The warning signs were all there when the Eagles signed LeGarrette Blount in May. Yet, even those of us who were skeptical of the move couldn't necessarily have predicted Blount would go without a carry as early as Week 2.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson had his reasons for withholding the ball from Blount in Kansas City on Sunday. For starters, the offense was stuck in 2nd- or 3rd-and-long quite a bit. And in Pederson's defense, Blount hasn't done anything to justify a heavy workload.
Although, after Blount rushed 299 times for 1,161 yards and an NFL-best 18 touchdowns with the Patriots in 2016, some folks simply aren't going to buy the latter explanation. If he was good enough to be the primary ball carrier for the eventual Super Bowl champions, he ought to be good enough to get some looks in the Eagles' depleted backfield. At least, that's the thought process for Pederson's critics.
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With that in mind, it's certainly worth asking how New England was able to get a career year out of Blount? Everybody knows he's a beast in short yardage, but what else does he do well? We went into the situational statistics to see if there are any clues as to how Pederson and the Eagles can get the bruising runner more involved moving forward.
Blount carried the ball most often on first down
Blount on 1st down: 187 ATT, 718 YDS, 3.8 AVG
Blount on 2nd, 3rd and 4th downs: 111 ATT, 441 YDS, 4.0 AVG
(via Pro Football Reference)
It seems simple enough. If Pederson is worried about the frequency with which the Eagles are winding up in 2nd- or 3rd-and-long, why not hand Blount the ball a few times on 1st-and-10?
From a strategic standpoint, it makes sense. Even if Blount gains only two or three yards, apparently that's no less effective than whatever the Eagles were doing. At the very least, handing off is less likely to result in a negative play, and the clock keeps moving. Plus, committing to Blount on 1st-and-10 might serve to open up the passing game on that situation as well, especially once defenses are forced to worry about being bludgeoned with repeated 2nd-and-manageables.
If the Eagles are going to get anything out of Blount, besides in short-yardage situations, it's clear he needs to be on the field on 1st-and-10 from time to time.
Majority of Blount's carriers came when Patriots were ahead
Blount when ahead: 242 ATT, 910 YDS, 3.8 AVG
Blount when behind or tied: 92 ATT, 360 YDS, 3.9 AVG
This stat can be deceptive, because the Patriots are such an incredible team. Did Blount get more carries when New England was in the lead because that's the optimal times to use him, or because New England is typically in the lead?
Let's just assume the answer is "yes" for both. Regardless, it's obvious the best time to use Blount is while ahead. Teams that are tied or losing are trying to stay aggressive and score as many points as possible, which is accomplished largely through the passing game -- an area where Blount is of minimal use. Teams that are leading can afford to run the ball with minimal effectiveness, as the primary concerns become keeping the clock running and winning the field-position battle.
Seeing as the Eagles offense never took the field with the lead in Kansas City on Sunday, you can forgive Pederson somewhat for lessening Blount's role. That doesn't necessarily mean he should go without a carry, but the circumstances were not optimal for a larger role in the game plan.
Blount's most effective runs were outside the tackles
Blount on runs charted as left side, right side, or middle: 257 ATT, 842 YDS, 3.3 AVG
Blount on runs charted as left sideline or right sideline: 41 ATT, 319 YDS, 7.8 AVG
Perhaps nobody is totally to blame for Blount's lack of effectiveness -- not Blount himself, not Pederson, not the offensive line. The reality is, even last season, he was a plodding runner who occasionally broke free from the defense for a big play.
Clearly, the Patriots didn't continue thumping Blount up the gut down after down because he was ripping off huge chunks of yards. They did it on 1st down because it put the offense in more favorable situations on 2nd, and they did it with the lead because it kept the clock running and shortened the game.
The Eagles and fans alike need to submit to the fact that Blount isn't going to be the type of dynamic back who carries the team to victory. He's the guy who does the dirty work, and when everything goes according to plan, maybe he carries the team across the finish line.
If defenses don't get Blount down quickly, he has the ability make them pay. More often than not, he's going to be the living embodiment of "three yards and a cloud of dust."
By December, Blount's numbers were in serious decline
Blount in September, October and November: 212 ATT, 869 YDS, 4.1 AVG
Blount in December, January, and February: 122 ATT, 401 YDS, 3.3 AVG
Numbers don't always tell the whole story, but these certainly suggest Blount was cooked by the end of last season with the Patriots. He turned 30 years old in December, and exceeded his career high in carries by nearly 100 (98, to be exact), so that's not to be expected. Seeing as Blount was then excommunicated by the Patriots, and didn't attract much attention on the free-agent market until the Eagles gave him a one-year contract worth $1.25 million, the rest of the league seems to share those concerns.
Skeptics have maintained all along Blount wasn't going to work out for the Eagles -- his age, lack of scheme fit and underwhelming career being the primary factors. Perhaps Pederson can now confirm what some observers thought from the beginning.
At this point, it's probably crazy to think Blount deserves or will get upwards of 15 carries per game with any consistency. That doesn't mean he's completely useless and should only play six snaps, either. Then again, the Eagles aren't going to play in front of teams all season long like the Patriots, and Pederson isn't the type of coach who's going to settle for 3.5 yards per carry when he has Carson Wentz to sling the ball all over the field.
Whether Blount is cooked or not -- not an unlikely prospect -- the splits don't indicate a huge swing in production is coming regardless. He is what he is, and the Eagles are either going to recognize that and plug him appropriately, or phase Blount out and maybe even grant him his release.