Run the ball will be Eagles' mantra

Jan 4, 2018 - 2:26 AM PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles don't know yet which team they will be facing in their first playoff game next week. Regardless if it's Carolina or Atlanta or New Orleans, they know they are going to have to be able to run the football.

With quarterback Carson Wentz on the shelf because of a torn ACL, it's going to be up to their ground game and defense to carry the day.

"I think that's a formula," head coach Doug Pederson said. "Especially now outside, January-type games, the weather can be bad. I think you have to be able to do that and keep yourself on the field and keep your defense rested.

"But somewhere in there, you're going to have to make a play in the passing game, too, whether it be on third down or maybe a first-down shot or something like that."

Wentz has been replaced by Nick Foles, who struggled in his last two regular-season starts.

The Eagles, who were the NFL's second-best third-down offense less than a month ago, finished eighth after converting only three of 25 third-down opportunities in the final two games.

"Third downs are huge and we haven't done too well there the past couple of games," Pro-Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson said. "And that's an area that we've done well in this season.

"We just need to execute (better). We've done it all year. We need to do it next week. We need to get Nick in a rhythm."

The Eagles averaged 132.2 rushing yards per game this season, the third-best mark in the NFL. But in the last five games, they have averaged only 98.4. In their three games since Wentz got hurt, they have averaged just 85.3.

During their nine-game winning streak this season, the Eagles averaged 161.9 rushing yards per game.

Jay Ajayi, who was acquired by the Eagles right before the league trade deadline in late October, averaged 7.0 yards per carry in his first five games after the trade, but only 3.9 in his last two.

Ajayi had 10 rushing first downs and nine double-digit-yard runs on 44 carries in those first five games, and just two rushing first downs and three double-digit-yard runs in 26 carries in his last two games.

Ajayi's importance to the Eagles' playoff hopes were obvious Wednesday during the team's first pre-playoff practice. The 24-year-old running back with the arthritic knees didn't practice.

It wouldn't be surprising to see the Eagles pull out many of their run-game tricks next week, including using backup offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo as a third tight end and often going with an unbalanced formation.

The return of left guard Stefen Wisniewski should be a big plus for the Eagles' running game. He missed the games against the Giants and Raiders with an ankle injury. But he played 51 snaps Sunday against the Cowboys and held up fine.

"I was glad to be able to play and practice this week and shake the rust off and be ready to go," Wisniewski said.

In the two games Wisniewski missed, the Eagles averaged just 3.9 yards per carry.

"I don't know exactly what the numbers were, but we were one of the top run teams in the league this year," Wisniewski said. "Obviously, we'll be hoping to continue that in the playoffs. I don't see any reason why we wouldn't be able to do that. It's kind of who we are."

--Two former Eagles are among the 15 modern-era finalists for the Hall of Fame class of 2018. Safety Brian Dawkins is a finalist for the second straight year. Owens is a finalist for the third consecutive year. Dawkins currently works for the team as an executive in football operations.

--Two of head coach Doug Pederson's assistants -- defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo -- are drawing interest for head-coaching vacancies. Schwartz will interview with the Giants.

Arizona and Chicago both are interested in DeFilippo.

Said Pederson: "Having gone through it a couple of years ago myself, the one thing going for these two gentlemen is the fact that this is a bye week for us. We're not game-planning specifically for a game this weekend. So it's a little bit easier from that standpoint.

"The challenge is having themselves prepared for a potential interview, and at the same time, they have to balance the job they have here and make sure they're ready for practice each day. That's first and foremost."

--The Eagles will stick with a running back-by-committee approach for the playoffs, though Jay Ajayi is expected to be their primary ball-carrier. One of the problems they have is that none of their four backs - Ajayi, rookie Corey Clement, LeGarrette Blount and Kenjon Barner - are very good pass-blockers. That could hurt them in the playoffs, since opposing defenses are likely to blitz Foles a lot more than they blitzed Carson Wentz.

--The Eagles practiced in pads Wednesday in their indoor practice bubble.

NOTES: RB Jay Ajayi didn't practice Wednesday. The Eagles want him to rest his arthritic knees as much as possible before next week's game. ... CB Sidney Jones saw his first NFL action last week, playing 29 snaps against Dallas. Head coach Doug Pederson said it hasn't been decided whether he'll be activated for next week's playoff game. ... LT Jason Peters, who is on injured reserve with a torn ACL, will turn 36 in January, but wants to return next season. He has a $10-plus million salary cap number in 2018. ... DE Brandon Graham didn't practice Wednesday. He is recovering from an ankle injury suffered two weeks ago. He didn't play in the final regular-season game against Dallas. ... LG Stefen Wisniewski said his ankle is nearly 100 percent. Wisniewski, who missed two games after spraining his ankle, played most of the game against Dallas last week and practiced Wednesday without any problems.

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