The real issue with the Eagles' running game

Reuben Frank
NBC Sports Philadelphia

When last season ended, I felt like upgrading the running game was one of the biggest priorities facing the Eagles.

With Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement handling the ground attack after Jay Ajayi's season - and perhaps career - ended, the Eagles averaged only 3.9 yards per carry and 98 yards per game in 2018.

They ranked 30th in the league in yards per carry and 28th in yards per game.

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Not good enough. Not even close.

So Adams and Smallwood are gone, replaced by Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard, and the running game is now worse.

At least through two games.

That 3.9 figure is down to 3.3 and the 98 is down to 86.

With an offensive line considered by many the best in the league, a prized second-round pick and a workhorse fourth-year veteran, the Eagles haven't been able to run the ball with any authority in the early going.

And it's a concern because as much as this is a passing league these days, situationally Doug Pederson needs to be able to dial up enough running plays to run clock with a lead and keep defenses off balance.

The Eagles have run the ball 51 times, if you remove one Carson Wentz kneel-down from the opener.

Of those 51 runs, only three have gone for more than 10 yards and none for more than 19 yards. 

And 30 - nearly 60 percent - have gone for three yards or less.

This is a problem. Big one.

Jordan Howard had some nice runs in the fourth quarter of the opener, but other than that the running game has been shockingly ineffective.

Miles Sanders is only a rookie and gets some slack, but that 2.5 average is concerning. 

Darren Sproles was 9-for-47 in the opener, then didn't get a carry in Atlanta, which tells you how wary Pederson is of overusing the 36-year-old 15-year veteran.

We all thought the Eagles would go into Atlanta and hammer the football on the ground against an undersized Falcons defense that allowed 172 rushing yards in the opener in Minneapolis.

It didn't happen. The Eagles wound up 21-for-49 rushing, and that 2.3 average is the lowest in a regular-season game under Doug Pederson.

A lot of people are clamoring for Pederson to run the ball more. And especially going into a home game Sunday against the Lions, it makes sense to try to take some pressure off a quarterback with sore ribs and a receiving corps potentially missing three of its top five weapons.

I know people think of Pederson as an Andy Reid clone, but Pederson likes to run.

The Eagles actually rank 11th in the NFL since Pederson became head coach in 2016 in rushing attempts at 27 per game. They're at 26 per game this year.

But so far it's just not working.

The issues start up front, where Isaac Seumalo has struggled, Brandon Brooks doesn't look quite like himself yet, and the holes we all anticipated just haven't been there.

And it goes to the running backs, who, with the exception of Howard in the fourth quarter against the Redskins, haven't produced.

Howard in 4Q vs. Redskins: 5-for-36 (7.2)

All other RB carries: 47-136 (2.9)

The concern isn't Pederson's unwillingness to run.

It's the offense's inability to run.

And if that doesn't change very soon, the Eagles are going to be in big trouble.

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The real issue with the Eagles' running game originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

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