Eagles Can Have Success By Copying The Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys employ one of the most effective formulas for success in the NFL. And it’s no secret why they’re successful.
The reason why the Cowboys won 13 games this season is due to their run game. Dallas ranks second in the league in rushing and first in attempts. Rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott is an MVP candidate. He’s clearly a special talent whose life has been made even easier playing behind one of the league’s best offensive lines.
The way the Cowboys run the ball so effectively impacts the performance of the rest of the team. Dallas’ defense doesn’t have to face as many snaps due to the offense being able to control the clock, for example. The Cowboys rank second overall in average time of possession (31:56).
An elite run game can also be a quarterback’s best friend. Fourth-round rookie Dak Prescott certainly exceeded expectations while filling in for Tony Romo. The Cowboys’ quarterback has thrown 23 touchdowns to four interceptions and ranks third in the league in passer rating at 105.7.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson sees the value in the Cowboys’ strategy.
“Yeah, it is a strategy obviously for success,” said Pederson “And really, you look at Carson [Wentz’s] attempts per game and Dak’s attempts, I think it’s within four or five attempts per game, so it’s not that far off. Even our rushing attempts are 10th in the National Football League right now.”
“You know, it feels like we’re throwing the ball a bunch, but I think obviously a recipe for success is lower those attempts, keep them in that manageable 33, 34, maybe 30 attempts a game but still have the ability to run the ball just as equally, I think are formulas for success, and then obviously play great defense and special teams.”
Pederson’s numbers are off by a little bit, which ends up being more significant than he lets on.
Part of the reason why Prescott has been so successful is because the Cowboys don’t ask him to do a lot. Dallas ranks 30th in pass attempts per game this season at 30.3. Compare that figure Wentz’s 37.7 attempts per game, which ranks as the eighth most. A difference of 7.4 attempts per game over a 16-game season is nearly 120 more attempts for Wentz. That’s the equivalent of three or four extra games worth of pass attempts.
Wentz currently ranks fifth in most pass attempts ever by a quarterback in their rookie season. He’ll finish the year ranked second if he attempts more than 35 passes in the Week 17 finale.
Having Wentz throw a lot hasn’t been a recipe for success for the Eagles. It shouldn’t be surprising as to why. While Wentz is talented, he’s just a rookie who wasn’t even supposed to play this season. It’s hard to expect him to carry the team. Especially when his attempts are being thrown to one of the NFL’s worst wide receiving corps. Playing behind an offensive line that was missing its’ best player, Lane Johnson, for most of the season didn’t help either.
For the Eagles, it’s not as simple as choosing to run the ball more. They need the talent to be able to do so.
Looking ahead to 2017, Philadelphia currently doesn’t have a projected lead back on their roster. The oft-injured Ryan Mathews will likely be traded or cut as a cap casualty. Darren Sproles turns 34 in June and has never been a true No. 1 back. Wendell Smallwood showed some intriguing potential as a rookie but can’t be counted on as a full-time starter. Kenjon Barner and Byron Marshall are likely nothing more than rotation guys.
With that in mind, running back is a huge need for the Eagles this offseason. It’s arguably the biggest need.
The Eagles won’t easily be able to acquire a player of Elliott’s caliber. He’s a special talent. But the Eagles still have a lot of room for improvement.
There’s thinking that investing premium resources in a supposedly devalued position like running back isn’t a good idea. There’s some truth to that idea. The DeMarco Murray contract was an example of how the Eagles spent too much on a player at a relatively fungible position. But given how important the run game has proven to be, the Eagles really need to get the position right.
The bad news for the Eagles is that they’ll have to watch their most hated division rival in the playoffs this year while they sit at home. The good news for the Eagles is they can make the playoffs in the future by stealing the strategy Dallas has used for success.
WHAT YOU MISSED
The Eagles worked out eight players, including two wide receivers.
How far up do the Eagles climb in this week’s NFL Power Rankings?
“We worked very hard at trying to develop that into him and not have him just get back there and let his athleticism take over.” How Carson Wentz‘s pocket presence and scrambling have improved throughout the season.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Vinny Curry has been able to contribute on defense for the past few seasons, but the Eagles want to see him do more, from Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com.
“He came through for us when we needed him in that game,” [Jim] Schwartz said Tuesday. “That was big. It’s hard to get pressure with three guys. He was able to get pressure (and Eli Manning) floated that ball up. And you talk about slow motion, that ball was in the air for about a half hour. I thought Terrence [Brooks] was going to have to fair catch it.
“You see so much when you are looking at those plays. You’re feeling the quarterback and you see the ball go up and you see the flash of that player sort of look like he’s open. And then to get that play at the end, Vinny had a lot to do with that.”
It was widely seen as a risky move when the Eagles gave Curry that huge contract which next year makes him the eighth-highest-paid defensive end in football.
“With him, he hasn’t finished the quarterback as well we would like him to, as well as he would like to, to be able to finish with getting those sacks,” Schwartz said.
Wentz and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout hung out during the holiday break and hunted in New Jersey, pens Zach Berman of the Inquirer.
“We just kind of hung out and went hunting – nothing real crazy,” Wentz said. “He’s a great guy. It’s been cool getting to know him.”
They know each other through Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, who is friends with Trout. Ertz met Trout when Trout asked for a signed No. 86 jersey for Trout’s then-girlfriend, now fiancée. Ertz’s fiancée is from Arizona, where the Angels have spring training. So the two couples got together for dinner in the spring.
Wentz said he’s a baseball fan, but did not follow it as much during college. However, he’s aware of what Trout has done – and knows Trout is an Eagles fan. Wentz said Trout mentioned that “right away.” Does he like Wentz as a quarterback?
One more note on Trout: He sent sneakers for every player on the Eagles who wears Nikes.
Eagles practice begins at 11:50. Players will be available to media after practice.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.