A portion of the Eagles' offseason mission was to surround quarterback Carson Wentz with more weapons and give him the best chance to have success in 2017. Don't make the mistake of thinking those resources were provided only for the passing game. The running game is expected to benefit as well.
The Eagles expect that the running game will be the "bread and butter" of the offense, said Wentz on Tuesday after practice at the NovaCare Complex. That's why the paltry output from the running game in the preseason opener – 47 yards on 19 carries – was such a disappointment.
There were extenuating circumstances to consider from that Green Bay game, says offensive coordinator Frank Reich, but the goal remains the same for Thursday against Buffalo (7 p.m., NBC10): Run the ball more effectively.
"I think it was an interesting game against the Packers. Everybody knows that you go into a game and when you get a so-called heavy box versus a light box … You want to run versus a light box, but you've got to be able to run versus a heavy box with extra players down in there," Reich said. "It just so happened in that game – a little bit unusual for a preseason game – they blitzed us on almost every play. So it was not only a heavy box, it was people crossing the line of scrimmage, which was good for us to see. There are things that you normally would do to attack that personnel-wise, game-plan-wise that quite honestly we didn't want to do or show once it got into it, but, yeah, we want to be balanced.
"We want to be balanced in the preseason. We want to be balanced in the regular season. But at the end of the day, each game is its own unit. Sometimes you're going to have to throw it 60 times. I'd like us to have a couple games where we run for over 200 yards and throw it for 150. I'm hoping we have a few of those. So, yeah, I'd like us to run the ball better than we did last week."
The Eagles didn't have Wendell Smallwood or Darren Sproles for Green Bay, and there is still no certainty that either will play against Buffalo – Smallwood is coming back from a hamstring injury and Sproles doesn't need the pounding. No matter who is in the backfield, the Eagles would like to have something click in the running game.
Sproles won't play much, if at all, in the preseason. But he agrees that there is an important part of the process to iron out before the regular season begins on September 10 at the Washington Redskins.
"You get your timing down in the preseason, so it does matter," Sproles said. "You're kind of getting the feel for the run plays. But there's no reason to panic. Sometimes, you just get rolling when the regular season starts."
experienced the "first-game" transition from practice to the preseason tempo, understanding as the game in Green Bay went along that the faster pace was something he needed to adjust to. Pumphrey finished with only 5 rushing yards on four carries, with one fumble that he recovered.
This time around, Pumphrey expects to be better prepared for the preseason tempo.
"My first couple of touches, I felt the game speed is a lot faster than college," Pumphrey said. "You can't make cuts in space. You need to jump on their (defensive players) toes and then make your move and that's probably one of the biggest differences from the NFL to college.
"I feel like I can do a lot more than last game. It was a little disappointing in how I played last week. I watched the film and I feel like I've grown a lot so far."
The bottom line is this: When the regular season arrives, the Eagles know they need to run the ball well. They've got a hammer in 250-pound LeGarrette Blount in the backfield and they expect Smallwood to take a big step in his second NFL season. Sproles is a great change-of-pace back. Those are the core players expected to touch the ball in the running game this season.
In the NFL, the run sets up the pass. The Eagles think they can do some damage establishing the running game.
"I feel good about our running game," Reich said. "Last year we were fifth in the NFL in run efficiency. You guys have probably heard me say that before. It's hard to totally evaluate until it's live all the time. You saw in the couple live practices that we've had out here, our running game looks better on days that it's been live in Training Camp because you've got to bring the back to the ground and we've got some good runners. We didn't run it very well against Green Bay, but I'm very confident that we will run the ball well this year."
All of this is just practice. On September 10, the Eagles know they have to bring their "A" running game to the table in Washington.