Will Eagles Make a Better Effort to Establish the Run in 2017?

It was just one preseason game, but it all seemed oddly familiar. 

Against the Packers last Thursday night, the Eagles passed the ball an astounding 54 times and ran just it just 19. Matt McGloin threw 42 passes! 

While offensive coordinator Frank Reich blamed the lack of rushing attempts on the Packers' blitzing defense, for many fans watching it probably seemed like the same old story. Doug Pederson abandoned the run. 

"We didn't run it very well against Green Bay," Reich said, "but I'm very confident that we will run the ball well this year."

For a former quarterback and quarterback coach who comes from the Andy Reid school of offense, Pederson has earned the reputation of being a pass-happy play-caller and coach. After all, he's the coach who allowed his rookie quarterback to attempt over 600 passes last season. 

Despite Pederson's reputation, free agent pickup LeGarrette Blount said he didn't hesitate to sign with the Eagles this offseason. 

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"That didn't concern me," Blount said this week. "You just have to take advantage of every opportunity you get. Some games you might run it a lot, some games you might not run it as much. 

"I'm confident that I'll touch the ball as much as they need me to."

In fairness, the Eagles weren't as pass-heavy as they appeared in 2016. In Pederson's first year as head coach, the Eagles passed 609 times and ran 438 times. So they ran the ball 41.83 percent of the time, good for 16th in the NFL. Despite that percentage, the Eagles were still the 11th-best rushing team in the league, averaging 113.3 yards per game.  

While the Eagles released the often-injured Ryan Mathews on Tuesday, Howie Roseman did his part to bring in adequate replacements. He signed Blount as a free agent and drafted Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round. Those two will combine with Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood to create a four-headed running attack. 

While there are still a few weeks before the opener, Reich said the look of the running back rotation is beginning to crystallize a little bit. 

"We all have our roles," Sproles said. "I feel like the last couple of practices, the running game is starting to come together."

In his rookie season, a season in which he didn't become the starter until a week before the opener, Carson Wentz threw an astonishing 607 passes. That's more than any Eagles quarterback had ever thrown in a season and the second most an NFL rookie has ever had. 

Pederson even admitted in July that Wentz probably felt like the Eagles asked him to do too much at times as a rookie (see story)

So what's the easiest way to help Wentz?

Run the ball. 

"We have a handful of backs who run hard and do some good things," Wentz said Tuesday. "It'll be interesting to see how that shakes out. But we believe no matter who's in the backfield, with the O-line we have and the guys up front, we should be dynamic up front. 

"We believe that will kind of be our bread and butter and we can lean on those guys, whoever's back there, hopefully, they'll get the job done and do it well."

Earlier this week, Reich touted the Eagles' run efficiency last season, claiming the team was fifth in 2016. He explained that run efficiency doesn't just take yards into account but also looks at how productive those yards were depending on the situation. 

While Reich said the rotation is starting to crystallize, it's still unclear what it will look like. It is clear Sproles and Pumphrey will get a bulk of their work in the passing game. Then it becomes a question of whether or not Blount is a short-yardage and goal line specialist or if he's also the guy who will run the ball between the 20s. He seems to think he is still a bell cow, but Smallwood has been extremely impressive when healthy in camp. 

"He's been looking good," Sproles said of Smallwood. "He got more comfortable with the offense now. He's looking good."

Meanwhile, Blount is coming off an 18-touchdown season and a Super Bowl victory. 

"[Blount] knows what it takes to win," Sproles said.  

The Eagles have three more games this preseason to figure out how they want to rotate their running backs and it won't be easy considering the starters won't play much until the Dolphins game. 

This week against Buffalo offers the Eagles another chance to prove they're committed to running the football. 

Maybe that means Matt McGloin won't throw the ball 42 times. 

"You try to go into every game trying to establish [the run]," Pederson said. "You know, it was unfortunate the way the game kind of took off. But, yeah, the plan would be to try to get that established a little bit this week and see where it goes. I really feel like we've got a good offensive line that can handle that with the backs that we have. It's something that we'll try to focus on hopefully Thursday."

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