There’s nothing more frustrating in the NFL than when a coach refuses to ride the hot hand. Better yet, there’s nothing worse than when a coach decides to use a player who just isn’t as good as the man standing on the sidelines next to him. Enter Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, who refuses to (fully) admit to the fact that Darren Sproles is his team’s best running back, and best option to have success on the ground as well.
While some fans and much of the media is out there banging the table right now about how rookie quarterback Carson Wentz is regressing, maybe it’s time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The wide receivers are dropping passes, Wentz is running like a mad man to avoid pressure, and there’s no consistency in the run game.
Yes, Wentz has gone from five touchdowns and no interceptions in his first three NFL games to four touchdowns and five interceptions in the next five. He’s declined a bit, but that’s to be expected from a rookie quarterback who’s still attempting to make the transition. What’s completely unacceptable, though, is when a coach refuses to do something obvious to help that rookie, and his team out.
After much pushback, apparently with himself, Pederson has admitted to the fact that veteran running back Darren Sproles is the team’s best option right now.
As pointed out by Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk:
“By stats and by what you’re seeing, I would say that Darren is the No. 1 back right now,” Pederson said in comments distributed by the team. “You know, Ryan is still a big part [of the offense]; you saw the touchdown run that he had yesterday. Kenjon [Barner] had a nice run. Wendell [Smallwood] had a nice run. So it’s still a little bit of the running back by committee. Obviously, we haven’t hung our hat on one guy, but we tend to lean more towards Darren Sproles. It’s hard to take him off the field right now.”
As you can see, even while admitting that Sproles is the best choice for the Eagles’ ground game, he still made sure to give love to the rest of the backfield, a unit which has been mediocre at best. Fortunately, as Alper points out, Pederson is still rolling with Sproles, because for the second-straight game, he’s topped 60 snaps, playing exactly that number against the New York Giants, and hitting 61 against the Dallas Cowboys.
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “numbers don’t lie,” then look no further than how Mathews and Sproles’ numbers have been this season. Sproles is averaging a full yard per carry more (4.8 vs. 3.8) than Mathews while being a much larger force out of the backfield as a pass-catcher as well. Sproles has 25 receptions for 241 yards, and a score and Mathews has nine catches for 64 yards and a touchdown.
As badly as Pederson, and the Eagles fanbase honestly, probably wanted to see Mathews excel, it’s just not working out as expected. The bad news for the Eagles? They can’t seem to get back into the win column, as they’ve lost four of their last five games. The good news? Sproles finally seems to be getting the praise he deserves, and his role should continue to expand, which could help Philadelphia in their push to right the ship.