It is a special situation. The Eagles have unique talents at running back with LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles, and they have enviable depth and talent at the position. They also have challenges making it all work, and we'll see how much different the rotation is in 2015 than it was in 2014.
There is only one football on every play, and head coach Chip Kelly is happy to give every player his fair share of touches and keep defenses off balance and score point any way he can. A running game that led the league in 2013 slid to ninth in 2014, largely due to injury and inconsistency along the line of scrimmage than the play in the backfield. Think about it: The Eagles moved the ball up and down the field last season despite having so many players in and out of the lineup on the offensive line and missing starting quarterback Nick Foles for eight games and three quarters of another game.
The possibilities for this scheme and this offense are endless. The Eagles must improve in the red zone, and they've got to curtail the giveaways and we've been through it over and over since September. They have the right X's and O's and they have enough talent to score big and the only thing missing is consistency.
At running back, the Eagles have the talents of McCoy and Sproles leading the way, and if there is one thing that many fans anticipated and didn't see during the season was the combination of the both of them on the field at the same time. It happened some, and Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur mixed the personnel grouping into the game plan, but some out there thought the Eagles would employ heavy doses of the duo. Didn't happen. Maybe the lack of dominance up front because of the injuries and the pressure the defenses put on the interior of the line of scrimmage scuttled some of those plans. The coaches sure know why they did what they did.
Moving forward and daydreaming about 2015, it makes sense to wonder if Sproles will be more involved. He caught 40 passes in 2014, his fewest since the 2008 campaign. In the three seasons prior to coming to Philadelphia, Sproles caught 86 passes (2011), 75 passes (2012) and 71 passes (2013) as a member of the New Orleans Saints. Why the drop? Defenses no doubt paid attention to Sproles and either doubled him in coverage or chipped him off the snap of the ball and generally tried to minimize his impact. That opened things up for other players, so in every way Sproles was productive.
McCoy benefited from Sproles, too. He ran for 1,319 yards and added another 28 catches for 155 yards, and he had 36 fewer touches than in the 2013 season, and McCoy stayed fresh throughout the year. He didn't get to the second level as much as he did a year earlier when McCoy led the NFL in rushing and total yards from scrimmage, but that's more on what happened up front than on his skills. He was just as quick and just as elusive and when there were running lanes, McCoy got through them.
What's going to be worth watching is how the Eagles employ both McCoy and Sproles. Will they try to get them more involved in the passing game? While McCoy's pass receptions went from 52 in 2013 to 28 in 2014, Sproles picked up the slack and the Eagles used their tight ends more and Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper both had career highs in pass catches and rookie Jordan Matthews was a revelation in the slot. Do you think the Eagles will displace their running backs just a smidgen more in the offensive formations? Can we expect to see McCoy and Sproles more in motion to create some space in the passing game?
Furthermore, the Eagles are loaded at running back. Chris Polk needs to stay healthy, but you see the talent. He is a power back, a downhill runner and Polk could be a huge piece in the red zone and in short yardage in '15. Does he play a larger role?
Even beyond those three running backs, the Eagles have talent. Matthew Tucker spent the season on the practice squad and will look to push for a place at the 53-man table and some snaps in the season. Kenjon Barner is healthy and showed in his brief preseason play that he can be productive in this offense. Does he make his move in the summer and in the preseason games?
It's a good situation, and it's also tough to fit all of that talent into the offensive structure. That the backs are selfless and complimentary of each other and so close in the running backs room helps a lot. You don't hear anybody complaining about playing time or touches or role in the offense.
This is the time of the year -- and it extends for many weeks to come -- when the coaches look at what worked and what didn't work from 2014 and then project some changes and structure for next season. How do the Eagles make a great running back situation even better in 2015? That's one of the questions to ponder as we see two teams in Super Bowl 49 with similar pictures -- talent galore at running back and varying roles and responsibilities that keep defenses guessing.