The Eagles are not downplaying their excitement about rookie running back Josh Adams, who emerged as the team's lead running back last month and set team highs on Sunday with 22 carries and 84 yards. Doug Pederson often likes to preach the running back-by-committee approach that is the bane of a fantasy football owner's existence, and coaches don't often anoint an undrafted rookie who has played only nine career games, but the Eagles wants to use Adams even more during the final month of the season.
"It's just that Josh now has kind of taken that lead, and we continue to grow and try to increase his touches each week," Pederson said Monday, one day after the Eagles' 25-22 win over the New York Giants.
Adams played 62 percent of the offensive snaps. Corey Clement, who was productive as the third-down running back, played 37 percent of the snaps. Wendell Smallwood only played one offensive snap. The Eagles had already been trending in the direction of using Adams more in the offense, beginning with his 61-yard effort in the Oct. 28 win over Jacksonville. His first start came last week against New Orleans, and he was one of the few bright spots for the Eagles in that blowout.
With the way Adams played Sunday, he left no questions. Although he only averaged 3.8 yards per carry, that was in part because of short-yardage carries and also because he had a 52-yard touchdown nullified because of a penalty. Adams, a Warrington native, flashed a "215" for his area code after a touchdown on Sunday.
Pederson said the Eagles knew what they had in Adams coming out of training camp, although they didn't carry him on the opening day roster because they had Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles, Clement, and Smallwood. (Smallwood had become a core special-teams player.) But when the depth chart was decimated by injuries, the Eagles promoted Adams to the active roster. It turned out to be a shrewd transaction.
"You still don't know until players play," Pederson said. "Then to his credit, with taking advantage of some of the injuries, he has just kind of slowly worked himself into this position."
A good argument could be made that the Eagles should have gone this route sooner, especially after Ajayi's Week 5 injury and Clement's inconsistency in his second season. The Eagles used Smallwood as their top running back for more than a month, and that was time that could have been devoted to Adams' development.
However belated, Adams is the face of the Eagles' newfound commitment to running the ball. The Eagles handed the ball to their running backs 27 times and had 29 total runs – their third-most carries this season. The Eagles totaled 28 carries during the previous two games, although they were playing from behind. Of course, it might have helped them early in games to have a more balanced attack.
"I think it's something that has always been there," Pederson said. "We've seen glimpses of that this season when we've rushed the ball for close to 30 times a game. That's been a good recipe. If you go back and look at the wins, we've been pretty successful doing that. The games that get lopsided obviously it's a different story because you have to rethink your plan just a little bit. But great job by the guys up front; starts with them. Tight ends are involved, receivers are involved…and then of course your quarterback. Your quarterback getting us in and out of runs, good to bad and bad to good. Just making all that work."
In the locker room after the game, there was much praise offered to the Eagles' offensive line. They controlled the line of scrimmage – especially in the second half – and the Eagles relied on a group that includes four Pro Bowlers. It was a message that Pederson sent the night before the game, and it's the way the Eagles are built. They've invested significant resources in their lines, and they rely on winning the lines of scrimmage. The offensive linemen most enjoy run blocking, when they can play aggressively.
"It felt good to run the ball," Lane Johnson said after the game.
In fact, throughout the second half, players came to Pederson asking him to continue relying on the ground attack.
"If they see something, we're always asking for feedback and dialog and communication," Pederson said. "I think that's makes what we do special."
This is a passing league, the Eagles have a franchise quarterback, and they won't make the playoffs turning the offense into three yards and a cloud of dust. But Pederson said "good things happen" when the Eagles can stay balanced.
His explanation for the ground attack on Sunday was that running the ball would help chew up the clock for a defense that was undermanned and inexperienced in the secondary. Whatever the reason, it worked. And with Pederson pledging to get Adams more carries in the final month of the season, it sounds like they plan to run.