Good morning, Eagles fans. I'm writing this 33,000 feet above Rio Rancho, N.M., on the red-eye back from Los Angeles after the Eagles' 26-24 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Did you make the trip, too? Send along your stories and experiences. This is Early Birds, the twice-weekly newsletter breaking down the Eagles. It's free to sign up here to get in your inbox every Monday and Friday. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.
— Zach Berman
It occurred to me as I left the StubHub Center on Sunday that the last time I walked to the rental car after a road game — or at least what's technically a road game — was in Kansas City when the biggest story was the lack of a running game. That was two weeks ago! There were 13 designed rushes for 52 yards that day. On Sunday, the running backs carried the ball 36 times for 200 yards. And the Eagles played without Darren Sproles, who had been the most-used running back.
Credit goes to Doug Pederson, the offensive line, and the running backs. Pederson was hard on himself about the lack of a running game after Week 2, and it wasn't just lip service to get through the news conferences. He committed to incorporating the run in the offense, and he's impressed as a play-caller. The offensive line started to stabilize since the demotion of Isaac Seumalo. The combination of Wendell Smallwood (10 carries, 34 yards, one touchdown vs. Chargers), LeGarrette Blount (16 carries, 136 yards), and Corey Clement (10 carries) worked well together. Eight rushes netted first downs, including five in the fourth quarter.
"We thought we were the heart of this team today," Smallwood said by his locker.
I'm ready to say I was wrong about Blount. I was skeptical of the signing, believing it to be a reaction to the team striking out at the top running backs in the draft. I looked at how he was available on the open market in mid-May, how he required little financial commitment, and how he was an age when running backs usually decline. The preseason didn't offer much support that Blount was going to be a major contributor, and zero carries in Week 2 seemed to suggest that he wasn't going to have a big role. The past two weeks have been evidence that Blount's punishing style is a welcome addition to the offense. When he reaches the second level, good luck finding one defender who can take him down — especially in the fourth quarter. And the way he runs seems to energize his teammates. This isn't just observation; players have said so.
All this said, be careful not to overreact. The Chargers entered the game with the 31st-ranked run defense. They lived up to that billing. There was a reason the running game was prominently mentioned in Friday's Early Birds. Don't expect many 200-yard rushing performances or draining nearly seven minutes off the clock to close games. But what's important is that the Eagles can run when the situation calls for it.
Zach Berman: What does it do to the team when you can run like you did?
Jason Kelce: "When you can run that way, you control the line of scrimmage and force teams to play in the box. Not only is it going to open things for Carson [Wentz] and some of the receivers, it's going to force teams to try and play it. It just opens up the offense that much more."
Zach Berman: You're doing it with different types of running backs. How does that affect the defense?
Jason Kelce: "It keeps them fresh. They're the ones who have to continue to attack on every single play. And especially with the way those guys have been running, so physical. That's been our biggest thing. Just keep hammering, keep going. Eventually, it's going to start cracking. We're going to keep that rotation going, keep those guys running hard and physical, and eventually it's going to wear on that defense."
Zach Berman: Doug Pederson said his message to the team was about the growth the team is showing winning these types of games. You've been around awhile. What do you see?
Jason Kelce: "I think he's exactly right. You look last year, we scored more points than our opponents. But we didn't make the playoffs. Why is that? We lost a lot of really close games. That's the bottom line. So obviously this year, 3-1, we closed [two] close games. …That's huge. That shows maturity, overcoming adversity. And that's, really, in this league, what comes down to the difference of playoffs or not."
Good question. Most of the players who would fit in this category are already getting the attention they deserve. Here's one for you: cornerback Patrick Robinson. He did not look good as an outside cornerback early in training camp, but he's become a solid slot cornerback for the Eagles. It says a lot that when Ronald Darby was injured, the Eagles didn't just move Robinson over to the outside. They first went with Jaylen Watkins and then with Rasul Douglas. The reason is because they trust Robinson in the slot, where his veteran experience and quickness allow him to play a key role.
Who's available? That's the key. I don't know who will hit the trade market in the next few weeks, and the Eagles lack resources because they've already traded a second-round pick and third-round pick. They could trade a later-round pick or a future pick, but they probably wouldn't get someone of notable value. It seems odd for me to write this because I praised Blount and the running game at the start of the newsletter, but the player who would intrigue me if he were made available is Saints running back Mark Ingram. It looks like Alvin Kamara continues to take on a bigger role in New Orleans. Ingram is 27 and has one year left on his contract. He could help this season and next year while the Eagles transition at the position. But again, I don't know if he'd even be available or if the Eagles would have the necessary resources. (Other running backs whose names could be mentioned are Cincinnati's Jeremy Hill and Jacksonville's T.J. Yeldon, who are both younger than Ingram.) Otherwise, what position do you think they need to upgrade right now? (Note: This is all speculation. I'm not linking Mark Ingram to the Eagles.)
Sidney Jones is not eligible to practice for the first six weeks, so there's no update yet. They have a window starting after the Panthers game. It becomes more relevant then. He's walking around, is on the sideline at practice and in meetings, and is traveling with the team. But there won't be an update until he's eligible.