start is due to the great blocking he’s had. If the Eagles can give Wentz enough time, he should be able to have success against Washington’s average pass defense. The Redskins rank 16th in pass defense DVOA and 13th in opponent yards per pass attempt.

63.6% – The Eagles have the toughest remaining strength of schedule in their final 12 games, per Blogging The Boys. Here’s a quick snapshot of their remaining slate.

Week 6 – at Washington Redskins 3-2 (-7)
Week 7 – Minnesota Vikings 5-0 (+56)
Week 8 – at Dallas Cowboys 4-1 (+38)
Week 9 – at New York Giants 2-3 (-19)
Week 10 – Atlanta Falcons 4-1 (+35)
Week 11 – at Seattle Seahawks 3-1 (+25)
Week 12 – Green Bay Packers 3-1 (+15)
Week 13 – at Cincinnati Bengals 2-3 (-18)
Week 14 – Washington Redskins 3-2 (-7)
Week 15 – Baltimore Ravens 3-2 (+6)
Week 16 – New York Giants 2-3 (-19)
Week 17 – Dallas Cowboys 4-1 (+38)

The Eagles are off to a good start at 3-1. They’re a one-point loss to the Lions away from being 4-0. While the early cushion is nice, the Eagles still have a lot to prove over this upcoming stretch. It’s not going to be easy. The Eagles face a lot of tough opponents. Five of their next eight games are on the road.

The good news for the Eagles is that the rest of their division rivals will have to face a lot of the same opponents. So it’s not just the Birds who will have a rough stretch. It goes without saying that taking care of business within the division is critical. Take a look at the current NFC East standings.

1 – Cowboys 4-1
2 – Eagles 3-1
3 – Washington 3-2
4 – Giants 2-3

The Cowboys are on the road in Green Bay this week. The Packers’ top-ranked run defense should provide a good test for Dallas. The Giants, meanwhile, have a home game against the 3-2 Ravens. All of Baltimore’s games have been one-possession affairs this season.

And then there’s the Eagles-Redskins game. Philadelphia has a big opportunity to put the disappointing Detroit loss behind them by defeating Washington. 4-1 with a 1-0 record in the division would be a very nice start to the 2016 season.