In his debut as the starting running back for the Philadelphia Eagles, Bryce Brown ran for 178 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. The performance came before a national audience on Monday Night Football with LeSean McCoy sidelined due to a concussion.
Brown also fumbled two times, losing both in the eventual 30-22 Philadelphia loss versus Carolina. The turnovers were incredibly costly, as the Eagles coughed the ball over three times in the game without getting so much as one turnover of their own.
But Brown showed enough that the coaches have to be extremely pleased with his production. The rookie seventh-round pick will probably start again against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night, and the Eagles will again rely on Brown heavily.
Here are the keys to Brown's breakout game last Monday.
If you watch Brown’s first touchdown—the 65-yard run in the second quarter—he displayed an impressive amount of speed. Brown ran every bit as fast as the 4.32 40-yard dash he ran on his pro day.
He beat his first defender to the outside, creating an open lane—credit the Eagles blockers as well for creating a picturesque hole with a wall of blockers—and from there, it was all speed for Brown. He raced down the right sideline to score his first-ever NFL touchdown.
Brown looked like he might be caught near the end, but he put on a burst of speed, giving the Eagles their first touchdown score in seven quarters.
Brown’s finest attribute was that he ran the ball with both power AND speed, something not many running backs in the league can do.
At this point, the Eagles are looking extremely fortunate that they were able to grab the explosive Brown late in the seventh round (229th overall) in April.
Look at the play to the right. After taking a direct snap and scampering to the outside, Brown had a Carolina defender literally on his back trying to bring him down.
Brown was finally shoved out of bounds (below) an additional six or seven yards downfield.
He Follows His Blockers
Brown did an excellent job of following his blockers all game, particularly on this 11-yard run behind left tackle King Dunlap.
Here’s Brown receiving the handoff from Foles:
Brown cuts to the outside and slows down so Dunlap can get in position to execute a perfect block.
With the 6’9” Dunlap now blocking a clear path for Brown, he’s free to speed up again.
You can also see center Dallas Reynolds (who quietly had a very efficient game as a run-blocker) moving over to help pave a way for Brown. Brown's speed pushes him to the outside, and he's able to capitalize on Dunlap's great block.
Even when Brown looks like he’s about to be tackled, he still manages to plunge ahead for several more yards and pick up the first down. What was impressive about Brown's day was that he was effective even outside of his 65-yard touchdown scamper. He had gains of 19, 19, 11, nine, seven and seven yards on his carries.
Ball Security Was a Concern
LeSean McCoy lost one fumble in 2011. Bryce Brown lost two in his first NFL start.
That’s perhaps an unfair comparison because McCoy is a top-three running back in the game. But the Eagles absolutely cannot afford to have Brown fumbling the ball twice per game.
In this one, you can see from the picture below that the ball just gets ripped out of Brown’s hands.
Such was the result:
It’s unfair to blame Brown for the Eagles’ loss because the Eagles probably would have found a way to lose the game even if Brown hadn’t lost any fumbles. And he did average over nine yards per rush, including two touchdowns. But the fumbles are a no-no.
Running backs coach Ted Williams is one of the best in the business, and he’s a major reason why both Brian Westbrook and McCoy were so spectacular at avoiding fumbles. Williams has some work to do with Brown, who will be a liability if he continues to cough up the football like he did.
He’s a North-South Runner
Watch Bryce Brown’s second carry of the game, a 19-yard scamper.
He looked to be beat in the backfield but he squeezed through a wall of Carolina players and burst into the open field, a la McCoy. Brown hits the hole about as fast as they come.
Brown stayed north-south, rather than going Reggie Bush style and running 40 yards across the field. That's the mark of a smart running back.
Brown showed poise and confidence in his abilities here, and it worked for a 19-yard gain.
He’s a Poor Blocker
The Eagles didn’t really ask Brown to block much on Monday night. But he’s going to have to learn sometime.
Brown was never asked to block in high school and he rarely blocked in college (in fact, he rarely played in college at Tennessee and Kansas State). Learning to block at the NFL level for essentially the first time will be a challenge. But if Brown can at least become an adequate blocker, he’s going to be the real deal.