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June 06, 2017

Eagles ground game should be helped by upgrades at wide receiver

During the 2016 season, the Philadelphia Eagles' rushing attack had its moments. For example, in their win over the Atlanta Falcons, they ran the ball 38 times for 208 yards (5.5 YPC) and 2 TDs. Or late in the season, in their loss to the Baltimore Ravens, they once again pounded it 38 times for 168 yards (4.4 YPC), and again, 2 TDs.

Unfortunately, their success running the football was inconsistent, as the rushing attack was ineffective at other times. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich was asked about that inconsistency last season and if he thought this year's team could be more effective on a week-to-week basis. Surprisingly, Reich seemed to feel like the Eagles' ground game was among the better rushing attacks in the league a year ago.

"Yeah, I'm excited about the run game," said Reich. "Last year I think we finished 11th in rushing offense. I think we finished fifth in run efficiency. I won't go into that stat, but when we were running it, we were efficient. But I just think we need to continue.  [We're] excited about getting  LeGarrette in, the role that he'll play. You know with Coach Pederson all the backs are going to be involved. They're all going to contribute in a big way. He'll play a major role. He's a big, strong back. You can already see the vision and the experience, the feel, the knack that he has even in the drills that we're doing right now. So, [we are] excited about that.

"And then we just need to score more points early so we can be in some more four-minute offense late in the game and don't have to get in kind of pass mode early in games. If we get in that mode, we're going to be in good shape. If we can get in run mode, that's going to be a big-time advantage to our team."

The basic stats certainly don't support the notion that the Eagles were the fifth-most efficient run team in the NFL last year.

 Eagles rushing attack, 2016Stat NFL Rank 
 Yards per game113.3 11 
 Yards per attempt4.1 18 
 Touchdowns16 T-10 
 Rushes of 20+ yardsT-21 
 Rushes of 40+ yards6 teams had 0. 

However, Reich's statement isn't completely without merit, as the people at agree that the Eagles' rushing attack a season ago was indeed efficient:

 TeamDVOA NFL Rank 
 Eagles0.7% 9 
 Colts0.6% 10 

As noted two charts above, the Eagles were one of only six teams in the league without a rush of over 40 yards. In fact, they only had one rush of at least 30 yards, with the long being exactly a 30-yarder by Ryan Mathews against the Bears Week 2. Only the Giants' longest rush on the season was shorter.

However, the Eagles were a good "meat and potatoes" rushing team, in that they ran for a first down on 26 percent of their rushing attempts, which was good for third in the NFL.

What that tells me is that the Eagles' offensive line was generally doing a good job up front, but the backs were simply unable to turn singles and doubles into home runs at the second and third levels of the defense. Certainly, the complete lack of a downfield threat in the passing game didn't help, as opposing defenses routinely parked their safeties close to the line of scrimmage.

In 2017, the Eagles made running back additions in LeGarrette Blount and Donnel Pumphrey. They'll also likely get more games out of Lane Johnson this season, and as a result, better offensive line continuity. 

More importantly though, they added some quality to the their receiving corps in Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, which will force opposing defenses to respect the possibility of the deep ball, thus helping open up more opportunities for bigger plays on the ground.

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