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Paul Domowitch: What’s the problem with the Eagles’ run game? Don’t blame it on Jalen


Photo Credit by John McMullen/JAKIB Sports

OCR Logo Color 300DPIThe Eagles’ run game hasn’t been very productive lately. In their first five games this season, they averaged 164 rushing yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry. In their last four games, they’ve averaged just 86.7 per game and 3.1 per carry.

They’ve dropped to eighth in rushing (129.7 yards per game) and 21st in rush average (4.0). That’s nearly 20 yards per game and .6 of a yard per carry less than last year.

A number of people on Twitter/X have suggested to me that the reason for the drop in run production is glaringly obvious: Jalen Hurts’ knee injury.

But here’s the thing. In those first five games when Hurts’ knee was supposedly OK and the Eagles were averaging 4.6 yards per carry, Hurts averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. In the last four games, he has averaged 3.3. A drop? Yes. But not a precipitous one.

Hurts has rushed for 316 yards on 88 carries this season. He’s second in the league in rushing first downs, thanks mainly to the Eagles’ Tush Push success. Twenty-one of Hurts’ 39 rushing first downs have been on Tush Push sneaks.

Last year, Hurts rushed for 760 yards on 165 carries. That’s 4.6 yards per carry. But his rush average didn’t really jump until late in the season when he rushed for 243 yards on 33 carries in a pair of back-to-back wins over the Colts and Packers. After nine games last year, Hurts was averaging just 3.8 yards per carry, not much different than this year.

The Eagles have one of the two or three best offensive lines in the NFL. They should be able to run the ball on anyone regardless of whether their quarterback can run or not. Yet, that hasn’t been happening lately.

In the first five games, the Eagles had 16 runs of 10-plus yards, including eight in 76 carries by D’Andre Swift. Swift averaged 5.7 yards per carry in those games.

In the last four games, the Eagles have had just five runs of 10 yards or more. Swift has had just one 10-plus yard run in 59 carries and has averaged just 3.0 yards per carry in the last four games.

Last year, when Shane Steichen was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator, much of their run success came behind their mammoth left tackle and left guard – 365-pound Jordan Mailata and 335-pound Landon Dickerson. For whatever reason, Steichen’s replacement, Brian Johnson, hasn’t leaned on Mailata and Dickerson nearly as much as Steichen did.

The Eagles almost lost to the Cowboys two weeks ago because they were unable to control the football in the fourth quarter. Their last three possessions all were three-and-outs. They have not run the ball as effectively in the fourth quarter this season as they did last year. They averaged 4.20 yards per carry in the fourth quarter last year. Through nine games this year, they’re averaging 3.95.

Food For Thought

With Dallas Goedert out for multiple games with a fractured forearm, it will be interesting to see what the Eagles choose to do personnel-wise in the tight end’s absence.

When Goedert missed five games last season with a shoulder injury, the Eagles basically plugged in backup Jack Stoll and continued to use mostly 11-personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR). In fact, they used more of it when Goedert was out. In the 12 games Goedert played, the Eagles used 11P 70.9 percent of the time. In the five games without him, they cranked up the 11P usage to 73.8 percent.

Stoll played 75.9 percent of the offensive snaps in the five games Goedert was out in 2022. Grant Calcaterra played 38.1 percent, most of them in 12- and 13-personnel packages. Their other tight end, Tyree Jackson, played 9.9 percent of the snaps.

Stoll wasn’t/isn’t much of a factor in the Eagles’ passing game. He was targeted just seven times and had seven catches for 74 yards in those five games Goedert missed. Calcaterra, a better receiver but not as good a blocker as Stoll, was targeted eight times and had four catches for 41 yards in those five games last year without Goedert.

This season, the Eagles once again have been basically an 11-personnel team. In their first nine games, 449 of their 617 offensive plays, or 72.8 percent, have been run with 11P. In all likelihood, that won’t change much with Stoll in and Goedert out.

As they are with most injuries, the Eagles haven’t revealed much about the extent of Goedert’s forearm fracture. A fractured forearm typically is a 4-to-6-week injury if there is no associated elbow joint damage, which isn’t known. The Eagles haven’t yet placed Goedert on injured reserve.

One thing we could see the Eagles do with Goedert out is use a little more 21-personnel, with two running backs, one tight end and two wideouts. They’ve only used the personnel grouping five times this season – three times in their 20-14 Week 6 loss to the Jets, and twice in their 28-23 Week 9 win over the Cowboys. But it would give them an extra receiving threat with Goedert out.

Against the Jets, they used the two-back personnel grouping twice on their opening possession of the game – a first-down incompletion to DeVonta Smith and a 14-yard completion to Boston Scott on a third-and-2. In the second quarter, Scott had a nine-yard run with 21P.

The Eagles used 21P twice on their third possession of the game against the Cowboys two weeks ago. Jalen Hurts and D’Andre Swift connected on a 20-yard pass play on first down. Then, on a third-and-3, Kenny Gainwell ran for three yards and a first down.

Tush Push

The one area of the Eagles’ run game that has been consistently productive this season has been the Tush Push. Through the first nine games, Jalen Hurts & Co. have converted 21 of 23 quarterback sneaks with the Tush Push, not including that seven-yard touchdown run by Swift out of the Tush Push formations in their 38-31 Week 8 win over Washington.

The only two times the Tush Push has come up empty this season was in Week 3 against Tampa Bay when the Bucs stopped Hurts on a third-and-one at the goal line (they used the Tush Push again on fourth down and Hurts scored) and in Week 8 against Washington when Hurts fumbled the snap on a Tush Push play at the one.

The Eagles have the highest fourth-down success rate in the league (76.5%) and the Tush Push is the main reason why. They’re 8-for-8 with the Tush Push on fourth-and-one and 9-for-10 on third-and-one.

Six of Hurts’ seven rushing touchdowns have been Tush Push plays. Of the 16 Tush Push sneaks that haven’t resulted in touchdowns, 13 have gained two or more yards.

Sirianni, who has said his team “trusts and believes’’ in the Tush Push, has no reluctance about using it anywhere on the field, regardless of the circumstances. In the fourth quarter against Miami, with the Eagles clinging to a seven-point lead, he went for it on fourth-and-one twice on the same possession, first from his own 26 and then from his own 37. They converted both and ended up scoring a game-clinching touchdown.

The Hurts Report

Two key areas in which Jalen Hurts has improved this season have been on third down and in the red zone. The Eagles have the best third-down success rate (50.0%) in the league through the first 10 weeks. Hurts’ third-down passer rating has risen from 93.0 last year to 99.7 this year. His third-down completion percentage has shot up from 62.6 to 71.6. Thirty-one of his third-down pass attempts have produced first-downs. Last year, he had 39 the entire season.

The Eagles were near the bottom of the league in red-zone touchdown production earlier this season after converting just 8 of 19 red-zone opportunities into TDs in their first five games. But they’ve climbed to 13th after converting 12 of 17 tries in the last four games.

Defenses doubled down on the run in the red zone and dared Hurts to beat them inside the 20 by throwing the ball, and he responded to the challenge. He has a 103.2 red-zone passer rating, up from 88.7 last year. His red-zone completion percentage has improved from 50.0 to 55.6. Last year, he threw just nine red-zone TD passes in 48 pass attempts. This year, he already has eight TDs in 27 attempts in the Eagles’ first nine games.

By the Numbers

–The Chiefs are 13th in the league in scoring. They’re averaging 23.1 points per game. That’s their lowest scoring average since Andy Reid’s second year in KC in 2014, when the Chiefs averaged just 22.1 points per game, finished 9-7, and missed the playoffs for the only time in Reid’s tenure. Since Patrick Mahomes became the Chiefs’ starting quarterback in 2018, the Chiefs haven’t averaged less than 28.2 points per game.

–The Chiefs’ defense is second in points allowed, holding opponents to 15.9 points per game. That’s the best average since Reid arrived in 2013.

–The Eagles’ defense has had difficulty covering tight ends this season, which isn’t a good thing to be struggling with when the next tight end on your dance card is the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce. The Eagles have given up five touchdown passes to tight ends this season. Last year, they gave up three the entire season. Kelce had six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown in the Chiefs’ 38-35 Super Bowl win over the Eagles last February.

–The Chiefs, like the Eagles, are coming off a bye. Andy Reid is 27-4 in his career in regular-season games following the bye. Nick Sirianni is 2-0.

–Four of the Eagles’ last six opponents have scored multiple touchdowns on their first three possessions.

–Through their first nine games last season, the Eagles had a plus-63 first-half point differential. Through nine games this year: plus-16.

–Through nine games last year, the Eagles had an NFL-best plus-13 turnover differential. They had a league-high 20 takeaways, including 13 interceptions, and just seven giveaways. Through nine games this year, they are tied for 16th with a minus-2 turnover differential. They are 22nd in takeaways with 11, including just four interceptions, which is the second-fewest in the league.

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