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Big Question: How Will Darren Sproles' Absence Impact The Run Game?


This feature is all about you, Eagles fans. We solicited your questions and the writers answer them below.

Dave Spadaro: The balance on Sunday was impressive and the running game fueled everything. I'm a big believer in "chunk" plays in the NFL, so consider me a "pass-first, run-second" kind of guy. It's just the way I see the NFL, which makes it so easy for teams to throw the football. I think the offense will continue to run the ball, perhaps not to tune of 33 called runs but enough to keep defenses off balance. I love the three-headed committee of backs because they all have something a little different in their games.

Keep on running, Doug. But let's not forget the passing game. The Eagles need explosive plays to score big points in this league.

Fran Duffy: Depending on the situation I think the running game will continue to make an impact in this offense. I've said for the last year and a half that I really like the run schemes in this offense. There's a lot to like about how these run plays look on a whiteboard and with all of the variety in the playbook, there are lots of ways to get LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood, and Corey Clement going. Will they always run the ball as often as they did against the Giants? I sincerely doubt that. However, the Eagles are very capable of running the football and doing it well, it's a matter of consistently executing in key situations from all 11 players on the field. They showed that they can run it on Sunday.

Chris McPherson: I think the most important thing was the fact that the Eagles proved that they can rely on the run game when needed. It helped set the tone early as the Giants were unable to stop LeGarrette Blount. Then, the Eagles continued to have success in clutch time as Corey Clement came up big with his first career touchdown. Losing Darren Sproles and what he brings to the table is huge. No question about it. I'm looking at you, Wendell Smallwood. He was tremendous catching the ball out of the backfield as well as in pass protection last week. And you have to love the way the offensive line played even with the rotation at left guard. For the Eagles to gain 193 yards on the ground against a very good defensive line is simply impressive. Now, looking ahead, who are the best playmakers on offense with Sproles out? They're in the passing game and that's how the Eagles are going to win games.

Next question: Do we still have one of the best offensive lines in the league and how will they do against a decent chargers front 7?

Fran Duffy: Looking around the NFL, it's certainly not a stretch to call the pair of tackles as one of the best in the league with Jason Peters and Lane Johnson. You can count on one hand how many centers are as athletic as Jason Kelce, and I thought he had one of his best games in recent memory against the Giants, who have a stout front inside. Brandon Brooks may be their most consistent player this year; I've been really impressed by his play. Obviously, they're in the midst of a battle at left guard, and we'll see how that shakes out, but I do think they have one of the better lines in the league, absolutely, especially when you factor in the depth of the group overall.

As far as the matchup against the Chargers, the strength of this defense is up front. They're No. 2 in the league with 11 sacks for a reason. Joey Bosa is a dynamite pass rusher and can win in a lot of ways. Melvin Ingram is similar in ways to Brandon Graham, though I think BG is more refined as a pass rusher while Ingram is a bit more explosive. Corey Liuget is a penetrating 3-technique and veteran Brandon Mebane is strong and stout at nose tackle. It's a good group and I'm looking forward to a good battle in the trenches on Sunday.

Dave Spadaro: The offensive line hasn't yet hit its stride, but you could see the improvement on Sunday. Right tackle Lane Johnson had his best game of the year, as did center Jason Kelce. Right guard Brandon Brooks has been rock solid through three games. The Eagles don't yet have a go-to left guard, but they know that they have options. Stefen Wisniewski is probably the best option there at this point. Hey, this matchup on Sunday is going to be tough, particularly on the edges where Los Angeles has Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram coming hard in the pass-rush game.

Chris McPherson: Lane Johnson said at the beginning of the season that each week was going to present a challenge. He's gone from Ryan Kerrigan to Justin Houston to Jason Pierre-Paul to now Joey Bosa. Wow. This group has rebounded from some early-season adversity and will be battle-tested for the latter half of the season. Melvin Ingram was the AFC's Defensive Player of the Month. New defensive coordinator Gus Bradley gets back to what he does best and he has plenty of talent to get that accomplished. What's interesting about this week's game is that the Chargers rank fifth against the pass, but next to last vs. the run. How will the Eagles attack?

The Eagles prepare to square off against the Chargers for the first time in four years. Check out some great shots from Wednesday's practice.

  • Last question: Can Doug Pederson be EVEN more aggressive?*

Dave Spadaro: More aggressive? What does that mean? Does that mean going for it on fourth down more? Does it mean dialing up gadget plays? Does it mean relying more on the running game? I think Doug is a coach who shows a lot of confidence in his team. I think he is a coach who takes his shots in the passing game down the field. I'd like to see less of the quick sideline throws and would attack the sticks more, but that's just me. I understand that the screen game is part of what the West Coast offense is all about, so we'll see what happens with Darren Sproles out the lineup.

Fran Duffy: I'm not sure if you're referring to downfield shot plays or going for it on fourth down or passing numbers overall, but I'd say pretty confidently that Doug Pederson is one of the more aggressive and confident play callers in the NFL. The Eagles are going to continue to call shot plays downfield, even if they don't always hit, because you have speed in Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, and Mack Hollins to stretch the defense. You want the ball in your franchise quarterback's hands, and he's an aggressive passer already. Could he be more aggressive? I guess it's possible, but I wouldn't say that he NEEDS to be more aggressive. This is a team that will take its shots, can turn up the tempo at any time, and will make defenses defend every inch of the football field.

Chris McPherson: I know there's been a lot of debate about his fourth-down decisions in the Giants game, but he put the Eagles in position to win the game late. Pederson accepted Ereck Flowers' holding penalty instead of just taking the loss of down. This helped improve the field position. He was aggressive in moving the ball on the final drive instead of just going to overtime with such little time left. And he had Jake Elliott attempt the field goal. Some might have opted for the Hail Mary instead.

My last point on the fourth-down calls is teams have to respect the Eagles when they line up in those situations moving forward. Usually, a team is simply going to try and draw the defense offsides. Not the Eagles. I like that Pederson is aggressive and that he sticks with it.

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