The Eagles running back usage in 2023 has been both frustrating and utterly delightful

After three weeks of NFL action, we've seen awe-inspiring and rage-inducing usage of the Eagles' running backs, particularly that of D'Andre Swift and Kenneth Gainwell.
Kenneth Gainwell, Philadelphia Eagles
Kenneth Gainwell, Philadelphia Eagles / Mike Carlson/GettyImages

The Philadelphia Eagles' running back room could and should be viewed in a case study. The talent is undeniable. You know the owners of the names: D’Andre Swift, Kenneth Gainwell, Rashaad Penny, and Boston Scott. So far, however, the business model has been to carry only three tailbacks on game days.

Some of that is true because Philly lacked the services of Kenneth Gainwell in Week 2 before Boston Scott sat out in Week 3. Still, after consecutive outstanding performances from Swift in each of the past two games, it has become clear that the running back pecking order should place Swift as the big Dawg on top.

Yes, the Eagles are undefeated with a 3-0 record. Yes, Swift has eclipsed 100 yards rushing in each of the past two games, but it’s also hard to ignore the sometimes-glaringly incorrect usage of Philly's personnel. 

The Eagles running back usage has its roses and thorns.

In Week 3, the most preposterous usage of Kenny Gainwell came on the Eagles’ first drive, one where they advanced the ball to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 14-yard line and made the decision to use him as a hammer on a 4th-and-two conversion attempt. That ultimately failed.

Keep in mind the fact that, at the time, Kenny G hadn't touched the ball since Week 1, and D’Andre Swift had already touched the ball twice.

It was a very frustrating decision that left us scratching our heads so furiously that our scalps started bleeding. If you have to get hair plugs to replace the follicles that you lost during that play, send the invoice to offensive coordinator Brian Johnson because you deserve to be reimbursed. 

Plays called specifically for Gainwell never cease to cause mental angst. Kenny G. the player, is great. Kenny G. the idea, is not so great. When it comes to clutch moments, even if the Jazzman is on the field, there are four other guys with elite talent who should be given the rock first.

A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert are the top three weapons in the passing game. Jalen Hurts can make plays with his legs. Those are the guys that sshould have the ball in their hands when plays need to be made.

It isn't that we don't enjoy the idea of plays being designed for Kenny. We're in love with his talent, but he shouldn't be used as a go-to guy.

On the flip side, the Birds have used Gainwell terrifically as a second option or changeup pitch to the D'Andre Swift fastball. Swift carried the ball 28 times in Week 2 versus the Minnesota Vikings. That was unanimously believed to be venturing toward over-usage, but you have to remember that Gainwell was injured.

Kenny returned for Monday Night Football and when used in relief for Swift at the end of both the first and second halves, the results were unspectacular but relatively respectable, Gainwell shined on the final drive of the game as he helped Philly bleed nine minutes off of the clock. 

By the end of the game, Swift had carried the ball 16 times for 130 yards. Gainwell had 14 totes for 43 yards. That’s an elite performance by Swift and a pretty good/very effective performance by Gainwell. Philly may want to utilize similar strategies going forward.

Hopefully, the Eagles will venture away from their rage-inducing personnel choices, but they deserve kudos for giving Swift his rest and letting Gainwell chew up yardage. Together they extended drives, killed the clock, and dissolved the opposition. Seeing the Bucs lose the will to compete really put a smile on all of our faces.

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