The Birds are 3-0 and we’re not doing Negadelphia after the Bucs win, but we can have a pragmatic discussion about running back usage.

D’Andre Swift logged 130 yards on 16 carries Monday night, but there were two separate instances when the Eagles went away from him entirely to feature the less-effective Kenneth Gainwell (14 for 43 yards). Naturally, fans and media were asking why the coaching staff deviated from the hot hand.

The first instance took place in the second quarter, when Swift was on five carries at a 7.2 yard-per-rush clip. At that point, he was the lead back, running it five times for 36 yards through the first three series, and catching one target for 8 yards. That’s 7.3 yards per touch on six total touches.

What happened next?

Well they didn’t use him at all on drive four, even though two of the first three possessions went to the Red Zone. On drive four, they ran Gainwell twice for nine yards, and threw him one pass for five yards. Jalen Hurts then kept a passing play alive to hit Olamide Zaccheus on a bomb and find the end zone for the first time on the evening. Swift didn’t see another carry for the remainder of the half, and we went into the break with this:

  • Swift: five carries, 36 yards, one catch for eight yards
  • Gainwell: five carries, 19 yards, one catch for five yards

The Eagles opened the third quarter by going back to Swift, starting with a 13-play touchdown drive in which he ran the ball five times for 43 yards. Same thing on the next drive, before the interception – Swift gains 38 yards on three carries. He got 11 more yards on three carries at the end of the third, but didn’t touch the ball once in the fourth quarter. Not a single time. It was all Gainwell from there, with eight carries on the final drive that chewed up the clock and killed the game off.

In theory, there was nothing wrong with the thought of going to Gainwell finish things off, but my issue is with the assumption that the game was “out of reach” at that point. The game was not out of reach. The Eagles got the ball back with 9:22 on the clock, up 14, so if you go three and out there, Tampa gets the ball back with ~7-8 minutes on the clock after scoring on their previous drive. We all watched Minnesota score 14 points in the fourth quarter of Week 2, and New England pull to within five in the fourth quarter of Week 1, so my stance is that it was incorrect to assume that the Birds had everything wrapped up when they got the ball back after the Tampa touchdown.

Giving Gainwell the ball, exclusively, on that drive, can be questioned when Swift was the guy with the hot hand. Plus, they needed A.J. Brown to move the sticks on 3rd and 13 after a missed tackle, or else the Eagles would have been punting the ball back to Tampa with five minutes remaining in a two-score game. Not a huge threat, but also not ideal to lose a 4th quarter possession while RB1 is sitting on the bench, with one foot figuratively in the shower.

If we’re breaking this out into risk vs. reward, certainly you want to protect Swift and manage his workload. Boston Scott was out with a concussion, Rashaad Penny didn’t look amazing in Week 2, and D’Andre did have some injuries in Detroit. We don’t need to be running him 28 times in Week 3. I’d point out, however, that he only had 16 rushes through three quarters, so it wasn’t like he was carrying some Derrick Henry-esque responsibility throughout. Sitting him for the entirety of the fourth after he had zero second quarter touches is absolutely funky.

It appears as though the coaching staff really likes Kenny Gainwell, as evidenced from his usage in New England, and that’s fine, but their propensity to sit guys for entire drives, or even entire quarters, is a little goofy, especially when the obvious is right in front of your face. And the obvious in this case is that D’Andre Swift was absolutely carving up the Bucs to the tune of 8.1 yards per carry.

Instead of mixing and matching within drives, we got a rushing log that looked a little chunky like this:

  • drive 1: Swift, Gainwell
  • drive 2: Swift, Swift, Swift
  • drive 3: Swift (then a bunch of incomplete passes)
  • drive 4: Gainwell, Gainwell
  • drive 5: Gainwell
  • drive 6: Gainwell
  • drive 7: Swift, Swift, Swift, Swift, Swift
  • drive 8: Swift, Swift, Swift
  • drive 9: Swift, Swift, Swift
  • drive 10: Gainwell, Gainwell, Gainwell, Gainwell, Gainwell, Gainwell, Gainwell, Gainwell

Is this the way to do it? Feature one guy exclusively, then go back to the other? Or is mixing it up within drives the better approach?

You’re always walking the line between protecting these guys and giving yourself the best chance to win. I’d argue that going away from Swift not once, but twice in this game was the wrong way to manage the running back rotation, but they ultimately chewed up Tampa for 201 on the ground, on the road, so we can have no complaints about that.