Injury to Jason Peters, home-field advantage the impetus for Eagles' Jay Ajayi trade
The Eagles are fifth in the league in rushing, but have averaged just 3.7 yards per carry over the last four games. Jay Ajayi's speed could help that.
Pick an NFL coach, any NFL coach, in late August or early September and ask him to reveal his team's No. 1 goal, and he'll snort and look at you like you're the dumbest human being he's ever met and tell you it's winning the Super Bowl, of course.
But there are goals and there are realistic goals, and even in a parity-filled, on-any-given-Sunday league like the NFL, the truth is, that each year, no more than a dozen or so teams have a realistic chance to still be playing football in early February.
Which brings us to the Eagles.
If you strapped Howie Roseman to a gurney before the start of the season and gave him a shot of sodium pentothal, he probably would have told you that he thought his football team had a decent chance to compete for the NFC East title, and if things broke right, maybe win 10 games and make the playoffs.
The Super Bowl? Get back to me in a year or two.
But a funny thing has happened on the way to 10-6. The Eagles have won seven of their first eight games, and all of the preseason favorites in the NFC missed their wake-up call, and suddenly, it's not so ludicrous to consider the possibility of the Eagles not just making the playoffs, but gaining the all-important home-field advantage.
That growing possibility, along with the season-ending injury to nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters two weeks ago and the diminishing production of soon-to-be 31-year-old LeGarrette Blount, are what prompted Roseman, the Eagles' executive vice president of football operations, to trade for running back Jay Ajayi this week.
Carson Wentz is having an MVP-worthy season. But he is not quite ready to pull a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady and hoist the Eagles on his shoulders and carry them all the way to Minneapolis.
He needs a running game. And by a running game, I don't just mean Carson tucking the ball under his arm and running for a first down.
The Eagles are fifth in the league in rushing, but that number is deceiving. It's built mainly on the 407 yards the Eagles ran for in Week 3 and 4 wins over the Giants and Chargers.
Since then, they've averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. Blount is averaging 4.7 yards per carry overall, but just 2.6 in the last two games, which coincides with the loss of Peters.
From the Eagles' Week 3 win over the Giants through their Week 6 win over Carolina, Blount was one of the league's most productive first-down runners, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. In the last two games, he's averaged 2.2 yards per carry on first down. And he needed that 12-yard fourth-quarter touchdown against the 49ers to get it that high.
Much has been made about Peters' tremendous ability as a pass blocker. It's going to get him in the Hall of Fame, probably the first year he's eligible.
But he also has been a devastating run blocker. Without him in there, the run lanes are not as big and they're closing faster.
"The holes are going to flash [without Peters],'' said former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, who is an analyst on 97.5 The Fanatic. "You got two seconds to get to that hole, and if you don't get there, it's gone.
"Watching the film last week, there were times where Blount just wasn't quick enough, or didn't have enough explosion to get to those holes.
"Before Jason got hurt, those holes were open longer and Blount was able to get to them. Now that he's out, they're closing much quicker.''
The Eagles are hoping the younger, faster Ajayi has the explosion to get through those holes.
Ajayi rushed for 1,272 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Hasn't been nearly as productive this season behind a suspect Dolphins offensive line. Is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson weighed his words carefully Wednesday when asked about Ajayi's role and the impact it is expected to have on Blount's workload. When asked whether he thought Blount would be OK getting fewer carries and snaps, Pederson said, "Who said he's going to play less?'' even though common sense suggests that will be the case.
"I can't speculate on that,'' Pederson said. "He's not going to play any more or any less than what he's getting right now. Jay, he's got to learn our system first. I can't just throw him out there without him not understanding what we're doing. It would be a disservice to just throw him out there right away.
"Nothing's going to change as far as the rotation and how we're doing things right now.''
Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich likely will put together a small package of plays for Ajayi this week. After that, he'll have the bye week to familiarize himself further with the terminology and intricacies of the Eagles' offense.
That brings us to the first of the Eagles' two division games against the Cowboys on Nov. 19.
Blount said all the right things Wednesday after practice. But it was clear he was biting his lip when asked for his reaction to Ajayi's arrival.
"There was no reaction,'' he said. "I can only control what I can control. That's a decision that was made from up top.
"I can't say that I have any influence [on personnel decisions]. I can't go up there and say, 'Don't make this trade.' I don't control any of that.
"We already had some good backs here. We added another good back. There's something we all bring to the table, including him. Everybody brings something different to the table. The depth just makes our [running back] room a lot stronger.''