Wake-Up Call: Darren Sproles Is the Eagles’ New No. 1 Back
Doug Pederson wasn’t willing to say it after the Eagles-Cowboys game, but now that two weeks have passed, he admitted Monday afternoon something that has become obvious: Darren Sproles has replaced Ryan Mathews at the top of the Eagles’ running back depth chart.
“I would say that Darren is the No. 1 back right now,” Pederson said. “Ryan is still a big part [of the offense]; you saw the touchdown run that he had yesterday. Kenjon [Barner] had a nice run. Wendell [Smallwood] had a nice run. So it’s still a little bit of the running back by committee. Obviously, we haven’t hung our hat on one guy, but we tend to lean more towards Darren Sproles. It’s hard to take him off the field right now.”
For the second consecutive week, Sproles played the vast majority of the snaps, as he totaled 80 percent of the offense’s plays in the Eagles’ 28-23 loss to the Giants. Mathews, meanwhile, has been on the field for only 16 snaps in the last two games combined, compared to Sproles’ 123.
The 33-year-old has made the most of his increased playing time by running 28 times for 143 yards in the last two games, averaging more than five yards per carry. Against the Giants, 33 of Sproles’ 57 rushing yards came after contact as he forced four missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. Pederson noted Sproles’ recent productivity and Mathews’ tooth injury as the reason for the changed depth chart.
“(Mathews) had that infected tooth in that Dallas game and his cheek got swollen,” Pederson said. “Those are painful things to put a helmet on, and around your cheek and all that kind of stuff. Darren was obviously the hot hand at the time, and [we] just kept feeding Darren, keeping him going and same thing this week.”
Through eight games, Mathews has averaged just 3.8 yards per run. However, Barner averages 5.2 yards on 20 carries, Sproles averages 4.8 yards on 59 carries and Smallwood averages 4.4 yards on 31 carries.
Because the Birds are concerned about overloading Sproles and they like what they’ve seen from Barner and Smallwood, Pederson added that the young running backs could also see an increase in their playing time. Pederson expressed a desire to run the ball more, too, as they average about 35 pass attempts and 27 rushes per game.
“There is [a temptation to play Smallwood more]. You get to that point where you definitely want to see it,” Pederson said. “It’s hard, because you got Ryan sitting there. Obviously, Sproles, we’ve given him the ball the last couple of games, and Wendell, obviously, and Kenjon are special teams players who have those back-up roles on offense.
“A lot of times, the temptation is, yeah, you definitely want to see your young players perform and put them in those situations and see what they can do. Hopefully now this second half of the season, we’ll get a chance to do that a little bit more.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
“I’m going to learn from it. I’m going to get back. I’m going to get better.” NFC East Roundup.
“There were enough things in this game that cost us this football game, but I still stick by what I did.” Doug Pederson defends his play-calling in Sunday’s 28-23 loss to the Giants.
Former Eagles wide receiver Josh Huff was signed to the Buccaneers practice squad.
“We got to come out with that same drive, that same attention to detail and that ‘Got to have it’ mentality.” Yet again, the Eagles failed to win the game on a late offensive drive.
“I’m going to continue to stay aggressive that way, trust in the guys, and let our guys play.” Pederson will also continue to be aggressive on fourth down.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Is Carson Wentz doing too much? The Inquirer’s Jeff McLane thinks so.
Wentz said after the game that he probably would have made the same decisions on those attempts. The throws just needed to be better. When he has missed receivers – dating all the way back to the spring – the passes have tended to sail high. The Eagles altered his footwork and the way he carried the ball during the offseason, but Pederson said mechanics weren’t the problem.
If there has been an overarching issue, it’s that Wentz has sometimes tried to do too much. It could be said that he has stretched his limits to compensate for the rest of the offense. And it could also be alleged that he has forced plays because Pederson has asked too much of him.
Plays that give Wentz the option to run have been part of the offense since Game 1, but he has increasingly kept the ball. The results haven’t been as fruitful as they were initially. Wentz ran four times on Sunday and lost a total of 4 yards.
“We ask Carson to do a lot with [run-pass option] things, with the read options, making some checks there,” Pederson said. “So, I think going forward, yeah, probably should rely on [running backs] just a little bit more.”
Washington defensive tackle Chris Baker believes the referees missed a roughing the passer call on Wentz on Sunday.
Players make a mistake we get fined refs make a mistake you get a letter saying they sorry they missed a call smh
— Chris Baker (@cbakerswaggy) November 6, 2016
Malcolm Jenkins said the Eagles should be fine with kicking field goals and relying on their defense to win, reports the Inquirer’s Bob Ford.
Jenkins made a plea for pragmatism and common sense and it wasn’t a coincidence that the coaching staff was included in the audience. Study the Eagles and what do you see? Are there game-changing superstars at the skill positions? There are not. Are there shutdown defenders who don’t need the help of others? That would be a no. What you see is a decent football team that could be more, but only if it isn’t asked to play like a great one.
That’s a sobering bit of analysis to drop into a locker room after a tough loss – everyone wants to think his team is great – but it was accurate.
“When we take care of the football on offense, whether punting it or kicking field goals . . . just be patient, methodical with the football, not turning it over, and then have our defense be stingy like it has been, not making mistakes, not beating ourselves, and bank on the special teams to be devastating, that formula works for us,” Jenkins said.
The reference to kicking field goals was particularly pointed on an afternoon in which Doug Pederson turned his back on two of them and the team lost by five points. Maybe Jenkins didn’t mean for the connection to be quite that direct, but the inference is unavoidable.
We’ll have more from Sunday’s game.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.