If the Eagles are going to snap their three-game losing streak, they will have to hit the ground running.
That means the ground game needs serious improvement when the Eagles (5-7) host the Washington Redskins (6-5-1) on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Of course, getting behind by 29-0 in last week's 32-14 loss at Cincinnati wasn't conducive to establishing the ground game. Still, the Eagles saw Carson Wentz attempt 60 passes while they had 19 rushing attempts - three of them scrambles by the rookie quarterback. Wentz also had his second lowest passer rating (58.2).
Washington's defense is 29th in the NFL, allowing 4.6 yards per carry, and 22nd in yards per game (114.3). During a 27-20 loss to the host Redskins in the fifth game of the season, the Eagles rushed for 94 yards on 21 carries, while Washington gained 230 on 33 carries.
Eagles running back Ryan Mathews, who missed the last two games with a knee injury, is ready to return.
Mathews' problem has always been durability more than production. This season he has rushed for 427 yards (4.2 average) and seven touchdowns.
It marks the sixth time in his seven-year career that Mathews has missed at least two games. Last season, his first with the Eagles, Mathews averaged 5.1 yards per carry, but he was sidelined three games with a concussion.
"It feels good to be back and to be able to run the ball," Mathews said after practice Friday.
Pederson said he likes the size that the 6-foot, 220-pound Mathews brings to the ground game.
"He's a little bit more between the tackles and has that veteran experience that you see out of him," Pederson said. "It will be good to get him back out on the field Sunday and get him some more work."
Mathews is listed as questionable, but he was a full participant in practice this week.
In addition to the Bengals game, he also missed the Eagles' 27-13 loss to Green Bay. During that game, the Eagles ran the ball just 18 times (for 81 yards) while attempting 36 passes.
Rookie Wendell Smallwood started at running back the previous two games and rushed for 56 yards on 17 carries.
Besides controlling the clock, running the ball would lessen the impact of the Redskins' pass rush. In the Redskins' earlier win, Wentz was sacked five times, including 21/2 sacks by Ryan Kerrigan.
The Redskins are tied for seventh in the NFL with 30 sacks and Kerrigan has a team-high 10.
"If we get in true passing situations early in the game or late in the game, Kerrigan is tough to block [linebacker Trent] Murphy is tough to block, 94 [Preston] Smith is tough to block, and some of those guys inside, too," Eagles tight end Zach Ertz said. "We have to be able to run the ball."
Mathews is looking forward not only to returning but to getting the run-pass ratio more in line.
"All of the running backs, when our number is called we look to do our best," he said. "Hopefully we can get back to running the ball more."
Notes. Wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who suffered an abdomen injury in the loss at Cincinnati, is listed as questionable, but he didn't practice this week.. . . Receiver Jordan Matthews, who missed the first game of his career last Sunday (including going back to Little League), is listed as questionable. He was a full participant in practice Friday and hopes to return. "I think one game is going to be enough for me, so I am going to try to get back out there Sunday," he said after practice.. . . As expected, tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai will miss his third straight game with a knee injury.. . . Three Redskins were listed as out with injuries: starting safety Will Blackmon, starting center Spencer Long, and defensive end Anthony Lanier.. . . Dangerous Redskins tight end Jordan Reed, who did not play last time because of a shoulder injury, is among the players listed as questionable.