Eagles Wake-Up Call: Philadelphia Might Have A New Lead Running Back

The Eagles might be changing up their running back rotation.

Darren Sproles. (USA TODAY Sports)

Darren Sproles. (USA TODAY Sports)

The Eagles might have a new lead running back.

Ryan Mathews only recorded four carries against the Cowboys on Sunday evening. His first rushing attempt of the game came with 8:46 remaining in the second quarter. It was Philadelphia’s fourth drive of the night.

Mathews’ absence was especially notable given his fumble near the end of the Eagles-Vikings game in Week 7. The fumble didn’t have an impact on the outcome of the game, but his fumble against the Lions in Week 5 clearly blew a game the Eagles would have otherwise won.

It could be assumed, then, the Eagles benched Mathews due to his mistakes. But Doug Pederson insisted that’s not the case.

“It wasn’t a reaction,” said Pederson. “I just think that Darren [Sproles] had the hot hand yesterday. Darren was playing outstanding, and he was doing some great things out there. So, [we] just wanted to keep Darren in the game.”

Sproles definitely did have a good game against Dallas. The veteran running back gained 86 yards on 15 carries along with 17 receiving yards on five catches. Sproles was by far and away Philadelphia’s best offensive weapon on Sunday evening.

Moving forward, though, it will be interesting to see if the Eagles continue to ride with Sproles. Pederson has been vocally committed to Mathews as a lead back in the past, but it seems his tune might be changing a little.

“I can’t say that 100 percent,” said Pederson when asked if Sproles is going to be the Eagles’ lead back from here on out. “It’s something we’ll evaluate in these next couple of days and make that determination. But until then, it’s still Ryan Mathews and then Darren in those situations. And then we’ve got to get Wendell [Smallwood] and Kenjon [Barner] going a little bit too.”

Sproles has never been a true lead back before. The most attempts per game he’s ever averaged in a single season is 5.8, and that was seven years ago. He only averaged 3.7 yards per attempt that season. Sproles’ second most rushing attempts per game in a season was last year when he had 5.2. Sproles only averaged 3.8 yards per attempt.

In other words, Sproles hasn’t been an efficient runner when his workload was increased.

Sproles is currently averaging 6.6 carries with the Eagles through seven games this year. He’s averaging 5.0 yards per carry, so he’s been able to maintain a very good efficiency.

One can wonder if Sproles will continue to be as useful as the season goes on. Sproles turns 34 after this season. Is Pederson worried about the impact Sproles’ workload could have on the veteran’s body?

“Well, I mean, no,” said the Eagles’ head coach. “I definitely think he’s capable. I think you don’t want to give him any more than what he got yesterday, with his role on special teams and all that, too.”

“If you know Darren like I know Darren, the way he works during the week and the way he prepares himself and prepares his body and mind, he’s definitely capable of handling that type of load.”

Sproles’ success doesn’t give the Eagles much choice but to continue to lean on him. It’s not like any other offensive players have proven to be a consistent (or even occasional) threat.

It’s also difficult for the Eagles to rely on Mathews as much as they had been earlier in this season. Not only are his fumbles an issue, but he’s only averaging 3.8 yards per carry on just over 10 attempts per game.

Much like their wide receiver corps, the Eagles’ running back group is far from ideal. Philadelphia will have to deal with their lack of talent in the meantime, however, and hope to make upgrades in the offseason.


Wide receiver Josh Huff was arrested Tuesday morning for speeding with possession of marijuana and a gun.

Where do the Eagles stand in this week’s Power Rankings?

The Eagles didn’t make any moves at the NFL Trade Deadline, but there were six moves that seemed like possibilities.

“I think we have a good feel for who we are and what we’re trying to get done in these games.” Doug Pederson says the Eagles are still working on a winning formula midway through the season.


Carson Wentz has become afraid to throw the deep ball in some situations, opines Jeff McLane of the Inquirer.

Open can be a subjective term as it relates to some receivers. Good receivers, as the saying goes, are never covered. But Wentz has become increasingly gun shy when it comes to targeting his receivers deep and certainly when they have been covered deep.

“Dallas . . . played a little bit more two deep against us than what we’ve seen in previous weeks,” Pederson said on Monday after the Eagles lost to the Cowboys, 29-23, in overtime. “I thought that Carson was very efficient with the throws he did make. . . . There were some situations there.”

A week after Wentz took some criticism for being too much of a gunslinger, he attempted only one pass more than 15 yards, when receiver Jordan Matthews dropped what would have been a 16-yard completion. Overall, he was 32 of 42 for 202 yards and averaged 4.7 yards per pass attempt. The current NFL average is 7.0 yards per attempt.

 “We had some shots called,” Wentz said after the game, “and I just had to check down because that’s what they gave us.”

PhillyVoice’s Jimmy Kempski takes an early look at some of the team’s offseason needs.

1) Offensive tackle

Jason Peters will turn 35 in January, and this could be his last season in the NFL. Whenever Peters decides to call it a career, Lane Johnson will take over at left tackle. Johnson, of course, would face a minimum two-year suspension with a third failed test for performance-enhancing drugs, which has to remain in the back of the minds of the Eagles’ front office.

With Johnson currently serving his 10-game suspension, Halapoulivaati Vaitai has filled in at right tackle. Vaitai’s first performance of the season against the Redskins was obviously bad. In his second game against the Vikings, Vaitai’s name wasn’t called often, which some perceived to be a good sign. After reviewing his game film, while improved, it was once again an unimpressive performance. Vaitai will have a chance to prove his NFL worthiness over the next seven games. On the initial eye test, however, the sentiment here is that the Eagles should strive to significantly upgrade there. In my view, Vaitai is not quite ready, and I don’t see a high ceiling if and when he does develop into a legitimate NFL starter.

First and foremost, the Eagles must protect Carson Wentz. Just as importantly, they need a pair of offensive tackles who can handle the edges on their own without any help. This is a dumbed-down statement, but when you’re giving help to one of your offensive linemen on nearly every play, you’re playing 10 on 11 football in the passing game. Having a good pair of tackles opens up the playbook and what the Eagles can do offensively. A pair of quality bookends will make every player on the offense look better.

3) Cornerback

The Eagles’ current cornerbacks aren’t bad. They have a pair of No. 2 type of corners, who are competent, but not special. What they don’t have is a corner who can take on star receivers, like Dez Bryant or Odell Beckham Jr.


Doug Pederson will address the media at 10:50.

Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.