The Eagles average only 4.96 yards per pass play this season. If that number holds, it would be their lowest average since 1999, when current coach Doug Pederson was the quarterback. The offense, meanwhile, is rushing at 5.12 yards per carry, its best average in seven years.
And yet, the Eagles have a 64-36 pass-run ratio, third-highest in favor of the pass in the NFL.
While Pederson’s reluctance to run the ball may seem counterproductive, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when the coach couldn’t even give the correct run-pass numbers a day after the Eagles lost to the New York Giants.
“I think we were 50-50 run-pass yesterday, pretty much,” Pederson said Monday on WIP-FM (94.1).
The balance was actually 63-37, and if you factor in two Carson Wentz scrambles, it was 67-33, 42 pass plays vs. 21 runs.
“We had a good game running the football yesterday,” Pederson continued. “Listen, you’re down, 14-3. We have a long run to start the third quarter to kind of get us right back in this football game. The first couple of drives to start the second half, we’re right back in this football game. And then we just failed to execute down the stretch.
“Yeah, OK, maybe we do run more. That’s fine if that’s what it takes. We’ll do whatever it takes to win.”
Over the course of his response, Pederson seemed to realize that it was in fact the run game that allowed the Eagles to climb back into the game. Is it any wonder the Eagles offense, and the coach’s play calling, has looked like a jumbled mess most of this season?
Pederson called six runs that gained 109 yards and scored two touchdowns on the first two drives of the second half, against seven pass plays that gained 68 yards. He did dial up runs after the Eagles trimmed the Giants lead to 21-17. He just didn’t call enough of them, or at the right moments.
Running back Miles Sanders picked up 13 yards on first down. Why not run again? The Giants play a lot of Cover 2, two-man defense. Pederson said the Eagles knew as much coming in. Wouldn’t two deep safeties and man coverage on the outside scream for more run plays? But on the next play, Wentz (No. 11) dropped back, had no one open, and threw the ball away.
The Eagles have trailed at the half in six of nine games, but only three have been by double digits. They were without Sanders for two games, but Boston Scott performed well in his place. Two 74-yard runs by Sanders may have skewed the rushing numbers. But even without them, the Eagles are still averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
If you have an elite quarterback, it makes little sense to be a run-first or balanced offense in today’s NFL. Teams that throw to get ahead are typically rewarded, and only then should they favor the ground game. But when your quarterback is struggling, as Wentz clearly is this season, would it behoove Pederson to run more?
Of course, when your pass offense is performing at a historically low rate, it’s more than just the play caller and quarterback who are responsible. The offensive line has been inconsistent, partly because of injuries but also because of poor play. There have been multiple injuries at the skill positions, but young receivers, and even some veterans, have been mistake-prone.
On the first big spot of the Giants game, the Eagles faced third-and-three at the 22-yard line. Pederson called for a rub route concept with two receivers vs. man coverage.
Some analysts had blamed Wentz because there was a hitch before his throw. But Travis Fulgham’s (No. 13) pick wasn’t precise, and Jalen Reagor (No. 18), for some reason, took a circular route.
“That’s why you saw Carson double clutch the ball,” Pederson said Wednesday, “because we failed to execute the pick part of it, the rub part of it, and then Jalen went a little bit too deep on his route.”
Fulgham burst onto the scene despite a late training camp arrival and original practice-squad status. From Weeks 4-8, he caught 29-of-44 targets for 435 yards and four touchdowns, the greatest five-game stretch Wentz has had with an Eagles receiver.
But Fulgham struggled against the Giants, specifically against cornerbacks Isaac Yiadom (No. 27) and James Bradberry (No. 24), and often struggled to get separation in man coverage.
Fulgham caught only 1-of-5 targets for eight yards.
“I think defenses are more aware of where he is now, and he’s drawing a little more coverage his way,” Pederson said. “He’s a big, powerful, physical guy, and we got to keep him coming. He can be explosive. And listen, he’s also relatively ... new to our system and our offense.”
The Eagles have seen their share of man coverage this season. Some defenses will stay true to their zone-heavy schemes, but Eagles receivers could see more man based off the Giants game. Greg Ward said the group didn’t struggle to get separation.
“I feel like we have to continue ... to get on the same page with Carson,” Ward said. “Actually, we have to be more aggressive. Everybody be more in attack mode.”
That could go for Wentz, too. He needs to trust his receivers more in man situations. As Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Tuesday, man coverage to some quarterbacks means the receiver is open. Just throw it up, and your receiver should win more often than not.
So many of the Eagles’ problems Sunday were the result of sloppy play. A pre-snap penalty here, a wrong step there, a dropped pass here, a bad snap there. Center Jason Kelce (No. 62) had a number of low snaps. The most costly came early in the fourth quarter when the Eagles were still within four points of the Giants.
Wentz couldn’t handle the snap and was sacked. It’s a shame because Pederson had called a good play against the Giants' coverage and had Fulgham screaming wide open down the left sideline.
But some of the coach’s decisions beyond the pass-run imbalance confounded. Wentz has always thrived out of the pocket, whether on designed roll outs or improvising. Pederson, though, didn’t call a naked bootleg until the second drive of the third quarter, after the quarterback pulled off this scramble and toss to Reagor.
On the roll out, Wentz had a free rusher in his face, but he flicked a dart to Ward (No. 84) across his body for maybe his best pass of the game.
“We did a couple in the game the other day, and they worked. They were successful,” Pederson said. “To answer your question, short answer, is yeah, I think I can dial some more up and get him out because he is dynamic out there.”
Said Wentz: “I know I love it. I love when I’m out of the pocket and can just kind of make plays and move and change the launch point and everything. But coaches do a good job of sprinkling that in when and where it applies.”
Wentz, obviously, doesn’t get a free pass. He didn’t turn the ball over for the first time this season, and he didn’t force the issue when under pressure. The Giants loss was more on Pederson and others than it was on him. But he missed a number of throws he should have completed, and he made some questionable decisions, both staples of his season thus far.
On the Eagles’ last gasp, a fourth-and-10, he threw a back shoulder pass to Reagor against Bradberry.
That’s a tough throw in that spot, one in which chemistry is important. As stated above, Wentz does at times need to trust his receivers. There was a blitz, and the ball likely needed to come out fast. But Wentz also had a better matchup over the middle, tight end Dallas Goedert (No. 88) vs. a linebacker, that he missed.
“I do know that Carson would probably want to have that throw back a little bit,” Pederson said. “Probably make a little different throw in that situation. We had some opportunities on that particular play to go other places.”