This piece is not meant to be a knock on Sam Bradford and the Eagles' passing game. Rather it is a closer look at a ground game that I believe will be instrumental in the level of success this offense has in the 2016 regular season. Running the ball and playing defense may make for a boring football game, but it also makes for a winning season. Philly's projected win total this season is seven games and if this team is going to have any shot at eclipsing that mark to actually compete for the NFC East Division title it is going to need a strong effort from a ground game that was ranked 14th in the NFL last season.
DeMarco Murray was the featured back in last season's offense and that obviously did not work out as planned. This season things are shaping up to be a running back-by-committee approach. Ryan Mathews would have to be considered the lead back, but you also have Darren Sproules in the mix as well as Kenjon Barner. You also have Wendell Smallwood as the Eagles' fifth round draft pick out of West Virginia. He is expected to see his first action of the preseason this Saturday night against Indianapolis after being hampered with a leg injury for most of training camp.
Earlier this year I wrote a post for this blog that touted Smallwood as the next Wilbert Montgomery or for the younger fans in the crowd Brian Westbrook. Duce Staley was a great running back in Philly in his own right and he remains the team's running back coach under Doug Pederson. Duce himself is pretty high on Smallwood for his all-around talent as a runner, receiver out of the backfield and pass blocker. He will definitely be my main focus on Saturday night against the Colts.
I will not go out on a very thin limb and predict that the Eagles actually win the division this season, but I will stand by my belief that Pederson is putting the right pieces in place for a bright future that should result to a return to the top of the NFC East somewhere down the road. Whether it is Mathews, Sproules, Barner or Smallwood leading the way on the ground remains to be seen, but I think we are going to see the running game and defense return to a spotlight that was pretty dim last season.