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The Josh Adams story: From undrafted rookie to Eagles’ No. 1 running back

Undrafted rookie Josh Adams has come on strong since his near-fumble against Jacksonville five weeks ago, averaging 5.0 yards per carry in the last three games. He'll be the Eagles' starting running back Monday night against the Redskins

Eagles running back Josh Adams runs with the football from quarterback Carson Wentz against the New York Giants on Sunday, November 25, 2018 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles running back Josh Adams runs with the football from quarterback Carson Wentz against the New York Giants on Sunday, November 25, 2018 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff PhotographerRead moreYong Kim

This was five weeks ago in the Eagles' 24-18 win over Jacksonville at Wembley Stadium in London.

They were clinging to a six-point lead and had the ball at their 32-yard line with 6:52 left in the game. Carson Wentz handed the ball off to Josh Adams.

The rookie from Notre Dame by way of Central Bucks South, who had an impressive 17-yard run on the Eagles' previous possession to set up their go-ahead touchdown, picked up three yards.

Then he lost the ball.

It was initially ruled a fumble, with the Jaguars recovering at the 35, which would've been potentially disastrous. But the play eventually was overturned after the replay showed that Adams' butt had touched the ground just before the ball popped loose.

Not coincidentally, that was the last time Adams carried the ball that day.

"Being in that situation myself many times before, I always wanted my coaches and teammates to have my back,'' said Duce Staley, the Eagles' assistant head coach who is in charge of running backs. "The one way you do that is simply put me back out there. That's one of the things I thought about as soon as he fumbled.

"You don't want to grab him and shake him, which I really wanted to do. You want to shrug it off and tell him to [move on to the] next play. That's one of the things we talk about in our [position] room. Bad plays are going to happen. It's all about how you respond.''

Adams didn't get to respond that day. But he did the next week. And the week after that. And the week after that.

In the three games since the near-fumble, he has been the Eagles' best running back, averaging 5.0 yards per carry and picking up nine first downs and two TDs in 36 carries. And he hasn't fumbled.

In Sunday's 25-22 come-from-behind win over the Giants, he was held to four yards on four carries in the first half, then exploded for 80 yards on 18 carries in the second half.

He had three double-digit-yard runs in the second half, as well as a one-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion with 10:11 left in the game that gave the Eagles their first lead.

"He's the silent assassin,'' Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson said. "He don't talk. He don't say nothing. But he sure can run. You see that explosiveness and speed. He's on the up and up, man.''

Head coach Doug Pederson more or less acknowledged Thursday that Adams is essentially the Eagles No. 1 back now, ahead of Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood and 35-year-old Darren Sproles, who has missed the last 10 games with a hamstring injury, but was a limited practice participant Thursday for the first time since reinjuring the hamstring three weeks ago.

But a day earlier, Staley said that despite Adams' impressive play, the Eagles still would be a running back-by-committee operation.

Clement also played well against the Giants, collecting 96 yards from scrimmage. He rushed for 45 yards on five carries including a 32-yard run, and also had two receptions for 51 yards.

And if Sproles is able to return either this Monday night or sometime in the near future, he'll likely get some snaps, as well.

"These guys work well together,'' Staley said. "It's all about the hot hand, and Josh had the hot hand the other night. [But] Corey had some good runs. It was good to see him go out there and make those plays.

"But Josh has been the guy that, for the last couple of weeks, has been pretty consistent.

"When you've got a guy like that that can go out there, and you see his patience as a runner, and you see he can catch the ball and also can block, he's doing a little of everything. And that's what we want from him.''

Adams, like Clement, was undrafted, despite rushing for 1,430 yards and nine touchdowns for the Irish in 2017.

Doctors discovered a broken bone in his foot at the predraft scouting combine in Indianapolis, which had an impact on his draft stock.

Staley said he was surprised that Adams fell out of the draft.

"He's a big back,'' he said. "He had good hands. You watch his [college] film, he was pretty special. I didn't think he'd fall to where he wouldn't get drafted. But lucky us. He did, and we were able to be there and scoop him up.''

Mr. Popularity

With a Super Bowl ring and three All-Pro selections already in his possession, Fletcher Cox set his sights on yet another lofty goal before the season: NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

With five games left, the Eagles defensive tackle is unlikely to win that award this season. The Rams' Aaron Donald, who has an NFL-high 14 ½ sacks, pretty much has it sewed up.

Pro Football Focus has Cox rightfully rated as the league's second-best interior lineman behind Donald. While he has only four sacks, he has 61 total quarterback pressures, including 18 hits, which is second to Donald's 77.

Cox was a big factor in the pressure the Eagles got on Giants quarterback Eli Manning last week. While Michael Bennett and Chris Long recorded the defense's only two sacks of Manning, Cox had five pressures, including three hits on him.

"Fletch was not only playing at a high level, but he was playing with the kind of toughness and leadership that you expect from a guy like that,'' said defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. "And that had a lot to do with our ability to come out on the winning side of that game.''

Cox had three sacks in the Eagles' first three games this season, but has collected just one more since then. He has had to deal with constant double-teams most of the year.

"It just opens [one-on-one] opportunities for my teammates,'' Cox said Thursday after practice. "Anybody who knows me knows I'm not a selfish teammate.

"I just have to find a way [to get there]. I mean, I've hit the quarterback. I've done a lot of things. I just haven't gotten the sacks. But my teammates are. Hats off to those guys.''

The Eagles, who have 27 sacks, are 22nd in the league in sacks per pass play. Bennett leads the team in sacks with 6 ½.

The absence of the Eagles' other starting defensive tackle, Tim Jernigan, who missed the first 10 games after having offseason back surgery, enabled offenses to focus even more attention on Cox. Jernigan returned to the lineup last week, which should help Cox.

"I always tell Fletch that when he quits getting double-teamed, it'll be time to retire,'' said defensive line coach Chris Wilson. "It's one of the badges of respect a guy at his level gets.

"Right now, he's still that guy. He's going to have to compete and fight like hell every day. He demands 600 pounds of force every snap. He demands it. If he doesn't get it, he wins one-on-ones.

"What he does is open up the playing field for the other guys. And he gives them opportunities. Can it be frustrating? Absolutely. But that's what comes with being a premier player in this league.''

Figuring the Eagles

— Thirty-three of Carson Wentz's 78 third-down pass attempts, or 42.3 percent, have produced first downs. That's only the 14th best percentage in the league among quarterbacks with at least 50 third-down attempts, and nearly eight percentage points lower than last year when a league-best 50 percent of his third down attempts (62 of 124) produced first downs.

— Golden Tate has been targeted 20 times in his first three games with the Eagles. Six of those throws (five catches) have been behind the line of scrimmage, seven (three catches) have been between zero and 10 yards, four (three catches) have been throws between 11 and 19 yards, and three (no catches) have been 20-plus yard throws.

— Wentz entered Week 13 fifth in the league in completion percentage (69.7). But one reason for that is he's throwing fewer deep balls and more high-percentage short passes. Last year, 15.5 percent of his throws traveled 20-plus yards. This year, that percentage has dropped to 11.8. Meanwhile, his percent of throws behind the line of scrimmage has jumped from 12.2 in 2017 to 18.1 this year. He has completed 54 of his 58 attempts behind the line of scrimmage. He's 15-for-38 on 20-plus-yard throws.

— Alshon Jeffery was targeted 39 times in his first four games after returning from shoulder surgery. Had 25 catches for 306 yards, four TDs, 18 first downs and seven third-down receptions. In his last four games, he's been targeted just 21 times and has 15 catches for 155 yards, no TDs, 12 first downs and four third-down receptions.

— The Eagles have used "11'' personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR) just 54.1 percent of the time this season, down from 65.1 percent last year. They also have run the ball less with 11 personnel (33.5 percent this year, 41.6 percent last year).

— The Eagles, who have scored a league-low 21 first-quarter points this season, are averaging just 3.26 yards per carry in the first quarter compared to 4.38 in the other three quarters (and one overtime). Carson Wentz has a 71.2 passer rating in the first quarter and a 107.7 rating the rest of the game.

— The Eagles have blitzed less this year (17.9 percent) than last year (21.7). They also haven't been nearly as effective with it. Opponents have a 107.0 passer rating when the Eagles have sent extra rushers this season. Last year, it was 69.3.

This and that

— The Eagles' decision three weeks ago to release punt returner DeAndre Carter seemed like a good idea at the time. With Darren Sproles expected to return after missing seven games with a hamstring injury, Carter, who had averaged 10.3 yards per return as Sproles' replacement, became expendable. But then, Sproles quickly reinjured the hamstring in practice. Bringing back Carter wasn't an option since he was quickly claimed by Houston, where he has averaged 13.3 yards per return as their punt returner the last three weeks. Golden Tate, who is handling the punt-return duties until Sproles returns, has averaged just 2.6 yards on five returns. "DeAndre obviously was great for us,'' special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said. "We all loved the guy. But we thought Darren was coming back into the mix. And we knew we were picking up Tate, so we had an emergency plan if something happened to Sproles again. Golden's been competitive with the ball in his hands. Maybe, like the other night, sometimes too competitive at times as far as trying to fight for too much. But I admire that he was trying to make something happen. Hopefully, we get Sproles back here soon and we'll keep going.''

— Brian Baldinger has a lot of respect for Doug Pederson. But the NFL Network analyst and the man behind those popular Baldy's Breakdowns on Twitter, took issue with the design of a play Pederson has called three times in the last two games, including twice in the first half against the Giants. Corey Clement was stopped for no gain the first time they ran it. Josh Adams lost 4 yards the second time they ran it. "They like this play where [Zach] Ertz comes across and wham-blocks the guy and the guard is going to trap,'' Baldinger said. "Nelson Agholor is like a back/wide receiver on the play, and his job is to block the safety. But if the safety is sitting in the hole, like [the Giants'] Landon Collins was, there's no physical way to block him. They ran it twice Sunday and ran it once the week before. My point is, you can't run that play. There's a lot of plays where you can adjust the blocking scheme and pick up the seventh guy in the box. But that particular play, I've seen it run three times in the last two games, and they've had a negative run all three times. At some point, whether it's the quarterback or whoever, they have to get out of that play. They can't run it. But they keep running it.''