Ground and pound. Those are the two words commonly being associated with the Eagles through the opening four weeks of the season. Two weeks ago however, fans were standing outside the NovaCare Complex with signs urging Doug Pederson to run the ball more. It’s all finally clicking for a team that spent the offseason ensuring it has all the right pieces to build around a young franchise quarterback. It’s a scenario that’s eerily similar to the 2013 Seattle Seahawks. A team who had spent the offseason vigorously putting the pieces of the puzzle together for their prized quarterback…and eventually went on to win it all.
The Eagles narrative after the last two weeks is all about the ground game. With 407 yards in their last two games ALONE coming from running backs, it’s easy to see why. The Eagles rushed 36 times against a Chargers side that has been leaky against the run through their opening four games and proceeded to dominate. Corey Clement and LeGarrette Blount helped captain a stunning near-seven minute drive to bring the game to a close after a flurry of big plays, angry runs and a lot of chain movement.
“Every week you try to go in and you try to establish your running game.” Doug Pederson told the media. “That’s the first thing you have to do. If you can do that, it will open up a little play action pass, it will open up shots down the field. And that’s kind of where you want to start.”
Those shots coincidentally propelled the Eagles offense into scoring position too. Wentz would find Zach Ertz for a beautiful completion one minute, before seeking out a flurry of offensive targets including Torrey Smith. While the two are yet to connect on a deep bomb, the makings of an explosion are present. One huge factor this weekend was the Eagles offensive line however.
After a slow start to the season which could well be put down to their lack of time on the field together as a cohesive unit during preseason, the Eagles offensive front looked the part of an elite unit on Sunday, keeping Wentz upright against a formidable defensive end duo and more importantly making some brilliant plays to ignite the run game.
“The offensive line, we talk about this as coaches, has to play as a unit, have to play as one.” Pededson explained on Monday. “When you have injuries and the guys aren’t playing together that long, there’s going to be some disruption up front, the timing of blocks. We saw it a little bit in the Washington game, the first game, not so much the assignment errors, but the timing of blocks. What you’re seeing now is all that coming together. These are the same runs that we’ve always used. We just window dress them a little bit differently, present them a little differently to the defense.
But the timing, the accuracy, the pinpoint, the blocking, things that we work on during the week are starting to pay off.”
It’s easy to look at this team and draw comparisons, but the most blindingly obvious comes in the form of that championship winning Seattle Seahawks side. Before we even get to the nitty and gritty, let’s just take one more look at this astonishing 68-yard run. The comparisons between Blount and Lynch have long been made as two of the best downhill backs in the business, but this just defines beast mode.
Blount is a MONSTER pic.twitter.com/rhkM0cZs0J
— drew (@Dcorrigan50) October 1, 2017
The Eagles backfield totalled 200 yards on Sunday and after already establishing just how impressive they were one week ago, it’s clear that extra care has been taken into prioritizing the run and opening up the game for Carson Wentz. Including the playoffs and the Superbowl of that incredible 2013 campaign, the Seahawks amassed over 100 total rushing yards in FIFTEEN games. That’s not to say the Eagles will hit that level of sustenance, but it’s certainly trending in that direction.
The Seahawks also had a second year quarterback that year who was showing rapid signs of development and growth into the mold of a franchise quarterback. Enter Carson Wentz; the Eagles starting quarterback who has six touchdowns, two interceptions, a rating of 90.8 and has already eclipsed 1,000 yards. There was one other player who drew the comparison between how the Eagles have built their team through the trenches, and how Seattle built theres. Former Eagles wide receiver, Jordan Matthews.
“I say this loosely, if I had a to compare us to a team and say “we can be like that soon”…I’d say the Seahawks.” Matthews told me in an exclusive interview for -=+. “When I look at the Seahawks and I see a great Defense and a great Quarterback, who is a leader and a winner. Carson Wentz is a winner. He does not like to lose. I even think at the end of the season, we saw a little bit of his mobility. That was something he kinda did a little bit at the start of the season, but at the end he was breaking off some big runs. When you’re in third and long and teams have to account for that, as opposed to going man, they’re playing zone and you can easily throw vs zone to convert those plays? It changes everything for a quarterback.”
“I don’t want to box us in to a comparison, but if I had say a picture of a team that I saw and I was like you know what, this team wins, they have a formula for winning..I like the Seahawks formula. Russell Wilson has a great group of guys that go out and do their job, we have to go out there and do it.”
Of course, the other thing that Seattle had at their disposal was an elite Defense that forced plenty of turnovers and harassed opposing wide receivers with the Legion of Boom. The Birds have the inverse. A Defense that throws the kitchen sink at opposing quarterbacks and completely stagnates the run, but is susceptible to giving up deep passes…especially late in games. But the Eagles are finding a way to win close games, something they failed to do in the rookie season of Carson Wentz.
The two teams clashed last season in a game of complete intrigue. Wentz stepped into one of the most hostile environments in the NFL and held his own despite some rookie errors. One of the big takeaways however? The Eagles offensive line.
The unit ended up battered and bruised, with Jason Peters and Halapoulivaati Vaitai both picking up injuries. It was rookie Isaac Seumalo and Stefen Wisniewski who were plugged into the line against one of the most aggressive pass-rushes in the league..in their house.
Wentz was only sacked twice throughout the entire game, which given that the Line became a plug-n-play position early into the game is beyond impressive. Jason Kelce did a fantastic job of moving the pocket and opening rushing lanes early on, while Brandon Brooks did a great job of shielding the Eagles quarterback.
Surprisingly, the Seahawks played the same card…and had the same success. The Eagles simply couldn’t get pressure to Russell Wilson or penetrate the trenches to stop the run, a combination which was a rarity last season. This was perhaps one of the lone times that the Eagles Defenses appeared to have a considerable surface advantage over an Offensive Line, and they failed to make it pay dividends.
Trenches. Matter. The Eagles know it and the Seahawks knew it…only maybe this season they could use a nudge.
When you add it all together, it’s not too difficult to foresee this Eagles team in its current state at least making a deep playoff push. And like that Seattle team who overthrew Denver to win the biggest prize in Football, the Eagles are building for the future. Not re-building, not patching, not tanking, not scrambling. But methodically building with the progress of Carson Wentz at heart.
A franchise quarterback? Check.
A downhill back who SCREAMS Beast Mode? Check.
An offensive line built to protect their quarterback and force the trenches open for their backfield? Check.
A Defense that runs rampant and forces opponents to double-team and take extra caution? Check.
The Eagles aren’t far away…not far at all.
Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports