Back in the middle of October, the Eagles lost to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football, which gave their coaches a few extra days to step back and examine their offense.
They made the most of it.
Maybe there was no eureka moment, but those coaches did come to a conclusion: They realized they could run the ball.
The Eagles haven’t really stopped since. And they can’t stop now.
“After Tampa Bay, we had a mini bye, and we sat down and talked as a staff on what we need to be better at,” offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said on Tuesday. “And we sat down and we started looking at a whole bunch of different things.
“It started to evolve from there and it started to take off. We just got to continue that moving forward this week.”
In the game after the loss to the Bucs, the Eagles showed they could run the ball in Las Vegas. In the first quarter of that game, the Eagles rushed for 42 yards behind the strength of Miles Sanders’ 30 yards on 6 carries. But then Sanders got hurt, the Eagles got behind and they had to abandon the run. But that showed them they could run. And they’ve been running over everyone ever since.
Including that Vegas game, the Eagles have had 130+ rushing yards in nine straight games. It’s their longest such streak since the 1940s and it’s the second longest such streak in the NFL over the last two decades.
So as the Eagles make their final playoff push, even without Sanders, who has a broken hand, they can’t abandon what has gotten them to this point. And they know it.
“Obviously, Miles will be missed, but we feel good about those guys,” Steichen said. “Miles was out early in the season and those guys stepped up and ran the ball well. They did a heck of a job for us, so we feel good about those guys. They've been doing a good job all year and we hope to continue that trend on Sunday vs. Washington.”
Aside from Sanders’ injury, Jordan Howard also suffered a stinger against the Giants, which means he might not be at 100 percent for this upcoming game. But that still doesn’t change anything. The Eagles need to run, even if it’s with Boston Scott or Kenny Gainwell or practice squad running backs Jason Huntley and Kerryon Johnson.
Because the star of the show hasn’t been the running backs. It’s been the offensive line.
There’s no doubt the Eagles will miss Sanders — he was playing very well — but they still have the line that’s been blocking for him. That line has been the biggest strength of the team this year.
Not to mention that Scott has played well when he’s been called upon this season.
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“I think there are a lot of teams out there are looking and being like, man, how do we get Boston Scott on our team?” Head coach Nick Sirianni said. “How do we get this type of group of backs that if there is an injury, we seamlessly don't miss a beat when the next guy comes in.”
The last time the Eagles faced Washington, just a couple weeks ago, Washington entered the game with the NFL’s No. 5-ranked run defense. The Eagles put up 238 yards on the ground against them. Last week, Washington was crushed by the Cowboys, but still gave up just 108 yards rushing.
What the Eagles have realized over the last two months, though, is that running the football allows them to dictate the way the game is played. It allows their biggest strength, the OL, to impose its will. That doesn’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t pass; there needs to be a balance. But there’s no point in fighting against what we all see is their go-to.
And as we get deeper into December and then into January, it’s only going to get colder and the conditions are only going to get harsher.
“Less bad things can happen when you hand the ball off,” Sirianni said, “so we definitely need – especially when the weather is not the way you want it to be, so we definitely rely on that run game particularly this time of the year.”