Like a lot of Eagles fans, Brian Westbrook wishes coach Doug Pederson was a little more in love with the idea of running the football.
He seemed to like it pretty well in September and Octobe,r when Jordan Howard was healthy. But ever since Howard injured his neck/shoulder in Week 9, well, he has put even more faith than usual in Carson Wentz’s $128 million right arm.
In the Eagles’ last four games, Wentz has put it up a whopping 181 times, including a season-high 50 passes in Monday night’s dramatic come-from-behind overtime win over the Giants.
Their run-play percentage in the last four games was just 32.9, which is more than 12 points lower than it was in their first nine.
Given that they are playing a Redskins defense that is 27th against the run and 20th in opponent rush average and gave up 174 rushing yards to the Packers last week, you would think the Eagles are going to come out running at FedEx Field. But who knows.
“You would think" they’d run more, said Westbrook, who was the epitome of the all-purpose back during his eight prolific seasons with the Eagles. “But I’ve thought that for a few games now and that hasn’t necessarily been the case.
“As much as I think it’s time to run the football, [it seems like] Doug is saying it’s not. It’s a product of Doug’s confidence in Carson.’’
On Monday night, after watching his offense flop around like a fish in a boat for 3½ quarters against the Giants, Pederson turned back to the run and short passes to his two running backs, Miles Sanders and former practice-squadder Boston Scott.
The Eagles ran 39 plays on their final five possessions of the game, when they came back from a 17-3 deficit. Sanders and Scott touched the ball on 22 of those 39 plays. Sixteen were runs.
Sanders and Scott combined for 197 yards from scrimmage, including 104 on the ground. Scott had the key play on the Eagles’ game-winning drive in overtime, a 25-yard run off a quick pitch.
“[Scott] was exactly what this offense needed,’’ Westbrook said. “His ability to make people miss in space, his ability to use his lateral quickness and break tackles, both in the run game and the pass game, was exactly what this offense needed at this time.
“You could feel the excitement in that stadium when he broke a tackle. It was dead [before that]. We would’ve lost the doggone game if it wasn’t for him.’’
Westbrook, echoed the opinions of others who see a lot of Darren Sproles in Scott.
“He’s a younger version of what Darren Sproles was,’’ he said. “It was exciting to see.
“We don’t have very many people who can make people miss. We don’t have many explosive players. But Miles and Boston are right there near the top as far as the most explosive players on the team.
“Trying to get those guys in space is going to be critical to our success. That’s one of the things Doug needs to figure out moving forward here.’’
Sanders leads the Eagles in rushing with 565 yards on 131 carries. He also has 36 receptions for another 383 yards. He had five receptions of 30-plus yards in the Eagles’ first six games, but defenses have been focusing on him more recently. He averaged just 5.6 yards per catch in the last four games.
“A lot of the things they did to me they’re doing to him,’’ Westbrook said. “Hitting him as he goes through the line. Sometimes not allowing him to get through the line. Blitzing a little big more so he has to block instead of going out on routes.
“It’s a process for him. It’s a process to understand what the NFL is all about, and also a process to figure out how teams are going to attack him. But I think he’s done a good job of learning. I think Duce has done a great job of bringing him along,’’ he said, referring to running backs coach Duce Staley.
Battle plan vs. rookie QB
The first time the Eagles faced Dak Prescott in his rookie season, Jim Schwartz sent extra rushers after the Cowboys quarterback on 12 of 42 pass plays that day (28.6%). That’s higher than Schwartz’s usual blitz frequency, which typically hovers around 15 to 21%.
A year later, though, against another rookie quarterback, the Bears’ Mitchell Trubisky, Schwartz blitzed him just three times. Go figure.
So, what can we expect from Schwartz when his defense faces Washington’s first-round rookie, Dwayne Haskins?
Haskins, who didn’t start until his senior season at Ohio State, has started five games for the Redskins. Defenses have blitzed him pretty liberally and he has had his problems dealing with it. He has a 55.0 overall completion rate, and just 37.8 when he’s been under pressure.
Haskins has been sacked 22 times in his five starts, which is the second most in the league over that period.
Schwartz said the other day that he doesn’t have a folder that says “rookie quarterback’’ in which he has a one-size-fits-all game plan.
“It depends on a million different considerations going into it,’’ he said.
Schwartz has blitzed more this season than he has since he arrived in Philadelphia in 2016. Not a lot more, but a little more.
The Eagles have blitzed on 22.5% of their opponents’ pass plays this season, up from 15.7% last year.
In their last five games, Schwartz has blitzed on 45 of 179 pass plays (25.1 percent). His defense also has gotten more proficient at it as the season has gone on.
So, the odds are pretty good that he’ll go all Tora! Tora! Tora! on Haskins early and see how he handles it.
But safety Malcolm Jenkins said the Eagles need to be careful.
“Sometimes, you want to fool a young quarterback so much that you end up fooling yourself,’’ he said. “You do things that put you out of position. We still have to stick true to our own identity and what we do well as a team, and then take advantage of the looks we see on tape.
“It’s going to come down to what we execute best. We’re not going to create blitzes just for the sake of creating blitzes. We want to do things that we can execute and not have any confusion about and allows us to communicate and get lined up.’’
Figuring the Eagles
In the last two games, Carson Wentz has completed 7 of 13 throws of 20 yards or more. He was 14-for-44 in the first 11 games. He was 4-for-7 for 104 yards on deep balls against the Giants. Three of them went to tight ends – two (for 54 yards) to Zach Ertz and another to Dallas Goedert (for 28 yards) as well as one to wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (22 yards).
The Eagles gave up six pass plays of 30-plus yards in the last two games. In the previous five games, they gave up just three.
Last season, 72 of Ertz’s 116 receptions, or 62.1%, resulted in first downs. This season, that rate has dropped to 55.7 (44 of 79). His 66.4 catch rate (79 catches, 119 targets) is his lowest since 2014, his second year with the Eagles. It was 74.4 last year. In the last five games, however, he has a 76.4 catch rate. He had 42 receptions on 55 targets in the last five games.
The Eagles haven’t allowed any first-possession points in their last six games. They have allowed just 11 net yards and one first down on their opponents’ first possessions in those six games.
Just one of the Eagles’ last 11 touchdown drives was fewer than seven plays. Five were 10 plays or more.