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Big Question: How Do Eagles Ignite Run Game?

Posted Sep 20, 2017

Dave Spadaro: The running game has not been productive for two weeks, and it’s a problem many NFL teams are facing. And I’m not sure there is an easy solution.

The offensive line has to play a lot better, the running backs have to be decisive to and through the hole, and head coach Doug Pederson needs to show confidence in his running game.

Now, I don’t expect the Eagles to have a whole lot of success running the ball against a very strong New York Giants front. I think you play to your strengths and those strengths are quarterback Carson Wentz and the receiving corps here. The Eagles need to be patient, pick their spots, and win the line of scrimmage against New York.

The Eagles can be a functional running team. I don’t know if they’re going to be a dynamic running attack this season. They need better play all around. Maybe give Corey Clement a shot. Certainly get Wendell Smallwood involved. Use LeGarrette Blount when the situation is right.

The interesting part of this is that the Eagles have converted more than 55 percent of their third downs and rank second in the NFL in that category. The Eagles are moving the football. They’re scoring some points. In Kansas City, the red zone was again a bugaboo, as it was last season. Fix that, run the football more effectively, and the Eagles have something going on offense.

Fran Duffy: The Eagles can absolutely improve the running game because when you watch them run the football it’s never one consistent issue. When Doug Pederson says that it "takes a village" to get things going on the ground, he means that it takes all 11 players on the field to be executing their assignments correctly on any given play. All five linemen (and any tight ends) need to finish blocks. The running backs need to be able to see and hit the hole on time. The receivers need to do their part when they’re asked to block both in the box and out in space. When you have a missed assignment on a run play, especially on the play side, it’s going to wreck any chance for a potential gain each and every time. I really like the Eagles' run schemes and the talent is there up front to be effective on the ground.

Chris McPherson: The Eagles went into the Chiefs game looking to feature Darren Sproles and the perimeter run game. The alarming stat to me was that the Eagles faced seven third-down situations that needed 10 yards or more for a first down. And somehow the Eagles still managed to go 8-of-15 on third down in the game. That speaks to the importance of not only calling run plays but executing early in the series to get to third-and-manageable situations. I know things got away late in Sunday's loss, but the other part of the question is very important to note.

According to the ESPN NFL Matchup Show's Twitter account, Wentz has been hit 18 times so far this season. The Eagles do not want to subject their franchise quarterback to that type of punishment. I expect more out of the Eagles' run game. Looking back quickly at the two matchups with the Giants last year highlights the importance of getting off to a good start. The Eagles had the horrendous first quarter at New York (two interceptions in the first quarter), and it resulted in just 21 carries by the running backs compared to 53 dropbacks for Wentz. In the rematch at the Linc in December, the Eagles raced out to a 14-0 lead and Wentz had just 28 pass plays called against 26 carries for the backs.

Fran Duffy: The defensive line is the group that worries me the most for sure. Damon "Snacks" Harrison is an anchor inside and is really disruptive against the run and the pass. Rookie second-round pick Dalvin Tomlinson has been really impressive through two weeks at defensive tackle as well. He worked All-Pro guard Zack Martin back in Week 1 in the Dallas game. He’s a strong technician inside that the Eagles will have to account for in the run game. Jason Pierre-Paul is playing at a high level, and on the other side, Olivier Vernon flies all over the field no matter what he’s asked to do. To me, this defensive line is the strength of the Giants' roster, although you could make a case for Janoris Jenkins and some physically talented cornerbacks as well.

Dave Spadaro: Unless Odell Beckham Jr. makes a large improvement from a health standpoint in the next few days, he’s not the same OBJ who is as dynamic as any receiver in the game. He’s a worry, always, but not the biggest worry.

New York’s front four on defense is outstanding. The Giants have an excellent foursome with good edge rushers in Jason Pierre-Paul (who I never thought would come back to this level after his hand injury) and Olivier Vernon. Damon "Snacks" Harrison is a beast at 350 pounds at tackle. The Giants are deep inside and very talented.

So, yeah, it’s by far the biggest challenge the Eagles face, particularly Jason Kelce and the left guard position, whether it’s Isaac Seumalo or someone else. Seumalo has not yet taken the step forward that the Eagles expected and he really struggled Sunday in Kansas City. He needs to improve his performance.

This is another challenge for the Eagles’ offensive line. The Giants have one of the best defenses in the league, led by the front four. Points could be hard to come by for the Eagles. They have to be wary of giveaways and third-and-long situations.

Chris McPherson: Hmmm ... I want to go in another direction just for the sake of it. With the Eagles' injuries in the secondary, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz still has to contend with a top-tier talent in Odell Beckham Jr. and an emerging weapon in tight end Evan Engram (as long as his celebrations don't get out of control). Beckham had 11 catches for 150 yards last December, although you could argue it was the quietest 150-yard performance in NFL history. Without Ronald Darby, you have to mix up the coverages and at times bracket the three-time Pro Bowl selection. Engram is a matchup problem because the Giants will put him in position to make it look like he's a blocker, use play-action to suck in the defense, and the tight end gets wide open like on his touchdown Monday night against the Lions. Look, I don't disagree with Dave or Fran. The Giants have scored just 13 points in their two losses. But the Giants will be desperate to avoid an 0-3 hole.

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