The recent history of Eagles’ running backs has been a tumultuous one at best. That said, the search for a steady group may finally be over.
Since Brian Westbrook left in 2010, the club has been searching for a steady guy to handle the load. It hasn’t been easy. The next in line was LeSean McCoy. Grant you, he was one of the best ever to don the Eagles green. Still, after back-to-back 1000-yard years, head coach Chip Kelly traded McCoy to the Bills for LB Kiko Alonso. Who was then released the next season.
Then came the trio of DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, and Darren Sproles. Murray was coming off a rushing title with Dallas but was worn down. Mathews had troubles with fumbles, and the Chargers were welcoming in running back Melvin Gordon, so Mathews became expendable.
While those there Eagles looked great on paper, only Mathews averaged over five yards per carry, and none had over 1000 yards. The team ended the season 7-9, and the running back room changed the following year again.
Kelly was fired, and current head coach Doug Pederson was brought in. Mathews and Sproles stayed, and Wendell Smallwood was added, but yet again, the committee scheme did not work. The team once again finished 7-9, and a significant change was about to happen.
Super Bowl Run
LaGarrett Blount and Jay Ajayi added to the backfield, and things started to get better. Add in Sproles still being around, with rookie Corey Clement, and they finally had a winning formula in the backfield. Ajayi, Clement, and Blount all averaged over four yards per carry (minimum 70 touches), and the team went on to a 13-3 record, winning the Super Bowl.
But that wouldn’t end the shuffle. And the search for a steady guy continued. Rookie Josh Adams was added to the mix, and injuries to Sproles and Ajayi early in the season left a lot to be desired. At times, each individual back looked great, but no one was able to get any rhythm, and none were significant factors in the passing game.
So, once again, the team finished below expectations, going 9-7, and finishing 2nd in the division. More change was needed. And it came, by a duo of guys, that could be the answer to the long-time running back problems in Philly.
First, Philadelphia traded for Bears workhorse Jordan Howard, who had just completed back-to-back 1000 yards seasons, as well as being a factor in the passing game. Next, the Eagles drafted Penn State running back Miles Sanders. Sanders spent his sophomore year backing up and learning from Giants runner Saquon Barkley.
Another running back that turned heads in the 2019 preseason and many thought could be the heir-apparent to Sproles because of their shiftiness and size was cut before the season. Of course, we know him now as Boston Scott.
Howard would be the featured back then Sanders would come in, to offer another look, and take some hits away from Jordan. But that scheme didn’t go the way the Eagles planned. Like in 2018, the rotation wasn’t managed well, and no one could get into a rhythm.
When week 9 came, the Eagles had a 4-4 record. While it’s not great form to be positive about someone getting hurt, removing Howard from the situation, helped our backfield take shape.
With Scott re-signed in Week 6 after Sproles went down, and Clement relegated to return duties. Week 10 began the Sanders and Scott show.
It would still take a few games to get it down, but the rotation of Miles and Boston was the biggest reason the Eagles ended the season winning four of their last five games, to go from 5-7 to 9-7. That was just enough to win the NFC East and make the playoffs.
[Read also, “Eagles Wideouts Set to Prove They Deserve Respect”]
With the injuries suffered to the receiving corps, it was that much more important that we established a running game. Tack on that right tackle Lane Johnson went down, and things just got a lot harder.
2020 Season Outlook
Howard signed with the Dolphins, so the projected starting running backs in 2020 for the Eagles are Sanders, Scott, and Clement. This formation finished 2019 strong, and with them all healthy, plus another year together, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why
Scott and Sanders have proven to be what Philadelphia needed to make that playoff run. With both guys fresh and ready to go, these 2020 Eagles backs are poised to show they’re one of the best in the league.
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