Eagles Wake-Up Call: Ryan Mathews Rebounds In Philadelphia’s Victory
Ryan Mathews hadn’t been having a great season.
Prior to Week 10, the 29-year-old veteran running back was averaging 3.8 yards per carry. He only recorded nine total rushing attempts in Week 8 and Week 9 combined for a measly gain 25 yards. Darren Sproles had effectively replaced Mathews as the Eagles’ lead back.
And then Sunday happened. Mathews got going against the Falcons in a big way. He finished the game with 19 carries for 109 yards (5.7 average), two rushing touchdowns, and a two-point conversion in Philadelphia’s 24 to 15 victory over Atlanta.
The Eagles’ offensive line, despite being down two full-time starters, paved the way for Mathews’ success.
“My line played great today,” said Mathews. “You gotta give it to them. They really did all they can do to open up holes.”
At the same time, Mathews earned praise from his offensive line for making plays.
“Whenever you’re an offensive lineman and you run well, you feel great,” said Eagles center Jason Kelce. “Like I said, we had a great game plan coming in, and we showed success early on. We had the tendency to keep calling those plays. And the backs did a tremendous job. I think Ryan Mathews did a great job. Ran very hard, very explosive. He turned some things into plays when maybe nothing was there. So great job by him.”
The Eagles’ effectiveness in the run game was critical for an offense that lacks a lot of play-makers. It’s hard for Philadelphia to always rely on their passing attack given the fact Carson Wentz is a rookie and he doesn’t have a lot of receiving weapons to work with. Running the ball made life easier on him.
“The run game was huge today,” said Wentz. “I don’t know what the total yards were, I think it was over 200, which was big. It was good to get Mathews going again. Obviously he has had a couple down weeks but it was good to feed him the rock. And he was running angry. And then when the O-line is playing like that, it made my job easy I’ll tell you that much.”
As a former NFL quarterback, Doug Pederson also stressed the importance of having a strong rushing attack.
“Any time you can run the ball as effective as we did today, it’s going to help any quarterback,” Pederson said. “You know, it just opens up a little bit more of your offense and play-action pass, things like that. I give the credit to the offensive line. They really took the challenge to heart and did a great job up front, and the tight ends blocked well.
“Not only Ryan but Wendell [Smallwood] stepped in, did a nice job today and also Darren and then again Kenjon [Barner]. Kenjon was more on the kickoff returns. But any time you run the ball as effectively as we did, yeah, it definitely opens up more of your system.”
Though Atlanta’s defense doesn’t have a reputation for being great, their run defense had actually played well prior to this week. The Falcons were only giving up 91.2 rush yards per game, which was seventh best in the NFL. The Eagles ran for 208 yards on Sunday. That total was their most in a single game since beating the Cowboys on Thanksgiving in 2014.
Running the ball so well allowed the Eagles to control the clock yet again. Against the Falcons, the Eagles possessed the ball for 38:10. That left the Falcons with only 21:50 to work with. Philadelphia has been a ball-control offense for most of the season; the Birds rank first overall in average time of possession (33:04). Pederson explained keeping the ball away from the Falcons’ top-ranked offense was a priority.
“Well, listen, that’s an explosive offense on that side,” said Pederson. “Atlanta has a great offense, and I felt coming into this football game that we were going to have to possess the ball, and in order to do that, I thought that the running game was going to be a huge factor in this game. You know, they’ve got a good, young football team on defense, and they’re going to obviously win a lot of games this year.”
“But I just felt gut instinct, watching the film, knowing our guys, relying on our offensive line. Defense, as well as they played today, the run game was going to be a big part of my plan.”
Pederson also explained why the Eagles decided to go back to Mathews after not utilizing him so much in recent weeks.
“Just to keep you guys off balance,” Pederson joked with reporters. “You know what, I’ve always had confidence in Ryan Mathews. I think what you saw today is the guy that I kept seeing, the guy we all wanted to see, and I fully had confidence in him, as I do Darren and Wendell and Kenjon, and put the ball in his hands. He did a nice job today.”
Mathews was been the star of the rushing attack, but he wasn’t the only effective runner. Smallwood posted 70 yards on 13 runs for an average of 5.3 yards per attempt. Sproles only had two rushing attempts but he gained 19 yards on them.
Having a balanced offensive attack worked well for the Eagles on Sunday. Philadelphia ran the ball 38 times and Wentz attempted 36 passes so it was nearly a dead even run-pass ratio. Striking that perfect balance won’t be attainable every week, but for this game it was effective.
It remains to be seen if the Eagles can sustain their running success moving forward. Philadelphia is set to face the ninth-ranked rushing defense against Seattle and the fourth-ranked run defense the week after against Green Bay.
If the Eagles can continue to run the ball efficiently, however, that would be huge. Controlling the clock and relying on Jim Schwartz’s strong defense could be a recipe for victory. Taking the pressure off of Wentz and a lackluster receiving corps seems ideal.
Pederson has been criticized in recent weeks but he deserves a lot of credit for his game plan against the Falcons. He found a method to beat them, stuck with it, and got the win. Mathews’ bounce back was a big help to the Eagles head coach.
WHAT YOU MISSED
12 things we learned from the Eagles’ 24-15 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
Instant Observations from yesterday’s close win at Lincoln Financial Field.
Take a look at how the game unfolded with our updates from Sunday.
Allen Barbre was out once again with a hamstring injury, while Bennie Logan and Leodis McKelvin were both active.
This week’s NFL picks for trying to beat the odds.
The Eagles have one of the toughest schedules remaining in the NFL.
Which college football players did we think the Eagles should take a look at during this weekend’s games?
The two players that were highlighted in this week’s game predictions made an impact in Sunday’s win.
The Eagles signed cornerback Aaron Grymes to the 53-man roster to fill the spot vacated by the release of Josh Huff.
Even with his recent struggles, the Eagles are very happy to have Carson Wentz as their starting quarterback.
Check out the Eagles-Falcons recap show via BGN Radio.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
After giving up a deep touchdown pass to Taylor Gabriel, Leodis McKelvin bounced back in a big way, which included a game-sealing interception, writes Mike Sielski of the Inquirer.
The Eagles knew that McKelvin “was on a flat tire,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said, so they put rookie Jalen Mills on Jones, mixed a cover-2 scheme with some man-to-man, and took their chances that their pass rush would hinder [Matt] Ryan enough to disrupt the Falcons offense. On the second play of the fourth quarter, it didn’t. McKelvin lined up opposite wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, who ran a hitch-and-go route. McKelvin did not go with him. He fell for the fake, and Gabriel, alone beyond the rest of the Eagles’ secondary, caught a 76-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to give the Falcons a 15-13 lead.
Here’s the funny part of that touchdown: It was worth having the Falcons score it, just to hear McKelvin describe what happened. He is from the town of Waycross, in southern Georgia, and he does not censor himself, and when he speaks, the words fly from his mouth like chards from a wood chipper.
“[Expletive], got greedy!” he said. “[Expletive], I was in this coverage and what not, and [expletive] opened up so wide. I was like, ‘Man,’ because I was watching film. I said, ‘That’s a curl.’ So I was like, ‘I’m gonna jump this [expletive] and make a play. . . . Oh, [expletive]. Wrong time! Wrong timing, man. That was the wrong timing for me doing that.'”
Here’s the surprising part of that touchdown: It was the only one the Falcons scored Sunday. The Eagles – thanks in part to the return of tackle Bennie Logan, who had missed three games with a groin injury – sacked Ryan twice and hit him six times. Jones dropped what would have been a sure first-down catch on third and 12 late in the game. The Falcons scored fewer points, ran fewer plays, and gained fewer yards than they had in any previous game this season. And McKelvin defended three passes without allowing a completion. He could have intercepted each of the first two.
Jordan Matthews was upset at a no-call after a helmet-to-helmet hit by Keanu Neal, but he said he’s okay, pens Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com.
In the victorious locker room, Matthews was incredulous.
“Once I took the hit, I could tell my lip was bleeding,” Matthews said. “And then when I got up, my facemask and my helmet didn’t feel the same, and I went to the sideline and my visor was completely dented and even the front of my helmet was pushed in a little bit. They had to change out my whole helmet.”
Matthews finished with six catches for a team-high 73 yards. He said after the game he was fine, despite the jarring hit.
“I’m OK, I’m OK,” he said. “I’ve taken hits before. I’ve played this game a long time, and it’s kind of routine. We call those dingers. You just get dinged, but you’re not knocked out.”
Neal, a rookie safety out of Florida, said he thought the hit was clean.
Doug Pederson will address the media in his day-after press conference around noon.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.