Darren Sproles, Eagles' Backs Eager for More Carries

Doug Pederson made two startling admissions on Monday. First, the Eagles probably need to run the football more than they have, and second, Darren Sproles is the offense's feature back (see story).

Technically, Pederson calls his approach running back by committee, and Ryan Mathews still has 17 more rushing attempts for the season than Sproles. That being said, Sproles has out-carried Mathews and all Eagles' backs in each of the last two games and three times total in 2016 — a trend that's impossible to ignore.

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"Right now, yeah, by stats and by what you're seeing, I would say that Darren is the No. 1 back," Pederson said. "Obviously we haven't hung our hat on one guy, but we tend to lean more toward Darren Sproles. It's hard to take him off the field right now.

Despite the head coach coming right out and saying Sproles is the go-to guy in a crowded Eagles backfield, the 12-year veteran doesn't really see things that way.

"That's not really what it is," Sproles said. "It's pretty much just the play-calling. That's why I'm in the game so much. We've been down, so we have to pass a lot too.

"Don't look into all of that."

Sproles might be right in that the uptick in usage is circumstantial. Prior to logging 28 carries the past two weeks in losses to the Cowboys and Giants, the two-time Pro Bowler ran only 14 times the previous four games and 31 times all season.

Wendell Smallwood, who's one of the backs losing playing time at the expense of Sproles, had a much simpler explanation for why the Eagles are tending to rely on one person more than others. He's been their be the offense's most consistent ballcarrier.

"It all depends just how the game is going," Smallwood said. "If the game is going and someone's hot and they're clicking, why take them out? I wouldn't want to come out if I have a hot hand and getting a feel for things.

"When I see Sproles rolling, I want him to keep rolling. Get in there and stay in there. When I'm rolling, I wouldn't want to come out."

Sproles 4.8 yards per carry are second only to Kenjon Barner's 5.2 among the Eagles' four running backs. Smallwood has a 4.4 average, and Mathews a 3.8.

Of course, while Sproles is certainly getting the job done, there's a reason it's such a shock to think of him as a primary back. At 5-foot-6, 190 pounds, he's ordinarily been used as a receiving threat first, and 33 years of age seems like a strange time to experiment with large numbers of touches.

Pederson says the Eagles are aware of the high volume of carries and it sounds like the offense could try to limit those going forward.

"That's a lot," Pederson said. "We talked about it coming out of the Dallas game, and we just have to make sure we're doing the right thing, make sure with Darren, just keeping him available especially as the season wears on, keeping him healthy and keeping him going."

For what it's worth, Sproles says he feels fresh coming off of a 15-carry game against Dallas, tied for the third-highest of his career.

"I feel pretty good," Sproles said. "The workload doesn't really have me sore or anything like that."

The one thing everybody seemed to be able to agree on is the Eagles need to run the football more moving forward. Naturally, that could lead to more opportunities for all of the backs, which they're looking forward to.

It's also arguably when the offense has been at it's most successful this season.

"We just want to be physical and dominate the game," Smallwood said. "That starts with being physical, running it down their throat, getting push off the line and the line being aggressive and us being aggressive, just chewing at the defense.

"I think it kind of kills defenses, and the games we have done that, it's worked and we've won."

"Whenever you want to put the ball in our hands, we get happy happy about it," Sproles said.

Most of all, keeping the ball on the ground more could aid rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, who's appeared to regress over the last four games in particular. Wentz has also been asked to do a ton, racking up 90 pass attempts, five runs and getting sacked five times in the last two games alone.

"I would love to run the ball more," Pederson said. "I think it does help Carson, where you're not putting everything — the whole game let's say — on his shoulders.

"We do a lot in the run game, we ask Carson to do a lot with (run-pass option) things, read-options, making some checks there. I think going forward, we probably should rely on the run just a little bit more."

As for the strategy of alleviating some of the pressure on the quarterback by running the football more, Sproles simply smiled and replied, "That's normally how it is."

There's really no question how the backs feel about the idea.

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