The Eagles were a Running Team* Last Year and Need to be a Running Team* this Year
Thursday night was a good illustration of how you adjust when a defense is mixing looks, preventing explosive plays, and doing a good job shutting down your passing and option games. You line up and run the ball down their throats instead.
A 16-play drive in which the Eagles ran the ball 13 times was the catalyst for the six-point win, a lengthy jaunt down the field that greased the wheels and got the Birds’ offense moving. According to the team’s communications staff, 259 yards and three touchdowns on 48 attempts “was the 2nd-most rushing yards of the Nick Sirianni era (since 2021), behind a 363-yard performance on 11/27/22 vs. Green Bay.” D’Andre Swift went for a career-high 175 in the victory. It was the most a Birds running back has logged in a single game since Shady McCoy back in 2013.
“It was pretty good, huh? He (Swift) showed vision, explosiveness,” said head coach Nick Sirianni. “I thought the offensive line did a phenomenal job of pushing them off the ball. Was really pleased that he protected the ball. Protecting the football is not an easy thing… that was a lot of touches, too, so, again, not only pleased with how he saw it and how he hit it, but also how he protected the ball, especially when they’re coming after it in situations at the end of the game like that.”
Thiago always picks out notable statistics to share, and this is one of them:
De’Andre Swift Rushing Yards Before Contact
2022 – 3.7
2023 – 6.1
— Thiago (@ThiagoPHL) September 15, 2023
Ding ding ding, we have a winner. Rushing yards before contact was a HUGE component to the Eagles’ 2022 success, so much so that they actually finished #3 in the NFL, logging 1,817 rushing yards before any ball carrier was even touched. Miles Sanders, individually, ranked #2 with 837 yards, behind only Justin Fields, so no other running back on the planet hit more open holes than he did. Contrast that with the fact that the Birds were only 20th in the NFL with 692 rushing yards AFTER contact and it’s a testament to the offensive line’s ability to pave the way for anyone and everyone. Swift is just the latest beneficiary, and his linear north/south approach is a good complement to what the big boys up front are giving him.
*People might read the headline and say, “well the Eagles were also a passing team last year,” which is true. They were both at the same time. They had the 5th-most rushing yards and the 8th-most passing yards. Captain Obvious would say that’s why they were effective. They did both things extremely well and were balanced in approach, so for all of the hand-wringing about Jalen Hurts and all of the passing game complaints after two games against Bill Belichick and Brian Flores, the Posidelphia angle is to focus on a dominant running performance, sans Kenny Gainwell, that was generated via a game plan deviation. Remember, Swift barely touched the ball in Week 1, only to come back in Week 2 with a career high, which, presumably, was not the foremost thought in pregame staff meetings.
One of the things you hear over and over again is the idea of taking what the defense gives you, and that was on display Thursday night. The Eagles couldn’t throw the ball early, especially against those pesky rush 3/drop 8 looks, so they just decided to pound the rock instead, and they didn’t have to risk Jalen Hurts while doing it. Jalen only accounted for 12 of the Birds’ 48 running plays (25%), a couple of which were read pulls, plus two red zone tush pushes. They put up 259 ground yards with Hurts only logging 35, so it’s a good thing all around. Chew up the Vikings on the ground, protect Hurts, etc. Now they’ve got a long week to look at two batches of film and diagnose what New England and Minnesota were doing on the back end.
“This is a disguise league,” Hurts said postgame. “It’s always quarterback versus defensive coordinator. It’s an adjustment, and everyone is going to try to find the best way to attempt to slow us down. It’s about how we respond to that and how we execute. I think it’s all over the tape what we’re capable of. Nobody wants (A.J. Brown) catching balls down the field or (DeVonta Smith) catching balls down the field, or the threat. It’s about being able to attack those things even though they have that in mind. That’s a development thing for us as an offense. I talk about the identity that we’re yearning to find, but when you rush for 255, that’s not a bad day.”