“I think identity is not being able to run the ball, or we’re a running team, we’re a passing team, we’re a team that doesn’t give up big explosive plays. That’s not what identity is. An identity is a mentality. It’s a mentality, it’s an approach…”
That was quarterback Jalen Hurts following Sunday’s 40-29 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
Throughout the Philadelphia Eagles 2021 offseason, terms such as “retool”, “rebuild”, and “transition period” were thrown around in reference to how the Eagles would fare over the next few years.
Oddsmakers projected the Eagles to win fewer than 5.5 games in 2021. ESPN’s Football Power Index had the Eagles near the bottom of the league and gave them a 19.2% chance of making the playoffs.
Early on, this looked to be the course the season was taking.
The offense struggled to maintain consistency and formulate any reasons for optimism in the minds and eyes of fans.
There was no rhythm to play calls from Nick Sirianni. They had no identity. Jalen Hurts wasn’t reading the field well and was erratic as a passer. The running game became an afterthought in the minds of the offensive coaching staff.
The Eagles were seemingly dead in the water.
Fast forward four weeks and the Eagles have flipped the script and flipped 2-5 into 5-6. And they’ve done so because they’ve committed to what they’ve been built on.
“When we talk about our overall philosophy and our team building, we always talk about the lines of scrimmage,” Howie Roseman said after the 2nd round of the 2021 draft.
This philosphy has been the driving force behind the Eagles 3-1 stretch. It shouldn’t be a shock that a team that’s built on strength, nastiness, toughness, and brute force (and everything else that makes up trench play) has been able to flat out demoralize opposing defenses.
Over the last four weeks the Eagles rushing attack, spearheaded by Hurts, has rushed for the most yards per game in the NFL (217.5).
But it’s not just that they’ve been able to rush for over 175 yards and 7 touchdowns over this four game stretch—it’s the way they’ve been able to line up and simply out-physical and out scheme opposing defenses (again, two of which were top 10 against the run entering the matchup).
They’ve become more creative and multiple in their run designs. Offensive line coach and run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland’s ability to develop talent (most notably LT Jordan Mailata) has been his calling card, but his ability to categorically out scheme opposing defenses on the ground has been a sight to behold.
Per SHARP, Weeks 1-7 saw the Eagles rank 11th in pass rate with a 43% success rate. Conversely, the Eagles ranked 25th in called runs, but 4th in success rate.
The difference has been the intent on running the football. Throughout the first half of the season, the Eagles structured their running game predominantly off RPOs and zone reads by Hurts.
In the midst of their 3-1 stretch, they’ve become intentional and innovative with their run deisgns. And they’ve been able to do so because of their reliance upon the trenches.
The offensive line that has consistently ranked in the top 10 in terms of positonal spending dating back to 2013, has been called upon to attack and physicaly assert themselves.
They’ve utilized zone (inside and outside), counter, power, and option runs. They’ve pulled offensive linemen and gotten them up into the second level. They’ve utilized pre-snap motion and given defenses eye candy. Undoubtedly, the biggest beneficiary from all of this has been Jalen Hurts.
The second year signal caller had accounted for over 80 percent of the team’s offense over the first 7 weeks of the season. Hurts had struggled to maintain consistency as a passer and as a result, the Eagles offense suffered. The potential of either trading or selecting Hurts’ replacement with one of the Eagles possible three first-round picks in the 2022 draft had become routine discussion on both local and national airwaves.
However, with the evolution of the Eagles offense, Hurts has silenced this noise. He’s led the NFL in QBR over the last 5 weeks and shut down any chatter on finding his potential replacement.
Perhaps the most prevailing element to come out of this recent stretch is the fact that teams now have to account for Philadelphia’s rushing attack in addition to the threat Hurts poses as a runner. He enhances the running game and by extension, the passing game. Teams have to play the Eagles offense differently becasue of number 1.
But it all goes back to the Eagles pivoting back to what they do best, showing that they can adapt in the process and that they’re willing to make changes. Essentially, the Eagles have given themselves a chance. Early on in the season, the un-balanced run:pass ratio put them behind the 8 ball in terms of what opposing defenses had to game plan for. There was no creativity. The transformation that has ensued since from Nick Sirianni, Shane Steichen, and Jeff Stoutland has reinforced the foundation that the Eagles have been built on over the last 2-3 decades: football is won in the trenches.
As temperatures drop and the weather turns colder, the rushing attack continues to heat up. The Eagles may have found themselves at just the right time.
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire