Darren Sproles is a RB, is still likely to finish ’14 with more receptions than rushing attempts

Darren Sproles is a RB, is still likely to finish ’14 with more receptions than rushing attempts

A few weeks back, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly stressed that Darren Sproles is, in fact, a running back, and not a wide receiver. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur reiterated Kelly’s stance when reporters were allowed to meet with assistant coaches on Monday. The funny thing is we probably don’t need these offensive masterminds to explain the difference between a back and a receiver. Sproles is listed as a running back on the roster. That’s good enough for me. However, that doesn’t mean I’m going to fall into the trap of believing the Eagles will have Sproles “run the ball first, catch it second,” as the headline at ProFootballTalk summarized Shurmur’s comments. That’s really not what he or Kelly said at all. All either coach did was reaffirm Sproles plays running back, and therefore will line up in the backfield with some regularity. Nowhere in Les Bowen’s reporting of Shurmur’s words for the Daily News does it say anything about run/pass distribution. Read for yourself.

"I think he's an outstanding running back, that's what he is," Shurmur said yesterday, when asked about Sproles. This was the first time since the 2013 season ended that Eagles coaches other than Kelly have been allowed to talk to reporters. "There's a lot of conversation about the fact we brought him in to play receiver. He's played at a very high level for 10 years. He brings outstanding leadership. He's one of our hardest workers. The first training session he went out there and he finishes as well as you see from any player, not to mention he can help us running the ball and catching it. That's a very strong addition for us." "He's a running back, so we're going to line him up in the backfield," Shurmur said, before conceding, "There is a portion of our offense where we can be in empty, or we can motion him out."

The Eagles can spin the acquisition of Sproles however they like. The simple fact of the matter he hasn’t been used as a conventional running back in years, and any attempt to start doing so now would probably be a bad idea. At best, the distribution should wind up roughly 50/50. In three seasons with the New Orleans Saints, Sproles carried the ball 188 times compared to 232 receptions. He only ever finished with more rushing attempts in a campaign his first year there—one more rushing attempt, to be exact. In his final year with the San Diego Chargers, the team that drafted Sproles in 2005, Sproles also had more catches than carries. That dual-threat is a huge part of what makes Sproles such a dangerous weapon. To think that now all of a sudden, as this 5’6”, 190-pound back gets set to turn 31 in a matter of days, he’s going to start making his living between the tackles is absurd. Even the very premise that somebody other than LeSean McCoy is going to rack up a lot of rushing attempts in Philadelphia sounds illogical. All of which begs the question what is behind this concerted effort by the Eagles to remind the world that Sproles is a runner? Another huge factor that goes into making Sproles so successful is the matchup problems he creates when he’s on the field. Kelly and Shurmur certainly have a vested interest in making defenses believe Sproles is every bit as likely to carry the ball as he is to run a route, because it could go a long way in determining what personnel the opponent puts on the field. Sproles’ ability to take a handoff is what compels a defense to keep an extra linebacker on the field. That’s Sproles mark. So now when he does go into a route, or he does line up in the slot, and the bigger, stronger linebacker is trying to cover the far more agile and shifty receiver running back, the quarterback can exploit that matchup. Quite a bit, as Drew Brees demonstrated in New Orleans the past three seasons. Sproles racked up 232 receptions for 1,981 yards and 16 touchdowns as a member of the Saints. As Bowen alludes to in his story, Kelly and now Shurmur are essentially attempting to walk back the head coach’s comments made back in March about how Sproles will help the Birds offense against man defense. If the defense assumes Sproles is only out there to catch passes, the opponent may opt to put an additional defensive back on the field instead. Teams may do that anyway, which is where the flexibility of Kelly’s offense can really come into play. If the defense goes nickel or dime personnel because Sproles is on the field, the Eagles will likely pound the ball down their throats. So, yes, Sproles is a running back. He’ll certainly carry the ball from time to time, probably effectively. There's even a slight possibility he'll finish '14 with marginally more carries than receptions. However, if the last several years’ worth of historical data serves as any indication—and really, just plain common sense—it all suggests Sproles will have a much greater impact in the passing attack than on the ground.

What in the world was Carson Wentz wearing after win over Vikings?

What in the world was Carson Wentz wearing after win over Vikings?

While Carson Wentz may not have got a failing grade for his play on the field against the Vikings on Sunday, he bombed the sartorial decision he made postgame. 

Wentz wore a bold blue check sports coat over what looked like an Under Armour v-neck.

The consensus on TV and Twitter may have been that Wentz bombed, there was one big supporter in the locker room.

According to a source, Eagles owner Jeff Lurie actually complimented Wentz on the blazer after the win.


Future Phillie Mike Trout was loving the Eagles win, sung the fight song

Grading the Eagles' 21-10 win over the Vikings 

Grading the Eagles' 21-10 victory over the Vikings

Grading the Eagles' 21-10 victory over the Vikings

It wasn't pretty, but anytime you knock off a previously undefeated team in Week 7 in the NFL, it's a good win. The Eagles got the job done thanks in large part to a stellar defensive performance against the Vikings, a team that's mastered winning just these types of games. Not on this Sunday though. The Eagles took the lead on a first-quarter kickoff return for touchdown and never trailed from there, which is an A+ performance overall any way you want to break it down.

The education of Carson Wentz continues. The rookie signal-caller completed only 57.1 percent of his passes for 4.9 yards per attempt and a pair of ugly interceptions. It's difficult to place all of the blame on the quarterback when he's constantly under pressure, although the protection seemed to improve as the game progressed, and Wentz just seemed slow to settle in. He got the win, which is the important part.

Grade: C-

Running backs
Ryan Mathews continues to go underutilized as he carried the ball 14 times for 56 yards. Although if he continues to fumble in the fourth quarter like he did for the second time in three weeks, his role might decrease even more. Darren Sproles pitched in three carries for 26 yards as well, and the duo combined to make three receptions for 50 yards. The grade would've been better were it not for the late turnover.

Grade: B

Wide receivers
We knew going in there wouldn't be a ton of opportunities for Eagles receivers down the field against a stingy Vikings secondary. Sure enough, Wentz only completed 11 passes to wideouts for only 67 yards. However, with the exception of one drop, the group made the plays they were supposed to, and Dorial Green-Beckham atoned later with a five-yard touchdown. Nothing spectacular, but they got the job done.

Grade: C+

Tight ends
It would be unfair to grade the tight ends based on what they had to work with. Zach Ertz and Trey Burton each "dropped" an intended target, but the passes were way off the mark in both instances. And Brent Celek was wide open down the seam for a likely touchdown, but Wentz was under pressure and didn't even have a chance to look his way. Not their fault the quarterback isn't able to get them the ball right now.

Grade: Incomplete

Offensive line
This had the makings of another ugly game up front, as right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai struggled out of the gate again with a very early false start. The Eagles gave him the help he needed though, and the unit really came around as a result. Case in point, the Vikings managed just two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits the entire game. And that was with Jason Peters exiting the game in the fourth quarter. The O-line did give Wentz a case of happy feet early on, but it was a quality effort otherwise.

Grade: B+

Defensive line
The front four avoided another slow start this week. Brandon Graham hit Sam Bradford five times, one of which caused an interception, while Connor Barwin strip-sacked Bradford, forcing another giveaway — and all those turnovers was in the first quarter alone! The D-line set the tone early and never relented. The push up front to stop consecutive Vikings' rushing attempts with one yard to go from the Eagles' 6-yard line resulted in a turnover on downs and likely sealed the victory.

Grade: A

Even when the Eagles linebackers have performed, they haven't necessarily made an impact. Not the case against the Vikings on Sunday. Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham each had a sack and combined to make four tackles for loss and break up three passes. Along with Mychal Kendricks, who, by the way, tackled well for a change, the linebackers also registered five quarterback hits.

Grade: A+

Defensive backs
Active game for Rodney McLeod, and easily the biggest of his brief Eagles career. The fifth-year safety recorded an interception, a sack and a forced fumble to go with his six tackles on the afternoon. Strong day for the cornerbacks as well, as Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll and Jalen Mills all broke up passes. Plus, Malcolm Jenkins' transition to corner after the injury to Ron Brooks was seamless thanks to the solid play of Jaylen Watkins filling in at safety.

Grade: A

Special teams
For the first time in franchise history, the Eagles have kick returns for touchdowns in consecutive weeks. This time it was Josh Huff going the distance from 98 yards out. Donnie Jones was a huge help in the field position battle with a 50.5 yards per punt average, and Caleb Sturgis made field goals of 35 and 21 yards.

Grade: A

The Eagles rarely blitz, but Jim Schwartz realized he could exploit a patchwork Vikings offensive line this week and brought the house. The aggressive approach paid off, as three of the defense's four sacks were by linebackers or defensive backs and Bradford was under siege the whole game. Doug Pederson's game plan for the offense was better this week as well, particularly in the second half when he leaned more on the ground attack. The coaching staff got the penalty epidemic under control as well, as the Eagles were flagged only five times for 33 yards, so a nice job overall.

Grade: A-