The Eagles and the Buccaneers technically played each other back in Week 6, but the Bucs haven’t faced this version of the Eagles. They couldn’t have.
Because this version of the Eagles didn’t exist back then.
Back in mid-October, when the Bucs smothered the Eagles in a 28-22 game that wasn’t ever really that close, the Eagles hadn’t yet formed their offensive identity. If anything, their identity then was as an aimless pass-first offense.
But one of the benefits of getting spanked by the Bucs in front of a national audience on Thursday Night Football is that it gave the Eagles a few extra days to self-scout and change directions.
“Sometimes, as a staff, you’ve got to swallow your pride and change course,” head coach Nick Sirianni said to NBC Sports Peter King in his Football Morning in America column.
“And since midseason, we’ve been one of the higher 12- and 13-personnel teams in the league. I can tell you, that really helped us. One way it helped was we didn’t have to put as much on Jalen (Hurts) with the running game performing so well.”
The Eagles used that mini bye week to change who they were on offense and it turned around their season.
Because looking at the rushing attack against the Bucs, there were reasons to believe it could work. Miles Sanders had just nine carries in that game but picked up 56 yards on the ground.
The next week in Las Vegas, the Eagles came out and rushed for 42 yards in the first quarter against the Raiders. But then Sanders got hurt and the Eagles got behind so they abandoned the run. But the seed was planted. And from there on out, the Eagles didn’t just become a good rushing team. They became the best rushing team in Eagles history and one of the best in the entire NFL.
Just look at the difference before and after that mini bye week:
Weeks 1-6: 113.7 rushing yards per game
Weeks 7-18: 184.8 rushing yards per game
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The Eagles were the NFL’s 13th-ranked rushing offense through their first six weeks and a lot of that was just because they have a dual threat quarterback. But since the loss to the Bucs, the Eagles have rushed for 2,033 yards. The next closest team in the NFL is the Colts, who have Jonathan Taylor, and they still had 238 fewer rushing yards.
In the first six weeks of the season, the Eagles averaged just 22.0 rushing attempts per game, ranking them 28th in the NFL. After the Bucs game, that was boosted to 38.0 per game. They had 418 carries in their final 11 games, by far the most in the NFL; the next closest team (the Titans) had 357. The Eagles went 7-4 in those games.
This change really happened after the first time the Eagles and Bucs met.
“We have more time, obviously, this week to be able to not only go into the run-pass ratio of things,” Sirianni said the day after the loss to the Bucs, “but also into marrying some plays together and also go into just what you do well as a team and what your identity is as a team and who you are as a team and what you've succeeded in as a team.
“Sometimes on a normal week or even on a short week, you don't get the opportunity to do that as much. With these extra three days that we have, we are looking at that.”
Boy, did they ever.