The average NFL running back is approximately 70.59 inches tall (roughly 5’10 1/2″) and weighs about 212.90 pounds. Using this benchmark, it is safe to say that all three of the Eagles main backs are above average size-wise. While bigger backs can prove to be troublesome to some teams (see Steelers, Pittsburgh), the Patriots have fared well against two of the biggest backs in the league the past two consecutive weeks.
The most recent challenge the Pats’ front seven has faced was Leonard Fournette of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Fournette was the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and immediately lived up to his draft status, becoming the first Jaguar to rush for over 1,000 yards since Maurice Jones-Drew did it in 2011.
Fournette is listed at 6′, 228 lbs. on the official team website but checked in at 240 lbs. at the combine. Even the lower estimate puts Fournette in the top-tier of running backs strictly based on weight. Of the 169 (nice) running backs under contract, only 18 running backs are listed at a higher weight than Fournette and two of them will be mentioned in a bit.
Although he put up a serviceable fantasy line against the Pats, Fournette was woefully ineffective with his touches, notching 24 carries for 76 yards and a touchdown. He also tacked on an extra 12 yards on three catches. This averages out to a pedestrian 3.26 yards per touch for one of the most dynamic power runners in football.
Another young gun, Derrick Henry won the 2015 Heisman Trophy on his way to being drafted in the mid-second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Although he has yet to accrue a 1,000-yard season, Henry has shown promise with explosive play after explosive play after explosive play.
Listed at a daunting 6’3″, 247 lbs., Henry is tied with Rod Smith of the Cowboys for the tallest running back in the league. He gets a silver medal in the weight column as well, with only one pure running back weighing in above him.
Before his visit to Foxborough, Henry and the Titans stopped by Arrowhead Stadium to meet Andy Reid and company. Henry went on to demolished the Chiefs defense, shredding them for 191 total yards on 25 touches, averaging out to an astounding 7.64 yards per touch. Henry proceeded to get trampled by a rabid pack of minutemen as he hobbled to lowly 3.26 yards per touch with his longest run of the day being a four-yard scamper up the middle.
Does the number 3.26 ring a bell? It should. The Patriots defense held both Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry to an abysmal 3.26 yards per touch in two consecutive playoff games. Two of the biggest running backs in the game reduced to nothing but run-stuffs and two-to-three yard gains.
A Super Task…
A familiar face amongst Patriots fans, “LGB” called New England home for three and a half seasons and played a big role in two Super Bowl winning teams. He holds the franchise record for single-season rushing touchdowns (18) and had his second career 1,000-yard season with the Pats. That being said, Blount isn’t holding back because it’s his former team.
“Straight enemies, ain’t no friends. … Ain’t no homies. None of that. We know what we’re going to do. They know what they’re going to do. We both have the same goal in mind. There aren’t any hard feelings, it just is what it is.”
Anybody who watched a Patriots game last year knows that Blount is a big, bruising back that likes to run over opponents quite literally. He moves with a sneaky finesse that’s hidden behind his massive 6′, 250 lbs. frame. You read that right. Two hundred and fifty pounds. That’s defensive end size. It gives LeGarrette Blount the weight crown when it comes to running backs.
Some people believe that Blount will be effective against the Patriots but recent weeks say otherwise. The Jaguars provided the blueprint on how to beat the Patriots defense and that’s with speed out of the backfield. Corey Grant, a 5’11”, 203 lbs. speedster outran the overmatched Patriot linebackers on three short screens and turned them into gains of 20, 24, and 15 yards in that order. His only rush went for two yards.
Another familiar face for some Patriots fans but not because he spent time in New England. Actually, scratch that. He did spend time in New England. Two games across two seasons. The only caveat is that he was on the Dolphins for both of those games.
Standing at 6′, 223 lbs., Jay Ajayi is no LeGarrette Blount but still has the power to wear down defenses and also possesses the speed Blount lacks to break off the occasional big gain. What Ajayi can’t do is catch the football consistently. Another one-dimensional back.
When the Pats and ‘Phins threw down it was never a good time for Ajayi, who averaged a measly 3.15 yards per touch across three contests. With the Patriot defense playing the way it has against the run, there’s good reason to believe history will repeat itself.
The big unknown in the Eagles backfield is undrafted rookie Corey Clement. Yet another big back, sitting at 5’10” 220 lbs Clement is actually the smallest of the running backs Philadelphia actually employs on Sundays.
Having seen limited action across the season, it’s hard to know what to expect when it comes to Clement running the football. He did have a three-touchdown game early on, however, and one of those touchdowns was through the air which is cause for concern. As previously discussed, the Patriots weakness seems to be screen-plays and wheel routes out of the backfield and if Clement can, in fact, catch the football then expect a heavy dose of that come Sunday night.
What To Expect
With all three running backs seemingly one-dimensional, expect the Patriots to stack the box early and test Nick Foles’ arm and confidence.
James Harrison is a strong edge setter and is big enough to take LeGarrette Blount one on one so expect to see him get a significant amount of snaps this week. Although he has fallen out of favor,
Alan Branch is a monster of a man, sitting pretty at 6’6″, 350 lbs. and specializes in run defense so there is a real possibility that he is active come Sunday. If Deatrich Wise Jr. (concussion) or Malcom Brown (foot) is somehow unable to go then you can bet on Branch being active.
Nelson Agholor is fast and can catch the ball. The Eagles have thrown a few swing passes out of the backfield to him just as the Jaguars did with Corey Grant. You’ll see this at least once if not more.
Finally, expect a close game. (Source: the past eight Patriot Super Bowls).
–Nick Perfetuo is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New Egland Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @NickPerf33