The Philadelphia Eagles cut their two top rushers from last season because they have several options to run the football.
They delivered in Week 1. The group could have an even bigger game Sunday night in Atlanta against the Falcons.
Jordan Howard, Darren Sproles and Miles Sanders combined for 116 yards on 26 carries in a 32-27 win over Washington. They were so effective that Corey Clement, a Super Bowl hero two seasons ago, didn’t get a carry.
Howard had 44 yards rushing and an average of 7.3 yards per carry. The 36-year-old Sproles had 46 yards on nine carries. Sanders, a rookie second-round pick, ran 11 times for 25 yards.
“Just have to be ready when your number is called and take advantage of the opportunities,” Howard said Thursday.
The Eagles should have opportunities to run more against Atlanta. The Vikings gashed the Falcons for 172 yards on the ground.
“Obviously, the Vikings did a great job in the run game,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “But they’re going home, they’re going to play in front of their crowd. It’s going to be a different atmosphere for us, and it’s going to be a different team that we’re going to see.”
So Philadelphia turned to Josh Adams. The rookie free agent ran for 511 yards. Wendell Smallwood, a fifth-round pick in 2016, had 364 yards rushing. But the Eagles had the league’s 28th-ranked rushing offense. Both players were among the final cuts this year.
Sanders was impressive in training camp and could end up being the featured back. Howard had success in Chicago and ran hard against the Redskins. Sproles still has excellent speed at his age.
“When we put the run game together, we think about the backs and who is going to be in on certain plays,” Pederson said. “So you can see how dynamic that can be and we’re just going to continue to work it that way. Sometimes it’s the hot hand, but sometimes it’s based on game plan and who is in at that particular time.”
Some things to watch for when the Falcons host the Eagles in prime time:
Coach on the hot seat
Falcons coach Dan Quinn brushes off any suggestion that he’s starting to feel some heat.
That might change if the Atlanta Falcons don’t turn things around.
Coming off a dismal 28-12 loss at Minnesota in the season opener, the Falcons coach has now lost 11 of his last 18 games going back to the playoffs at the end of the 2017 season. In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately NFL, Quinn taking this team to the Super Bowl has become a rapidly fading memory.
Owner Arthur Blank expects results after spending hundreds of millions of dollars locking up key players such as quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Julio Jones.
Blank is undoubtedly mindful that his other team, Atlanta United, won a Major League Soccer championship last December in only their second year of existence.
Tightening up the coverage
The Eagles finished 30th against the pass last season and showed no signs of improvement in Week 1. Washington’s Case Keenum threw for 380 yards against a suspect secondary that didn’t get much help from the pass rush. The defense only sacked Keenum once and gave him way too much time to throw.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz doesn’t blitz much, so he relies on the front four to get pressure on quarterbacks. When they don’t, the secondary is expected to do more.
“We needed to cover better to be able to get the pass rush home,” Schwartz said. “We can do better certainly in pass rush, but I think in coverage we can make the quarterback hold the ball a little longer and buy time for our guys to get home.”
Questions up front
The Falcons struggled mightily on offense in their loss to the Vikings and are still trying to sort out things on the offensive line. First-round pick Chris Lindstrom went down with a broken foot and is expected to miss at least eight weeks, forcing Jamon Brown to take over at right guard after he was beaten out for the left guard spot by James Carpenter during the preseason. “Of course I wanted to start,” Brown said. “Now, it’s here. My opportunity is here. I’ve got to make the most of it.”
Atlanta is also using a rotation at right tackle with rookie Kaleb McGary and Matt Gono. McGary will eventually be the full-time starter, but he’s still working himself into game condition after undergoing a heart procedure during training camp. “It’s going to take some time to catch up,” he said. “But when I do catch up, no one is going to be more excited about it than me.” — (AP)