NFC East Reporter
When the Eagles got D’Andre Swift from the Detroit Lions for a fourth-round pick it looked like another steal for general manager Howie Roseman. They managed to replace the departed Miles Sanders for a bargain price. And the Eagles raved about Swift’s versatility and the different ways they could use him.
Then he spent the season opener on Sunday mostly standing on the sidelines. Somehow, out of 61 offensive plays the Eagles ran, Swift touched the ball only twice.
Three days later it remains a mystery why the 24-year-old Swift became the Eagles’ forgotten man, even as their offense sputtered and their rushing attack was largely ineffective in the Eagles’ 24-20 win over the Patriots up in New England. Swift had one carry for 3 yards. And the only explanation that anyone has given was when Nick Sirianni called it a byproduct of a “number count.”
“I don’t ever want to come out of a game where D’Andre Swift has only two touches,” Sirianni said after the game. “We have to play that number game.”
That’s meaningless coachspeak, though, not an answer. Because it wasn’t about numbers. It was about a choice. New offensive coordinator Brian Johnson called 16 plays that resulted in the ball being handed to a running back and 14 of them went to Kenneth Gainwell. He called only the one to Swift — and none until early in the fourth quarter. And Swift was only even on the field for 19 snaps.
That might have been justifiable if Gainwell was hot and the Eagles’ running game was clicking, but that was most definitely not the case in New England. Gainwell ran for 54 yards on his 14 carries — an average of 3.9 yards per carry. That was way below the average of 4.7 yards per carry that Eagles running backs had last year.
And the running game struggled so much to get in gear that the Eagles even passed up a chance to run on fourth-and-2 from the New England 44 coming out of the two-minute warning with a five-point lead and needing a first down to all-but seal the game. That was the kind of situation last year when they’d just muscle their way to a first down, physically imposing their will on the defense.
They clearly didn’t feel comfortable or capable of doing that on Sunday afternoon.
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It’s just one game — one “sloppy” game, in the words of Johnson — and there’s no reason to worry about what undoubtedly will be a good Philly offense. But it wasn’t good on Sunday. And there’s really an easy way to fix it:
There’s a good reason they made the trade for Swift. They really ought to show everyone they remember what that was.
“You can definitely see his ability to make people miss in space,” Sirianni said back in May, after the trade was made. “And you saw that against our defense last year. He had some unbelievable runs against us last year, where you look at each other like ‘Man, that guy is hard to tackle.'”
Yeah, the Eagles clearly remembered what Swift did to them in the opener, when he ran for 144 yards on 15 carries and caught three passes for 31 yards and nearly led the Lions to a come-from-behind victory before the Eagles held on to a 38-35 win. That was a big game for Swift, but not unusual. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season. He’s averaged 4.6 throughout his career.
Not only that, but as Sirianni said, “He has a great ability to read defenses out of the backfield, to make guys (miss), to separate from tight coverage out of the backfield, and has really good hands.”
That was the part that was really strange about the game plan on Sunday. Maybe they prefer to ride the underrated Gainwell as a runner, but they had been so excited about the idea of Swift as a receiver and they barely bothered to use him in that way.
Yes, as Sirianni said, “It’s not we were throwing it to some bums on the outside. We were throwing it to A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith”. And those two should be the top options in the passing game. But there are still plenty of balls to go around in 61 plays. Yet quarterback Jalen Hurts only threw it towards Swift twice.
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It was never going to be easy for the Eagles to replace Sanders, who took his 1,269 rushing yards to Carolina for $13 million in guaranteed money. But the addition of Swift and Rashaad Penny—a free agent signee who was surprisingly inactive on Sunday—was supposed to be a big help for the duo of Gainwell and Boston Scott. They were all supposed to form a budget backfield that give the Eagles running game a chance.
Swift, in particular, seemed to be a hidden gem — a back who has always looked capable of rushing for 1,000 yards if only he could get the opportunity. And he’s always been a weapon through the air.
Where he’s not a weapon is standing on the sidelines, which is where he spent most of his first game with the Philadelphia Eagles. It wasn’t a “numbers” issue, it was a choice. A bizarre and a bad one. He’s just too talented and versatile to not be a help.
So if the Eagles want to fix their “sloppy” offense and get that ground assault back to where it’s been, they’d be wise to not leave the guy who might be their best running back on the sidelines. They saw what he did against them last season.
This Thursday night, when they take on the Minnesota Vikings, it would be nice to see what Swift can do for them, too.
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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