Here’s The Catch
Birds RBs Already Involved In Birds Pass Game
The worst-kept secret around the Eagles is out of the bag.
After being near the bottom of the NFL in receptions for running backs last year, the Eagles harbor visions of rocketing up that category in 2023.
The draft-weekend trade that brought dynamic Lions halfback D’Andre Swift to Philadelphia was Exhibit A. The recent flurry of passes from Jalen Hurts to any one of his backfield weapons at training camp – including Rashaad Penny, owner of just 27 career receptions – is Exhibit B.
There’s also the foreshadowing from head coach Nick Sirianni, who admitted in his Sunday press conference that last year’s lead back, Miles Sanders, wasn’t equipped for an offense that featured running backs in the passing game.
“Your offense is based off of your skill, first of all, and the players that you have, first of all,” Sirianni said when asked about the 43 total receptions from Sanders and Kenneth Gainwell last year, almost three times fewer than Tampa Bay’s tandem of Leonard Fournette and Rachaad White, who totaled 123 receptions.
“It’s foolish for us to do something that our guys can’t do,” Sirianni added, his strongest statement to date about Sanders’ undependable hands.
For the memory deprived, Sanders’ track record of spotty ball security resurfaced in the Super Bowl, leading Sirianni to essentially shelve the Pro Bowler after the first quarter.
About a month later, the team let their 2019 second-round pick walk to the Panthers in free agency despite Sanders just enjoying his best statistical season.
With the presence of Swift, a 2020 second-round pick who has silky smooth hands that complement his dynamite feet, Hurts shouldn’t feel reluctant to float a pass in the direction of the former Georgia star who already has 156 career receptions.
On one rep Sunday, Swift lined up outside and easily gained a step on linebacker Nic Morrow before reeling in Hurts’ deep pass as he tumbled to the ground, one of the highlights of early training camp.
If Hurts was looking for a reason to trust a set of receiving hands from his backfield, Swift provided him with one just like he did last year for Jared Goff.
Swift caught three passes for 31 yards Week 1 against the Eagles, along with his 144-yard rushing effort that exposed the Eagles’ issues in run defense.
Penny, who has never caught more than nine balls in a year, remarked recently that the Eagles have the most advanced route tree for running backs that he’s seen in since entering the league.
He actually said this about the Eagles, who’ve had one game in the past two years in which a running back exceeded 50 receiving yards.
Austin Ekeler’s done it 12 times, Alvin Kamara seven times and Swift five.
The Eagles aren’t exactly hurting in the weapons department, with arguably the NFL’s top receiving duo, but Sirianni and new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson know the offense must continue to evolve.
“You’re harder to defend when you have a lot of guys in different positions that can [catch passes],” Sirianni said, “so you can be in these different personnel groups and still running similar plays for your quarterback.”
Sirianni noted that the Eagles’ offense, which averaged nearly 30 points per game last year, will continue to be fueled by A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert.
“But, again,” he added, “it’s nice that [Swift] is making some plays out of the backfield right now.”
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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