Eagles RB Wendell Smallwood gets his chance against the Rams and makes the most of it
After playing just 11 offensive snaps in the previous four games, Smallwood came to the Eagles' rescue in the second half Sunday night.
LOS ANGELES — Wendell Smallwood has spent much of his three seasons with the Eagles not knowing what each week is going to bring.
Three touches? Ten touches? None? All usually are possibilities for the 5-foot-10, 208-pound running back, with the number depending on the Eagles’ game plan and where he happens to be residing on the depth chart that particular week.
“That’s part of this game,’’ Smallwood said after rushing for two touchdowns in the Eagles’ 30-23 win over the Rams on Sunday night. “You never know what’s going to happen or who’s going to go down.
“It don’t matter where you are on the depth chart. Guys get hurt. It’s just how the game goes. You’ve got to stay ready. When your number gets called, when the opportunity presents itself, take advantage of it.’’
You usually don’t need to look at the game stats or the snap counts to tell how much or how well a guy is playing. His body language typically gives it away.
But not with Smallwood. He acts and talks the same after a game, such as the one against the Colts in Week 3 when he put up 91 rushing and receiving yards or the one against the Giants three weeks ago when he played just one offensive snap and had no carries or catches.
“The thing I love about Wendell is he’s the same person each and every day,’’ tight end Zach Ertz said. “He comes to work with the mindset every day that I’m just going to get better.
“Whether it be on special teams or offense. He doesn’t know when his number is going to get called. But he’s ready each and every day. Because he doesn’t let the emotions of ‘Am I playing this week?’ get the best of him. It speaks volumes about his overall character.’’
Smallwood was ready Sunday night. Despite playing just 11 snaps and getting two carries in the previous four games, despite getting just two of the Eagles’ 16 first-half carries as the third running back, behind rookie Josh Adams and Darren Sproles, he came up big in the third quarter after Adams left with a back injury.
Smallwood rushed for 36 yards and two TDs on five carries in the quarter as the Eagles rattled off 17 consecutive points to take a 30-13 lead.
He scored his first touchdown on a 9-yard run one play after Nick Foles connected with Alshon Jeffery on a 50-yard completion. Ertz and right tackle Lane Johnson created a crease for him, and he spun off Rams free safety Lamarcus Joyner to get into the end zone and break a 13-13 tie.
On the Eagles’ next possession, Smallwood had a pair of 11-yard runs for first downs to help set up the second of Jake Elliott’s three field goals.
He capped one of the best quarters of his career with a 4-yard touchdown run behind left tackle Jason Peters.
Smallwood finished with 48 yards on 10 carries as the Eagles ran the ball 30 times against a Rams defense that entered the game with the highest opponent rush average in the league (5.1 yards per carry).
“Man, the hole was huge,’’ Smallwood said of his first touchdown. “Lane got down. The biggest thing was Ertz;, he cut the d-end off. That’s a big part of that inside zone play. We have to get that cut off. I know that’s not easy for him. But he got it cut off.
“On the second one, I just followed JP [Peters] through there and stayed behind him. He led me to the promised land.’’
The Eagles had three rushing touchdowns: the two by Smallwood and a 6-yard, second-quarter TD run by Adams, who returned to the game and finished with 28 yards on 15 carries. It was the first time since the 2016 season that the Eagles had three rushing TDs in a game.
“They’re really good up front,’’ Johnson said. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald "is a heckuva pass-rusher. You know what kind of beast he is. In order to have a good game, we needed to stay balanced. It felt good to come out and stay with [the run].’’
The Eagles knew they could run the ball on the Rams.
“We watched all the Chicago stuff from last week,’’ Johnson said, referring to the Rams’ 15-6 loss to the Bears in which the Bears ran the ball 35 times for 194 yards. “We saw where it was able to be done. It’s just really about executing and starting fast. It was big getting it going early.’’
It’s been a tough year for Smallwood. He opened the season as the team’s No. 4 running back, behind Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles and Corey Clement, and got just one snap in the Eagles’ Week 1 win over the Falcons.
Sproles injured his hamstring and missed the next 10 games, and Ajayi suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 5, which opened some opportunities for him.
But he didn’t maximize those chances. He had just 51 yards on 18 carries against the Giants the week after Ajayi went down and averaged just 3.3 yards per carry in the two games after that.
Then, Adams, who had opened the season on the practice squad, started to play well, and Smallwood’s role shrunk.
“It’s hard,’’ Smallwood conceded. “It’s a tough battle. We’re all competitors. We all want to be on the field — every play if we could. That’s just the nature of the game and being a competitor.
“It’s not always going to be your turn. But when it is, you’ve got to go out there and perform as good as the next guy, or you won’t last.
“I never know how much I’m going to play. That’s the hard part, not knowing. And then you go out there and you’re not prepared. You just have to prepare all of the time as if you’re going to play. I practice hard all week. I work hard all week.’’
Next up for the Eagles is the Houston Texans, who, unlike the Rams, own one of the league’s top run defenses. Which means there’s no guarantee that the Eagles will be running the ball 30 times again Sunday or that Smallwood will be getting double-digit carries.
If the Eagles do run the ball, though, Smallwood hopes his performance against the Rams will have earned him some more opportunities.
“I know how our running-back rotation goes,’’ he said. “If you get hot and you’re out there making plays, they’re going to keep you in. And they’re not going to take you out and just stop giving you the ball.
“I think that’s how it went for me tonight. I found myself out on the field more than I thought I would be. And that’s because I had the hot hand. It felt good.’’