The Eagles were clinging to a three-point lead in Buffalo when they ripped off their longest play of the season early in the third quarter.
On their second play of the second half, Miles Sanders went 65 yards up the gut of Buffalo’s defense to extend the Eagles’ lead to 10 points in their eventual 31-13 win. The Eagles were in 21 personnel for the run, as Jordan Howard provided the lead block.
Where did the play come from?
“Jeff Stoutland,” head coach Doug Pederson answered, giving credit to his offensive line coach and run game coordinator.
“It's actually a play that we have in our game plan, or I should say, we have in our run game plan. We've worked on it since OTAs.”
The Eagles had used this look earlier in the year, but with a tight end in the backfield instead of another running back. They worked on their 21 personnel this week in practice and it paid off. Earlier in the game, the Eagles actually ran this play but threw a pass to Alshon Jeffery; we’ll show that later, but first, let’s take a closer look at the touchdown.
On the line, the Eagles have a hat for hat with their guards and tackles and it’ll be on Jason Kelce to get the linebacker (49) in the second level. The key block, though, will come from Howard as a lead blocker on 58.
At the mesh point, you can see this play developing. The line does a great job opening the hole and Howard is going to make the block of the game to clear the linebacker out of it. Meanwhile, No. 23 (Micah Hyde) has to respect the possibility of Carson Wentz keeping the ball. He can’t break toward Sanders.
This is just perfect execution from Howard, blocking an undersized linebacker. Howard is actually listed as one pound heavier than the ‘backer, so it’s a fair fight and Howard puts a textbook block on him.
“Yeah, that was sweet,” Wentz said.
And give credit to Sanders too. He follows the block and then bursts through the hole. A slower back would probably get a nice gain, but wouldn’t take it to the house. On this play, Sanders reached 20.9 mph, according to NFL NextGen Stats.
This wrinkle in the offense partially came about, Pederson explained, because of Sanders’ success in the passing game.
“I liked having the two [running backs] because right now teams are focusing on 26 when he's in the game as a receiver,” Pederson said, “and this is a great way to get both our guys in the game and do a little bit of both.”
The Eagles actually ran this play earlier in the game with an adjustment. In the first quarter, they used this alignment and Wentz threw an incompletion to Alshon Jeffery.
The execution here wasn’t great, but the Eagles used this formation to get themselves a 1-on-1 with Jeffery on a smaller corner on that side of the field. The Eagles knew the Bills would have to respect the run.
Adding more 21 personnel to the offense is certainly an interesting wrinkle to this offense, but it makes sense. Howard and Sanders are very complementary players and this personnel grouping can work. Don’t expect that to become the Eagles’ base offense, but it certainly makes them more versatile. And on Sunday, it got them their biggest play of the year.
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