Brian Johnson

‘We have to be committed to it:' Brian Johnson on fixing Eagles' running game

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No 1st-half carries in the opener in New England. One in the second Washington game, three against the Bills, four Sunday vs. the 49ers, four in the loss to the Jets, five against the Bucs and Rams.

Fair to say it takes Brian Johnson a while to get to D’Andre Swift. 

If he gets to him at all.

Swift is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season. He’s on pace for over 1,100 rushing yards and more than 1,400 scrimmage yards. He’s fourth in the NFL in rushing yards, second in the NFC behind Christian McCaffrey, and his 4.7 average is 7th-highest in the league.

But he’s averaging just 5 ½ carries per game before halftime and ranks 27th in 1st-half rushing attempts. 

After halftime? Swift has the most carries in the NFL – 8 ½ per game. 

Too often, he just hasn’t been a factor until the third quarter. If his first few carries don’t produce big results, offensive coordinator and play caller Brian Johnson tends to get away from him.

On Tuesday, Johnson said he has to do a better job dialing up plays for Swift early in games and sticking with him even if his first few rushing attempts don’t go anywhere.

“You could have seven yards on four carries and then break one for 30, and now you've got 37 yards on five carries or whatever it is,” he said. “Those numbers, that average looks a little bit different. Now you're averaging seven yards a carry or whatever it is.

“We have to just continue to pound at it until one of those explosives pop. I think for us that's something that we have to be really committed to.”

Swift has five runs of 25 or more yards, tied for most in the NFL with De’Von Achane and Saquon Barkley.

If you keep feeding him, he will pop a big one.

“Part of it, too, is just finding that balance of patience,” Johnson said. “Of just being able to continue to hammer attempts and try to get the guys in a good rhythm and a good flow.”

On Monday, Nick Sirianni for the first time this year admitted the Eagles need to run the ball more and run the ball better. 

Those two seem to go hand in hand. 

“It always starts with being able to run the ball efficiently and effectively,” Johnson said. “We've got to continue to do a better job at that.”

With their backs and their offensive line, the Eagles should be among the league’s best running the ball. But they’ve been at 3.6 or worse in five of their last seven games. They’ve only had three worse seven-game stretches in the last 25 years.

Even Sunday, the Eagles lost 42-19, but this was a one-possession game late in the third quarter. Yet the backs only had nine carries – six by Swift, two by Kenny Gainwell, one by Boston Scott.

It can be a tricky call deciding when the running game is just not productive enough to keep calling running plays or deciding when you’re too far behind to keep calling running plays.

Johnson said that’s something he needs to be better at.

“I think it's just a function of how the game is going at certain times,” he said. “It's always a balancing act in terms of when you're in a two-score game of being able to try to score quickly and get yourself back in it and still being able to hammer some of those attempts in the run game. 

“We have to do a great job of balancing that.”

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