Running the show: Eagles defense will be put to the test as two ‘ground & pound’ teams collide

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The Eagles storm into week 12 following a complete dismantling of the Dallas Cowboys just one week ago. With a nine-game streak of 100+ rushing yards behind them and a backfield of tremendous upside paving the road ahead, balance is the game of the game for Pederson and his offense…as it is for the most successful teams in the league this season. The Eagles run the NFC…but that doesn’t mean that a conference rival with a 3-7 won’t be problematic for the Birds.

The Chicago Bears come into this matchup looking to make a point…and they do so with a complete arsenal of backfield weaponry. Whether it’s sophomore standout Jordan Howard, who already has 841 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns this season, or the elusive Tarik Chohen who is just as dangerous catching the ball as he is running it, Philly has plenty to worry about.

The Eagles have done a fantastic job of completely smothering running backs this season and smothering the rushing attack before it has a chance to be established. In fact, the Eagles have allowed just 710 yards on the ground all season along, less than any other team in the league. Prior to Alfred Morris running angrily last week, the last time the Eagles allowed a single running back to rush for 50+ yards was in week 2.

Surprisingly, Philadelphia have also faced a variety of backfields in that stretch. From the versatility of Christian McCaffrey and Kareem Hunt, to holding Carlos Hyde to his second-lowest rushing total of the season, the Eagles have simply tossed back whatever has been thrown their way. A combination of all of the above is what awaits them this weekend.

“Their running game, too, is a little bit different.” Eagles Head Coach Doug Pederson explained on Friday.They will incorporate a fullback and use some two-back stuff from time to time, and it definitely changes with more downhill running when you’ve got that lead blocker kind of in front. So it’s a little different that way.”

The key cog here could well be the loss of Jordan Hicks. The Eagles signed veteran former Saints LB Dannell Ellerbe recently as an emergency call-up, but Joe Walker and company have performed admirably alongside Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks this season. The group’s ability to read and react will be tested early and often. The Bears are a team who grind out the run game and rarely deviate from their gameplan…and that one factor alone makes players such as Cohen, who’s 273 rushing yards are backed up by 259 receiving yards and a total of three touchdowns. Optionality is something the Eagles have preached all season long…and they now face a backfield that has amassed 1,318 yards on the ground in ten games…the sixth most in the NFL.

“…you do see some of the same characteristics with their guys.” Pederson went onto explain. “I tell you [RB Tarik] Cohen and with the speed he has, incorporating him a little bit, too, [he’s] kind of like a Tyreek Hill for Kansas City. He can throw a little change up at you [with] a little speed. But yeah, there’s definitely some similarities in what they are doing and what our guys are doing.”

There’s no doubting that this will be a physical affair. Chicago almost mirror the Eagles strengths and weaknesses in certain areas. While the Eagles have decimated teams on the ground this year and have shown no mercy in doing so, the Bears have been just as aggressive in trying to force opponents into one dimensional play. Chicago have allowed an average of just 3.8 yards per rush this season and as both teams try desperately to set the tone by forcing the run, stopping it defensively will be just as important as getting it going on the other side of the field.

“It’s a patient offense and one that, defensively, we have to get ready for that physical game that way.” Pederson said assertively on Friday. “[We have to get ready] to be able to tackle, try to eliminate the big rush and just try to smoother it and take it away.”

The Eagles rushing attack has been incredible this year. Balance, composure and unpredictability, the run has been fueled by an elite offensive line and driven home by some of the best downhill talent in the league and one of the biggest surprises of the year in Corey Clement…who is tied for the most touchdowns on the team. Committing to the run has been key to both teams this year. A key to balancing the offense. A key to taking pressure off of a young and athletic quarterback. A key to keeping defenses on their toes. The Bears are going to be playing the Eagles at their own game with some of the youngest and most exciting running back talent in the league. How the Eagles respond will likely decide the outcome of this game.

 

Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

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