Heading into this season, the Philadelphia Eagles were slated to utilize Ryan Mathews as their feature back. Nine weeks into the season, that couldnâ€™t be further from reality.
Through nine games, Mathews has 76 carries for a whopping 287 yards and five touchdowns. While he leads the team in carries by 17, he has just two more yards than Darren Sproles, the man many have designated as the Eagles “third down back.” Additionally, both Sproles and Wendell Smallwood have a significant lead over Mathews in the yards per carry department, leading many fans to believe Mathewsâ€™ ability to be a feature back in the NFL is starting to wane.
However, with such high expectations coming into the season, many Philly fans are wondering, what exactly is wrong with Mathews?
Considering hisÂ injury history, this could very easily be deemed health related, but that does not appear to be the case. Mathews has dressed for every Eaglesâ€™ game this season, yet has seen his snaps diminish nearly every game. Clearly, this is a coaching decision by Doug Pederson.
In all likelihood, this effective benching is related to Mathewsâ€™ two fumbles late in games.
Mathews fumbled against Detroit in the second half, costing the Eagles that game. Additionally, he coughed up the ball late in the blowout against Minnesota, and essentially hasnâ€™t seen snaps since.
While Pederson needs to send a message to Mathews to secure the football, it appears that the time has been served, and itâ€™s time to get his feature back reintegrated into the offense.
The fact of the matter is this: Without Mathews, the Eagles are struggling.
In games when Mathews gets double digit carries, the Eagles are 3-1. In games when he doesnâ€™t, Philly is 1-3, with its lone win coming in the blowout against Pittsburgh. Certainly, Mathews is not the only reason the Eagles are losing, but without him, the running game is far less effective.
Perhaps, thatâ€™s because Sproles simply canâ€™t maintain his speed and elusiveness with the workload heâ€™s seen over the past two games. Against Dallas and New York, Sproles received over 80% of all offensive snaps at the running back position. At no point in his career has Sproles seen that large a share of snaps.
Considering Sproles is 33, itâ€™s fair to bet that a man who has never seen this kind of workload isnâ€™t suddenly going to be able to handle it at the tail end of his career. Thus, the Eaglesâ€™ offense has suffered at the end of games, because they canâ€™t run the football effectively.
Additionally, this treatment of Mathews for fumbling shows inequity in Pedersonâ€™s handling of his running backs. Rookie Wendell Smallwood had his own late game fumble against Dallas, but hasnâ€™t faced the same exile as Mathews. While itâ€™s certainly possible that Mathews is sitting for a completely different reason, the fumbling seems too coincidental not to be a factor, and Smallwood has not received the same discipline from the coaching staff.
That being said, expect Mathews to get more carries in the second half of the season.
The Eaglesâ€™ offense is struggling, and they need to better utilize the run game in order to hold possession, and allow their defense to rest. The only way that can happen is by using Mathews.
Philadelphiaâ€™s offense is predicated on balance.
There are very few stars (if any) on this team offensively, but tons of very solid players. Mathews is one of those guys, and though heâ€™s been exiled recently, he can make a return to the Philly offense and be an effective part of that balance through the remainder of the season.