With Nick Foles expected to start against Rams, Eagles need to be committed to the run
The Eagles can't get into a passing contest with the Rams on Sunday, especially with Carson Wentz hurt and Nick Foles expected to start. They need to control the clock with their run game.
Even before Doug Pederson informed reporters Wednesday morning that Carson Wentz had “a little bit of back soreness," and even before the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that that “soreness" is expected to keep Wentz out of Sunday’s game against the Rams, and quite possibly the rest of the season, it was clear the Eagles need to run the ball this week if they are to have any hope of walking out of the Los Angeles Coliseum with a victory.
Despite the presence of likely defensive player of the year Aaron Donald and five-time Pro Bowl head-stomper Ndamukong Suh in the middle of their line, teams have been able to run on the Rams this season.
Los Angeles is 23rd in rushing yards allowed per game (124.2) and tied for last in the league in opponent rush average (5.1 yards per carry).
They have allowed 4.96 yards per carry on first down, which is the 10th-highest mark in the league. They have given up the ninth-most runs of 10 or more yards (48) and the 12th-most rushing first downs (83).
Last Sunday, in the Bears' 15-6 win over the Rams, Chicago rushed for 194 yards on 35 carries and controlled the ball for nearly 37 minutes.
A month earlier, the Saints ran the ball 34 times for 141 yards in their 45-35 win over the Rams. The week after that, the Seahawks rushed for 273 yards on 34 carries in a five-point loss to the Rams.
“When I heard that [about the Rams' ranking in opponent rush average] and obviously studying them, it was surprising to find that out given who they have up front," Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh said.
“We have to put a good plan together and we have to give the backs creases to run in. We have to cover these guys up. We have to sustain our blocks, do a great job blocking on the perimeter when we call the runs."
After running the ball 29 times in their Week 12 win over the Giants and 33 times in their Week 13 win over the Redskins, the Eagles had planned to do the same thing last week against the Cowboys.
They ran the ball four times on their first five plays – three times by rookie Josh Adams, including one for a 24-yard gain, and once by Darren Sproles.
But then, things kind of quickly went to hell after that. The offense couldn’t stay on the field and the defense couldn’t get off it. The Eagles ended up with just 48 offensive plays in the overtime loss – 17 in the first half – to the Cowboys’ 93.
Adams got just four more rushing opportunities after the first possession, and the Eagles finished with only 14 rushing attempts, their second fewest of the season.
“We lost," said Adams. “That’s what a lot of guys are upset about. That’s what I’m upset about. You want to get a win regardless of what your contribution was."
The Eagles aren’t going to get many wins running the ball 14 times.
“Part of it was we didn’t have a good first half," Groh said. "Seventeen plays [in the first half] and one of those drives was a two-minute drive.
“So we didn’t have a lot of opportunities. And then, in the second half, we started getting a lot of production out of the passing game.
“But we have to find that [run-pass] balance. We have to start earlier, start faster. When we do that, the game seems to have a little bit more flow."
Nick Foles, the Super Bowl hero who started the first two games of the season before Wentz was cleared to return from last December’s knee injury, hasn’t thrown a pass in a game in three months.
He is going to need help from his run game Sunday to take some of the pass-rush pressure off him and keep the Rams defense guessing.
“We always feel we can run," right guard Brandon Brooks said Wednesday. “We always want to go out there and impose our will and run the ball."
The Eagles lost yet another running back to a season-ending injury Sunday when Corey Clement hurt a knee. He joins Jay Ajayi, who tore an ACL in Week 5.
But there is absolutely nothing wrong with Adams. The 6-2, 225-pound rookie, who opened the season on the practice squad, is averaging 5.0 yards per carry and 5.1 on first down.
In their last five games, the Rams have allowed 161.6 rushing yards per game and 5.4 yards per carry.
“They have really, really good players on that defense who can disrupt and get penetration," Eagles center Jason Kelce said. “Stats can be misleading. They can sometimes get so much penetration that it leaves gaps between them and the second level. So it’s feast or famine sometimes when you play a defense like that. But they have some incredible players on that defense.
“I’m not looking at those [run defense] numbers as any indicator of what it’s going to be like for us."
The Eagles don’t need to rush for 200 yards on Sunday. But if they can control the clock and keep the game close into the fourth quarter, they might have a chance to pull off an upset.
In their 43-35 win over the Rams last December, the Eagles ran the ball 32 times for 139 yards and finished with a time-of-possession advantage of more than 18 minutes.
“This was our first day of seeing the look [of the Rams’ defense]," Adams said. “As we get closer, we’ll have a better idea of how we want to attack them and what type of things we want to do on our end."