Tag Archives: Ryan Mathews

Run the Damn Ball: Eagles Need to Establish the Run to Help Carson Wentz

12 Nov
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Eagles running back Ryan Mathews attempts to elude a Minnesota Vikings defender. Can the Eagles jump start their running game and protect quarterback Carson Wentz. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By  Chris Murray 

For the Chris Murray Report and The Philadelphia Sunday Sun

In the last two games, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has thrown the ball over 40 times.

When that’s happening, it’s usually because you’re behind by a couple of touchdowns and a couple of interceptions have been tossed along the way.

When you’re throwing the ball that much, it means that either (a) you  don’t have much of a running game or (b)!you’ve fallen behind by so many points that you have to abandon the run.

Not having a running game can be tough on a rookie quarterback, which is why Eagles head coach Doug Pederson admits that the team needs to expand it a little.

“Obviously, I think it does help Carson where you’re not putting everything, the whole game on his shoulders. We do a lot in the run game,”  Pederson said. “We  ask Carson to do a lot with RPO [run-pass option] things, with the read options, making some checks there. So, I think going forward, yeah, probably should rely on the run just a little bit more.”

Or, in the case of the Eagles, establish a consistent running game designed to  take the pressure off Wentz at the very least. A run game would keep opposing defenders from bringing the heat to Wentz, who threw two interceptions under intense pressure  against the New York Giants.

For the last two weeks, running back Darren Sproles has gotten the most carries. As shifty and speedy as he is, the 5-foot-6 Sproles is not a lead back. On one fourth down situation against the Giants, he was taken down short of the first down marker.

The guy that should have carried the ball in that situation was Ryan Mathews, who’s a more of a power running back.  So far this season, he is averaging close to four yards per carry. He hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time in recent weeks. That might be because of a fourth-quarter fumble against the Detroit Lions in a crucial situation.

And then there’s rookie Wendell Smallwood. At some point this season, I would love to see him as the Eagles lead back.  I think he has the speed and  power to run through people. He reminds me of former Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, but with more of a willingness to run between the tackles.  Like Sproles, Smallwood is a threat to hit the big play in the running game. In other words,  I like his home-run potential.

But because Smallwood had a fumble in a crucial situation against the Dallas Cowboys, the coaches aren’t trusting him. But the fumble problems can be fixed through coaching and practice.  They also need to get Kenjon Barner out there, too.

The bottom line here is that they can’t have their rookie quarterback slinging the ball all over the place at 40 times per game because, that could land him on the injured reserve list eventually. For all the things I like about Carson Wentz, the most important ability he needs to have is availability.

That’s why Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich really need to concentrate on the ground game.  Even if you don’t settle in on one lead back, figure out a way to utilize what those guys do well.

For example, Mathews is a good power back, especially in the red zone and when you need short yardage.  That’s the guy you use in third down and fourth down situations when you need to get a yard or two.

I would definitely mix in Smallwood between the 20s because I think he’s the most versatile back they have and has that big play potential.

Of course, the Eagles patchwork offensive line has to open those holes, but the offensive line is decent enough to be strong in the running game.

More importantly, you have to take the pressure off the quarterback because while Wentz has the tools to be a solid quarterback, he needs the help of a consistent running game.

And if the Eagles want to make the playoffs, they might want to get that together sooner rather than later.

 

Injuries Give Barner An Opportunity To Display His Skills

5 Aug
Kenjon Barner

Philadelphia Eagles running back Kenjon Barner (34) looks on from the sidelines as he watches the action on the playing field during a preseason NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers on Saturday, August 29, 2015 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Eagles defeated they Packers 39-26. (Scott Boehm via AP) Photo courtesy of the Philadephia Sunday Sun

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

With Ryan Mathews and rookie Wendell Smallwood on the shelf nursing minor injuries, running back Kenjon Barner has been getting extra reps in practice in their absence.

Barner’s all-around game as a running back has been impressing Eagles coaches since the beginning of minicamp. On a team that’s looking for someone to be the featured back, Barner has been turning the heads of head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich.

“Kenjon [Barner], I think is a really good, all-around back. He can make you miss in the open field,” Reich said. “I like his vision. He’s doing great in protections. I’ve been very impressed with him the whole offseason. Of course, when we got here everyone was in my ear about how good this guy is going to be a player, and that’s what we’re seeing.”

Since his days at Oregon, Barner has always had the speed and elusiveness needed to be a good running back. Last season, Barner got some time at running back and had one 19-yard run. During last year’s preseason, he showed flashes of what he can do in the open field with a couple of long punt returns.

When former head coach Chip Kelly brought Barner to Philadelphia in a trade with Carolina, he was seen as another one of the guys who was familiar with Kelly’s offense and some even expected him to be gone once Pederson arrived.

But Barner is definitely on the new regime’s radar and it likes what it sees.

“He’s an explosive guy with the ball in his hands, and he’s pretty good out of the backfield as a receiver,” Pederson said. “I love the fact that anytime you put the ball in his hand, he has the ability to make some big plays for you. He’s shown that here in the first week of camp.”

With Smallwood and Mathews not on the field, Barner is getting valuable time in front of the team video camera so the coaching staff can evaluate his progress.

“I thought he handled it well. His conditioning is good. It’s improving,” Pederson said. “He got a little tired towards the end of practice, but, again, that’s just the nature of the camp practice. Overall, I thought he did a good job. This will be a good film for him to watch: a good practice tape for him to watch to be able to make the necessary corrections. He’s headed in the right direction.”

Prior to training camp, Barner told philadephiaeagles.com that he has spent the offseason doing everything from changing his diet to working on his footwork. He said he wants to do everything he can to put himself in the position to compete with the other running backs.

“It’s about me wanting to be the best me I could be and I knew that in order to the that I had to take the necessary steps,” Barner said back in June. “I lost a lot of body fat, gained muscle mass. It was a lot different than what’ve I done I in the past.”

Barner said he hasn’t had any difficulty learning Pederson’s offense during the course of mini-camp, something that’s coming through in the first week of training camp.
For him, it comes down the basics of being an NFL running back.

“Your job is to run the ball, make the right cuts, catch the ball out of the backfield and block,” he said. “The scheme may be different, but my mindset is the same.”

The Running Man: Wendell Smallwood Hopes to be the Eagles Next Star Back

21 May
Wendell Smallwood

West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood (4) during the Cactus Bowl NCAA college football game against Arizona State, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016, in Phoenix, Ariz. (Rick Scuteri via AP)

By Chris Murray

For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report

At this time last year, Philadelphia Eagles fans were salivating at the prospect of former Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, the league’s leading rusher at the time, leading the team to the Super Bowl Promised Land.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out that way.  Between a patchwork offensive line and an offensive scheme that didn’t play to his strengths,  Murray couldn’t duplicate what he did in Dallas. Throw in the fact that he really wasn’t happy with the Eagles and had no problem letting anyone, including team management, know it, he was ultimately traded.

While Murray’s departure leaves a pretty sizable hole for the Birds, it also gives a rare opportunity to the team’s fifth-round draft pick, former West Virginia star Wendell Smallwood to make some real noise, starting with this week’s Rookie Mini-Camp. If he plays his cards right, he could be the starting running back for the team.

Of course, running backs Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles might have something to say about that, but what bodes well for Smallwood is that he appears to be a good fit for head coach Doug Pederson’s West Coast offense.

Playing for a usually pass-happy West Virginia squad, Smallwood led the Big 12 in rushing, gaining 1,512 yards and scoring nine touchdowns. He averaged 6.4 yards per carry and ran a 4.4 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Smallwood also caught 26 passes for 160 yards and has experience as a pass blocker.

“When you look at his numbers this year (2015) and you watch the tape, it’s like doubles all the time,” said Howie Roseman, Eagles vice-president of football operations. “Fifty-eight 10-plus yard runs and it’s play after play. He runs with a determination. You see the speed on tape and you see the speed in testing.”

Smallwood fits into Pederson’s offense the way Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles or former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook fit into Andy Reid’s version of the West Coast offense because of his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

But Smallwood comes into his first rookie camp with some minor baggage. In July 2014, he was arrested for allegedly trying to get a witness to change a story that implicated his friend in a robbery attempt.  No criminal charges were filed.

Smallwood also got noticed here in Philadelphia for some offensive statements he made about the city in 2011 on, you guessed it, Twitter. He has since apologized and deactivated his Twitter account.

Most of Smallwood’s first press conference with the Philly media was spent fielding questions about his past social media activities and his arrest. To his credit, he handled the onslaught well and said he was happy that Eagles picked him.

“This organization trusted and believed in me and had confidence in me to know that’s not the person I am,” Smallwood said. “I think the impression that I left with the Eagles was good enough to get me drafted.”

While the scrutiny is understandable on one level, they amount to youthful indiscretion and bad judgment. If folks got judged on the stupid things that they did and said they were 18 or 19 years old,  a lot of people wouldn’t have jobs.

Did it have anything to do with why he was a fifth round pick? Not really. Had Smallwood stayed for his senior year at West Virginia, he might have been a Heisman Trophy candidate or Doak Walker Award candidate as the nation’s best running back.

Smallwood said he’s going to come into the Eagles camp with something to prove in the way he did in his final year at West Virginia.

“I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder since I started playing the game,” Smallwood said. “That’s because I wasn’t getting the respect that I deserved. Just wanting to work for everything and wanting to prove to people that I’m better than whoever put me against. I’m a competitor and I love to compete.  I approach the game that way and its paid off that way in getting me here.”

 

 

 

 

 

Eagles Still Searching for Answers on Offense

10 Oct

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and The Philadelphia Sunday Sun

DeMarco Murray is looking to have a breakout game against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Photo by Webster Riddick.

DeMarco Murray is looking to have a breakout game against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Photo by Webster Riddick.

In the Philadelphia Eagles’ first four games this season, they have only played three halves of good football and have just one win.
That’s due to an offensive line that keeps allowing penetration into the backfield, which has led to a poor running game, which has led to the Eagles not being able to get anything else started offensively.

As a team, the Eagles are averaging just 3.1 yards on the ground. Running back DeMarco Murray, who led the NFL in rushing last season as the featured back for the Dallas Cowboys, has just 47 yards on 29 carries and is averaging just 1.6 yards per carry.

After the Birds 23-20 loss to the Washington Redskins, Murray complained about not getting enough carries. Considering how abysmally the offensive line has performed to this point, more carries for Murray or any of the other running backs may not help.

I’m not so sure things are going to get any better when they take on the New Orleans Saints at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday because this already much maligned offensive line is riddled with injuries. Left tackle Jason Peters left the Washington game with a quadriceps strain and it’s uncertain whether he will play on Sunday because he didn’t practice on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

Right tackle Lane Johnson played with a sprained knee and has had limited participation in practice. But even before those injuries, the Eagles haven’t gotten the running game going all season.

Center Jason Kelce said it’s been a frustrating season so far and doesn’t see things getting any better for the offense at this point.

“Really, the only reason we’re losing football games is because of offensive mistakes, penalties and frankly, not being able to run-block well and move the football,” Kelce said.”We haven’t adjusted well in game situations, we’ve gotten frazzled, when guys slant across our face we don’t handle it well. When teams blitz us, we’re not on the same page. It hasn’t been a unified offense.”

Eagles’ offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur attributes the offense’s slow start in games on the Birds inability to convert on third down situations, especially on third and long. The Eagles tied for last in the NFL in third down conversion percentage.

“I think what happens is we don’t convert on third down. You see in the second half where we’ve been able to kind of stay on the field and extend drives and score points. We converted on third down,” Shurmur said.
“Now there are multiple reasons for that. It could be a longer third down because you didn’t do so well on first or second, orit could be a manageable third down and you don’t execute that play,” Shurmur said. “So it’s a combination of things. We’re searching to make sure we get that right.”

Getting it right has been a huge challenge for the Eagles offense so far this season. In one of those few halves in which the offense has gotten into a rhythm, it’s been the Eagles passing game that’s got the offense going.

That was the case in the game against Washington where Sam Bradford completed a pair of touchdown passes that went beyond 40 yards and helped the Eagles take the lead in the fourth quarter.

Maybe the Eagles need to pass to set up the run, something that head coach Chip Kelly alluded to in his Wednesday press conference. Kelly said the Eagles inability to convert on third down comes from falling behind on first and second down.

“We’ve got to make sure we’ve got some quick throws, maybe we can get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands that are nice, easy throws to kind of get going,” Kelly said. “I think with this group, once you establish and can get into a rhythm, we can be pretty good.”

That’s something the Eagles have to do starting with the first quarter and they have to maintain that rhythm for the full 60 minutes.

(Today’s column is dedicated to the late J. Whyatt Mondesire, Publisher

and CEO of the Philadelphia Sunday Sun who passed away last Sunday)