Before the Eagles reached the point of no return in a 37-10 thrashing by the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, the team had a chance to swing the momentum.
At the end of the first quarter, with Dallas leading, 14-7, the Eagles defense forced a punt. The offense got the ball back, and running back Jordan Howard ran it twice, for gains of 1 and 5 yards.
Then, on third-and-4 at the Eagles’ 16-yard line, coach Doug Pederson called a zone run for Miles Sanders, who’s averaging 3.5 yards per carry and has been more of an asset in the passing game.
The 22-year-old rookie running back missed the gap and came up shy of a first down, and the Eagles punted.
Eagles fans are likely spending their Monday trying to erase all memory of what happened in the next three quarters.
Pederson, however, had to start his week answering for his team’s uninspiring performance. Among the questions at his Monday press conference: Why be so conservative on that drive, especially on that critical third down?
“One, where we were on the field. I knew we were having some success early in the game running the football with Jordan in there,” he said. “Got to third-and-4. Again, felt like field-position-wise, the defense we were anticipating, we got it. Miles just missed the hole, and that happens with young guys.”
Howard, who has averaged 4.5 yards per carry, has been receiving more handoffs than Sanders, a trend Pederson has said will likely continue throughout the season unless Sanders gets hot. But on that particular play Sunday, the coach said he didn’t consider keeping Howard in.
“It was a play designed for Miles,” Pederson said. “It was specifically designed for him. It was just one of those things we do from the game-plan standpoint.”
Pederson added that he didn’t think about going for it on fourth-and-1 because of the field position.
Overall, the Eagles’ running game was sufficient Sunday, and that’s more than can be said for most other aspects of the team’s performance.
The Eagles averaged 4.1 yards per carry and finished the night with 115 rushing yards, four more than the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott logged all by himself.
Sanders, the Eagles’ second-round pick out of Penn State, recorded just 21 rushing yards on six carries. Howard was once again more productive on the ground, with 50 yards on 11 carries.
The running game was a difference-maker in the Eagles’ win last month over the Green Bay Packers, a game in which they rushed for 176 yards and two touchdowns. Recently, however, the ground game has been less of a factor.
In the loss to the Vikings last week, the Eagles ran three straight run plays on their first possession and went three-and-out.
As for the criticisms of play-calling, including on that third-and-4, Pederson reiterated Monday that he took full responsibility.