McMullen: For Pederson Next Man Up is No Cliche
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Typically Doug Pederson likes a committee approach when it comes to his backfield.
On Sunday during a 20-16 win over Indianapolis, the Eagles head coach was without two-thirds of his normal setup because Jay Ajayi was out with a back injury and Darren Sproles missed his second consecutive contest with a troublesome hamstring.
Any thought of shortening the bench so to speak wasn't even considered by Pederson as Corey Clement, the lone available member of the usual trio, was supplemented by Wendell Smallwood and undrafted rookie Josh Adams, who was promoted from the practice squad earlier in the week.
Smallwood contributed 91 yards of total offense -- 56 on the ground and 35 through the air -- while Adams contributed 30 yards on the ground, including a 16-yard run that matched Clement for the longest of the day for Philadelphia.
"It felt great just to be out there as much as I was and get so many reps," Smallwood said. "Especially this week of practice, I felt like I had a good week of practice. I showed [the coaches] I can handle the stuff that they give me and I think today I did it well."
Clement, meanwhile, matched Smallwood with 56 yards and had 19 more from catching the football. Clement did struggle with punt-return duties while filling in for Sproles, however. He had trouble corralling three different punts and nearly lost one but disaster was averted.
“It felt great," Clement said of his extra work. "Getting a chance to get more touches than I usually do is always great. Getting inside this offense, moving the chains when I get a chance to and just sharing the workload with Wendell and Josh Adams. Being a well-rounded team and that’s what we look for each week.”
The eventual game-winning touchdown was a 4-yard Smallwood inside zone run late in the fourth quarter which capped a 17-play drive helped along by four Colts penalties, an advantage that ultimately held up when the Eagles defense put together another fourth-down stop with just over a minute to go.
“I felt like that was almost one of the easiest touchdowns I’ve had," Smallwood said. "[Center Jason] Kelce and [G Stefen] Wisniewski worked up the double team and I knew it was coming. We practiced that play all week, so I just hung in there. I think they had two safeties, and [Kelce and Wisniewski] blew those guys off the ball and I ran it in behind them.”
On the other side of the ball there was much hand-wringing over the pass rush as Andrew Luck and the Colts matriculated down the field for a potential game-winning score.
Indy came into the contest without starting left tackle Anthony Costanzo and then lost RT Joe Haeg in-game yet Jim Schwartz's "engine" wasn't getting home all the way up until it did.
Head down to the shore this week and you will see the waves never stop coming and the same hold true for the Eagles defensive line as Schwartz mixed and matched between Chris Long and Michael Bennett at the ends with Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham inside to Graham and Derek Barnett at the ends outside Cox and Bennett.
The hero this time was Barnett, the second-year defensive end who tripped up Luck as the latter was trying to extend a fourth-down play with the game on the line after Philadelphia sniffed out a throw-back play to the tight end.
"Just everybody playing together up front. Guys that are doing their job and guys on the back end locking things up," Barnett said when asked to describe his big play. "Tough game, came down today to the wire but we stayed calm and executed when we needed to."
Overall Schwartz's stop unit allowed Luck to throw for only 164 yards and held the former No. 1 overall pick to just over 4.0 yards-per-attempt, a dismal number.
The Eagles, of course, won Super Bowl LII without many meaningful contributors, a list that included Carson Wentz, Jason Peters, Sproles, Jordan Hicks, and Chris Maragos.
The next-man-up mentality is a cliche around the NFL. In Philadelphia, it defines the organization's success and Pederson explained his philosophy when talking about his approach at RB against the Colts.
"I trust [Assistant head coach/running backs coach] Duce [Staley] during the week to make sure that those guys are prepared." the coach said. "I trust the players that they're doing their jobs to make sure they understand the game plan. And really, I talk a lot about it takes all 53, you know, and then, of course, it takes the 46 on game day.
"Whoever dresses is going to play. These first three games, it's really come down to everybody's had to play. This is the National Football League, and, again, I'm not going to hold a player back just because he's a rookie or he doesn't have enough experience. It's our job as coaches to coach them up and to get them ready and prepared. So the next time Josh is in this situation, each time gets a little better and better. Whether he's a rookie or a 12, 13-year vet, we've got to make sure they're all coached up the same."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen