It’s hard not to let the mind wander just a bit. The Eagles' offense, bolstered by the acquisition of running back Jordan Howard, now has a certain “complete” look to it. Oh, there are going to be additions and subtractions between now and when it all starts for real in September, but if you put it down on paper you can kind of get a good feel for what the Eagles' offense is going to be.
And it’s exciting, to say the least.
From the end of the 2018 season to now, the Eagles have added a game-breaking, defense-altering wide receiver in DeSean Jackson as well as a running back in Howard who has been among the most productive players in the league at his position in the last three seasons. They’ve made moves to bring back the entire offensive line, and they’ll continue to develop young talent for depth. The tight end position is loaded, headed by Zach Ertz with Dallas Goedert as the backup, and head coach Doug Pederson spoke last week excitedly about the creative ways the Eagles want to implement both into the lineup at the same time in 12 – one running back, two tight ends – personnel groupings.
Jackson’s arrival at wide receiver lights up the passing game, already a good one that becomes that much better. Jackson is the NFL’s most lethal deep threat, and his presence will open up the rest of the field for Ertz and Goedert and Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor.
Howard at running back? He was a workhorse in Chicago who moved the chains and reached the end zone. How it is all going to unfold remains to be seen, but the Eagles will put a strong plan in place for Howard to maximize his abilities.
All of this is designed to aid quarterback Carson Wentz and provide him options and flexibility in his reads, give him a productive and reliable running game, and, well, make the offense around him a whole lot better.
All of this is just on paper, of course. It’s early April. We’re a long ways away from September. But you look at this offense and you say: Just how good can the Eagles be on that side of the ball? To gain some insight, maybe it’s best to look back at 2018 and see where the Eagles could have been better and see how it all ties together.
The Eagles averaged 94.6 yards per game on the ground in 2018, down significantly from the 130.8-yard (best in the NFL) average in the Super Bowl season of 2017. Injuries to the backfield played a huuuggggeeee part in that decline. Let’s face it, the offense had some challenges last season – Wentz’s injury, Jeffery missing three games to open the season, an offensive line that battled some injuries. Having Howard and his reliability – he repeated the line “durability is the best ability” a few times on Monday, his first day at the NovaCare Complex – helps a ton, and the Eagles look forward to a second season from Josh Adams, a return from Wendell Smallwood, and a healthy Corey Clement.
The running game also benefits from the presence of Jackson and his vertical speed in the passing game. How are defenses going to play against the Eagles and the RPO game? You want to load the box? Good luck with the Eagles’ weapons on the outside. You planning on going light in the box? The Eagles will have a power ground game in place.
Options, options. Injuries limited those last year. This year, the Eagles look good on offense all the way around – and we’re still weeks away from the NFL Draft.
A late-season surge helped the Eagles reach 41 percent in their third-down conversions in the regular season, good for 12th best in the NFL in 2018. A year earlier, the Eagles were second in the NFL, converting 44.7 percent of their third downs. Wentz was incredible in 2017 on third down, particularly in long-yardage situations, so it’s not just third down that is a priority to improve. The Eagles have to stay away from self-inflicted wounds, gain yards, and give themselves a chance in third-down situations. Third-and-manageable is a whole lot better than third-and-long. What they do on first and second down matters, too. Howard helps here. He rarely loses yardage on his carries. He’s physical. He knows how to move the chains.
As much as Howard helps on third-and-short snaps, he’s also going to be a plus in the first- and second-down scenarios.
RED ZONE SUCCESS
An area in which the Eagles can potentially improve the most is their touchdown efficiency in the red zone. They were second in the NFL (behind Jacksonville) in 2017, converting 64.1 of their trips into the red zone. In 2018, the percentage dropped to 57.9. We all know just how vital it is to put the ball in the end zone. Enter Howard, who has 24 rushing touchdowns in his three-year NFL career and is one of the very best in the NFL in crossing the goal line.
It’s not all going to be on Howard, of course. It’s a collective effort, as we know, from the X’s and O’s to the personnel groupings to the play calls to the execution. It all has to work. But, truly, the Eagles are better now with Howard than they were without him. Jay Ajayi scored three touchdowns in 45 carries and then was lost for the season with a knee injury. Smallwood scored three times and really brought the effort, but at 208 pounds Smallwood is not a prototypical power back. Howard is, and he’s got a lot more than that.
This is just April musing, to put it in context. The Eagles have something good in place with an offense that, as it looks on this early spring day, has all kinds of exciting possibilities.