Running the ball has become the Eagles ‘bread and butter’ this season and with good reason. Jordan Howard has proven himself to be a dream-fit in this offense and the ever-versatile Miles Sanders is starting to flash real signs of development as his rookie year goes on. Luckily for the Eagles, their ‘Thunder and lightning’ combination couldn’t be colliding at a better time.
The Eagles have seven games left in the regular season and currently sit at 5-4, breathing down the neck of their arch-rival who sits at the top of the NFC East. With DeSean Jackson likely out for the year, the offense is likely, as it has been in recent weeks, going to have to lean on the tight ends and running backs to pick up what the receivers are quite literally dropping. The good news is, fortune favors an aggressive run-game.
Below are how their remaining opponents rank against the run and the average amount of yardage given up each week.
Miami |31st| 150.8
Giants (x2) |25th 127.9
New England |12th|99.1
Bear in mind that the Eagles are coming off of two stellar rushing performances against top-tier run defenses in Chicago and Buffalo. It looks as though there will be some slightly smoother sledding as the season hits its most crucial point.
“I definitely feel like we’re getting in a pretty good groove with the running game.” Jordan Howard told reporters following the win over his former team. “The offensive line has been doing a great job all season, but they have taken it to another level. They are dominating guys and pushing them out of the way, making it easy for us.”
Howard has been absolutely excellent this season and the perfect complement to Miles Sanders. With 525 rushing yards, 6 rushing touchdowns and 4.4 yards per carry (his highest average since his rookie year), Howard’s patience and vision partnered with an Eagles offensive line that’s just parting the red sea on a regular basis, is a lethal combination for any NFL defense.
Talking of which, the offensive line is bulldozing anyone who stands in their way right now, which not only benefits the running backs but also QB Carson Wentz, who is quietly putting together another outstanding campaign.
“I think it was just zone play.” Eagles center Jason Kelce said when examining why the offense was able to drive down the field and take eight minutes off the clock against the Bears. “I’m trying to remember specifically. We kind of felt like that play was going to be there. We had a lot of success with it – pretty much all game. We did some things that kind of stalled us out in the second half. You know [Eagles RB] Jordan [Howard] is about as good of feel for zone blocking and zone plays as you can get when it’s the mid zone. He has the patience and the vision and the hard work. He’s a very even-keeled, go about his business, lunch pail type of guy. I have a lot of respect for how he goes about his business and plays this game. He’s one hell of a player.”
As for Sanders, his value to the offense is obvious. His development as a rookie has been a focal point all season long and while there’s still a long way to go when it comes to vision and patience, he’s become the team’s #1 deep threat with DeSean Jackson sidelined.
“I felt like they were kind of guessing through the game.” Sanders told reporters after the win against Chicago. “When we bring [Eagles RB] Jordan [Howard] in, they probably thought we were just running the ball. We got them on a boot and got the first down on one of those third-down conversions. When they keep me in there, they probably aren’t expecting us to run the ball as much too, so we will kind of mix it in and whatever is being called we kind of take advantage of it and execute it.”
The Eagles may be struggling to find reliable production from their wide receivers, but the offense has had no qualms putting up points in buckets this season. Leaning on the run in the closing seven games will not only alleviate pressure from Wentz and a struggling positional group, but also keep the defense off the field, who have had worrying schematic struggles of their own. If Pederson can control the clock and let a raging bull wreck the china shop before releasing Sanders to deliver the knockout punches, there’s every chance that they run all the way to the postseason and beyond.