It looks like Doug Pederson is playing favorites now, and his favorite running back is Josh Adams, the undrafted rookie free agent from Notre Dame.
Adams had 22 carries in Sunday’s 25-22 win over the New York Giants, picking up 84 yards, including a one-yard touchdown that gave the Eagles their first lead of the game, 20-19, with 10 minutes, 15 seconds to play in the final quarter.
It is extremely rare that Pederson favors one back to carry the ball more than 20 times in his offense. He has always favored a running back committee approach so much so that Adams became just the second running back to top 20 carries since Pederson took over in 2016. The only other runner to curry such favor from the head coach was Ryan Mathews during Pederson’s rookie season as a head coach.
Mathews carried the ball 22 times for 77 yards in Pederson’s first game as a head coach, which was a 29-10 win over the Browns on Sept. 11, 2016. Eleven weeks later, Mathews was handed the ball 20 times, gaining 128 yards, in a 27-26 loss on Dec. 18 of that year.
LeGarrette Blount never hit 20 rushes last year. The highest he ever got was 16 twice.
Wendell Smallwood came close this year, with 18 runs against the Giants in their first meeting back on Oct. 11. Corey Clement had 16 against the Colts in Week Three. Both games were Eagles wins.
As a team, the Eagles ran the ball more than they passed it on Sunday. It’s the first time this season that has happened. Twice they came within two plays, with the Eagles running 35 times to 37 passes against the Colts and finishing with 28 rushes and 30 pass attempts against the Jaguars. The Eagles won both of those games, too.
“Any time we stay balanced I think as an offense, good things happen and you're able to score points and sort of control the ball,” said Pederson on Monday. “I think you look around league, the common theme of teams that have that balance are winning games.
“I think it's something that has always been there. We've seen glimpses of that this season when we've rushed the ball for close to thirty times a game. That's been a good recipe. If you go back and look at the wins, we've been pretty successful doing that. The games that get lopsided obviously it’s a different story because you have to rethink your plan just a little bit.”
With five games left, look for Pederson to attempt to achieve that balance. And he will do it with Adams, with a sprinkling in of Clement. For now, Smallwood looks like the odd man out. He was on the field for only one snap against the Giants.
Adams was on the practice squad at the start of the season, and he was coming off an injury when the Eagles signed him after the draft. Things have changed, obviously, with the Eagles losing Jay Ajayi for the season and Darren Sproles unable to return to the field after injuring a hamstring in the season opener.
**"**To his credit, with taking advantage of some of the injuries, he has just kind of slowly worked himself into this position,” said Pederson of Adams. “Listen, it's not to discount or discredit Corey and Wendell because they do a lot of great things as well. It's just that Josh now has kind of taken that lead, and we continue to grow and try to increase his touches each week.”
The offensive line believes in Adams, too.
“He’s fast, man,” said right tackle Lane Johnson. “He’s really quick, he’s getting his knee healthy. He goes about his business, really smart and doesn’t say a whole lot. (He’s) one of those guys that’s just a silent killer. As the season has gone on he keeps improving and improving and I’m really proud of what he did (Sunday).”
PLAYER NOTES: Tight end Zach Ertz continues to have a season for the record books, not only the team but the NFL, too. He had seven catches for 91 yards on Sunday, with his sixth TD catch, all of which have come in the red zone. He now has a career-high 84 receptions this season for a career-high 895 yards. His 84 catches broke the team’s single-season mark of 81 set by Keith Jackson in 1988 and he is just the sixth Eagle to have 800-plus receiving yards in four straight seasons, joining Jeremy Maclin (2010-14), DeSean Jackson (2008-11), Mike Quick (1983-86), Harold Carmichael (1978-81) and Tommy McDonald (1959-62).
He is also on track to become just the fourth tight end in NFL history to record 100 catches. The others are Jason Witten (110 in 2012), Tony Gonzalez (102, 2004), and Dallas Clark (100, 2009).
“Probably at the end of the season you can look back and say what a great season (Ertz) had individually, but collectively we're still trying to win a football game,” said Pederson. “He's obviously a big part of that, whether it be in the red zone or out in the field. He's on pace having good season, but I would - I could speak for Zach and say that his ultimate (goal) is to win the football game, whether he gets nine catches or no catches. Bottom line is he wants to win the game.”
In his third game with the Eagles since being traded from the Detroit Lions, receiver Golden Tate was targeted eight times, with four catches for 30 yards. He has been targeted 20 times in three games, which is only slightly more than Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor (26).
“We're trying to get everybody the ball,” said Pederson. “There is only one football. You think about the four, five receiver positions that we have and you have two tight ends. All part of the game plan. Sometimes you just don't know where the ball is going. You put a certain personnel group out there, but we have a certain progression, too. I've talked about game planning for Alshon, game planning for Ertz and things like that, and a lot of times it's just kind of the way the ball goes and it goes to that person. It helped us win the game, and we'll start over this week again.”
With the Eagles not playing again until Monday night against the Washington Redskins, the team won’t practice until Thursday. Pederson, though, sounded optimistic that cornerbacks Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones, and Avonte Maddox, each of whom has not played recently due to injury could return. He said that linebacker Jordan Hicks (calf) is likely out for longer.