What on Earth happened to the Eagles' running game?

What on Earth happened to the Eagles' running game? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

It wasn't that long ago.

The first five weeks of the season, the Eagles were running the football as well as anybody in the NFL.

There was a 259-yard game against the Vikings, a 201-yard game in Tampa, 159 yards against the Rams.

Going into the Jets game, the Eagles were 2nd in the NFL with 164 rushing yards per game and 6th with 4.6 yards per game.

Then everything changed overnight.

Over the last three weeks, the Eagles are 18th with 79 yards per game and 31st with just 3.1 yards per carry.

They averaged 2.9 yards per rush against the Dolphins and 2.7 against the Commanders. This is the first time in nine years they’ve averaged below 3.0 in back-to-back games. In September 2014, they averaged 2.2 in a win over Washington and 1.8 the next week in a loss to the 49ers.

Last time they averaged under 3.0 in consecutive games and won both was in 2001 – they averaged 2.6 in a win over the Chargers and 2.7 in a win in Washington.

They also averaged 3.6 vs. the Jets, and this is the first time they’ve been at 3.6 or worse in three straight games since 2009 (3.6 vs. Saints, 3.4 vs. Chiefs, 3.6 vs. Bucs).

Their 3.1 average over the last three games is their worst in a three-game span since they had a 3.0 average over games against the Cowboys, Jets and Washington in 2015.

You get the picture.

The easy answer is that they really miss Cam Jurgens, who has missed the last four games with a foot injury. Jurgens has a 64.3 run block grade from Pro Football Focus and his replacement, Sua Opeta, is at 47.4.

Jurgens' trip to IR coincidences with when the run game began sputtering.

Jurgens is eligible to return to action Sunday for Dallas, and the Eagles are hopeful he’ll be out there. But one right guard shouldn’t make that much of a difference.

Another possible factor is that they just haven’t run very much early in games so the backs and o-linemen haven’t had a chance to get into any kind of rhythm.

Offensive coordinator Brian Johnson suggested Tuesday that the Eagles aren’t running the ball enough. Johnson is the offensive play caller.

“I think the biggest thing is we have to continue to put the guys in great spots and keep pounding at it,” he said. “The run game can be unique at times. It can be tough sledding for a while and then you continue to push and pound and then you break one and that kind of evens out your yards-per-carry.

“But for us, what we want to accomplish is really to try to be both efficient and explosive in the run game. We have to continue to find ways to put the guys in great spots. Make sure our landmarks are right and make sure we are doing a great job of making plays once we are blocked up to the second and third level.”

There have been games where Johnson has just abandoned the run. The backs had only six 1st-half carries in the loss to the Jets and 16 total rushing attempts. The backs had a total of 23 rushing attempts in the win over the Dolphins. And Sunday in Washington the backs had only three 1st-half carries before finally getting involved in the second half with 15 runs.

That’s a total of just 23 rushing attempts for the running backs before halftime of the last three games.

Now, it’s not like the Eagles aren’t functioning on offense. During these last three weeks, they’re averaging 28 points (5th-best), 280 passing yards (4th-best) and 359 yards per game (7th-best).

But it’s no secret that this offense operates better – and this team functions better – when the running game is clicking.

“Right now it feels like the offense is a little bit just throw it to A.J. and I’m hard-pressed to say that’s not the thing to do,” Jason Kelce said., “He’s catching everything, he’s open it seems like all the time. 

“The run game, we’ve got to get some things figured out. I feel like we’re kind of stalling out a little bit there, but when you have the playmakers out there, if they really want to harp on taking away the run and kind of shutting some things down, it stresses some other areas out and with the playmakers we have across the board at wide receiver and tight end really and then quarterback’s ability to get to all of these things we feel very confident.”