The Philadelphia Eagles are 9-7 with one week remaining in the 2021-22 campaign and have clinched an NFC wild-card spot after starting the year 2-5.
Their turnaround isn’t unitary, as across the NFL, multiple teams have rebounded from slow starts. However, the thing that separates the Eagles is the way they’ve been able to turn around their season–pure unadulterated dominance on the ground.
And while the Eagles’ entire coaching staff have revitalized the Birds offensive attack, the lion-share of the turnaround (and the effectiveness behind it) can be attributed to one man.
Hungry dogs run faster.Jeff stoutland
It’s a quote that is instantly recognizable from the Eagles 2017 Super Bowl parade. However, it’s just one of Jeff Stoutland’s many ‘Stout-isms’ that is common-place in the Eagles offensive line room and it’s one that encapsulates the ‘general-like’ coach that is Jeff Stoutland.
“There are certain sayings that the guy has. And, you know, he believes in them, and he’s convicted in them,” former Eagles assistant offensive line coach, Greg Austin told me.
Stoutland arrived in Philadelphia in 2013 with Chip Kelly. After Kelly was fired in 2015, Stoutland was retained on Doug Pederson’s staff. After Pederson was fired in 2020, Stoutland was one of two assistant coaches retained by Nick Sirianni.
Stoutland has been able to maintain this level of pervasiveness due to his ability to adapt and connect.
“He’s going to be able to connect with Chip Kelly, he’s gonna be able to connect with Doug Pederson, he’s going to be able to connect with Nick Sirianni. He knows a lot of football, he’s been around the game and he’s been in many different systems. He’s going to be confident in what he believes,” Austin said.
This ability to connect is a large element of what makes Stoutland a coaching luminary.
“He’s like my dad,” said Jordan Mailata.
Connecting is one of the core philosophies head coach, Nick Sirianni has hammered home since his time in Philadelphia and it’s evident in Stoutland’s coaching.
No one man is an island, we need each other.Jeff Stoutland
“He cared about me and my well-being, but he also cared about my development as a player,” former Eagles tackle, Julian Vandervelde explained.
“That’s who he is. He wants you to get better, and he wants you to WANT to get better. If you’re willing to work hard and listen, Stout always has time for you,” Vandervelde said.
Numerous linemen have developed and flourished under Stoutland’s tutelage. He has a knack for seemingly pulling any offensive lineman from virtually anywhere (a rugby player in Australia or a second lieutenant in the Army with a degree in nuclear engineering) and eeking out any ounce of talent they have in them.
Stout’s a no-bullshit guy. He’s gonna see through you if you’re fake, he attracts genuine people who appreciate that and want to learn and get better. Egos don’t last long in that OL room.Julian Vandervelde
“He’s a charismatic dude, you know, he can get along with anybody. His ability to reach and connect with many guys from many different backgrounds allows him to be able to win the room,” Austin said.
For Stoutland, it’s all about the process and executing that process on the field.
“I try to be extremely detailed so there’s no question in the players’ minds. I say all the time, I know you don’t like gray areas, so I’m not gonna leave it gray for you. So here’s what I want you to do. I want you to step six inches with your left foot. Then I want you to take your inside foot and step on his inside foot. So if you don’t do that on the film, I’m gonna remind you of what I said. Because that’s exactly the way I want it to be,” Stoutland said in a 2013 interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Vandervelde describes a 2014 experience that exemplifies this explicitly.
“I remember when we were playing Dallas and Chip’s (Kelly) lead play was the zone read. Stout spent a whole film session breaking down how Dallas ran the Tampa 2 with a squeeze and scrape concept on the backside to take away the read,” Vandervelde explained.
“How to tell when they were in that coverage, how the backside linebacker was gonna play the scrape, the angle the defensive end was gonna take on the squeeze, the depth of the middle linebacker, the movement of the interior defensive linemen, everything.”
“So when we got in the game we knew where the defenders were going before the snap. JP (Jason Peters) and Lane (Johnson) knew how to clear the backside and take a sharp angle out to catch the scraping linebacker to open the read for the QB pull. That kind of attention to detail allows you to play fast, confident. and aggressive football.”
Execution fuels emotion.Jeff Stoutland
Stoutland has been able to persist and get production out of so many players in part because of the detailed manner in which he coaches.
“There’s a tendency from time to time, especially when you get to the NFL, coaches will coach above your head,” Austin said.
“You’ll get a guy in there and he’ll have a certain background and when the guy gets there, he’s gonna feel like he’s swimming, almost like sinking. But Jeff, he’s gonna coach every single player, whether they came from Princeton or whether they came from Parie View, the same way. He’s gonna coach the exact same way because he doesn’t want people to miss the details in the coaching point. That’s how he is going to get guys ready to go (no matter the background) and then he’s going to spend the extra time that he needs to with him.”
Along with coaching, the players that are being coached are a key cog in the deal as well.
Playing anywhere along the offensive line is a tough assignment. The intricacies that go into playing any one of the five positions can be a lot to handle. They’re responsible for ID’ing specific players on defenses (ex. MIKE LB), adjusting to various fronts, understanding blitz concepts and where pressures are coming from, carving out running lanes, and much more.
Former Super Bowl-winning head coach, Brian Billick theorized that “As a whole, they’re (offensive linemen) probably the brightest position group on the team.”
With the Eagles, they have one of the more intelligent players in the NFL, the lieutenant to Stoutland, C Jason Kelce.
“He’s his own worst critic. He really analyzes everything he (Kelce) does. He wants to make sure he exact in what he’s doing,” Stoutland said on Kelce in 2013.
Even a player who’s as gifted as Kelce has to be reigned in at times.
“Jason Kelce is like having another coach on the field. So his ability to connect with Kelce and coach him up, and in a lot of regards, keep Kelce in a good frame of mind because he’s so smart. He can go and navigate and do things that some coaches can’t even do themselves. Even coaching the game when he’s playing? Stout’s able to keep his leader in a good mental state in terms of being able to coach it in that he isn’t coaching above their heads,” Austin said on Stoutland’s coaching of Kelce.
The biggest reason for the Eagles’ turnaround from 2-5 to 9-7 and in the playoffs has been their ability to adjust and pivot. They’ve shifted their offensive identity from a pass-heavy philosophy to a run-based attack.
Stoutland has spearheaded a Philadelphia rushing attack that ranks first in total yards, yards before contact, and yards per game. The Eagles also rank third in EPA/rush and explosive run rate.
As the run game coordinator, Stoutland is responsible for everything from blocking schemes, run concepts, run game strategy, offering game-day suggestions on play calls/in-game adjustments, etc.
As with any coach you have to be able to pivot from something that’s not working and Stoutland is absolutely elite at this.
I don’t know how to separate the offensive line from a run game coordinator. It’s all wrapped in one.Greg Austin
“He can tweak a technique or a scheme at the drop of a dime because he teaches it from a fundamentals and concepts standpoint,” Austin said.
“He’s really good at pivoting and making the proper adjustments and not being so damn caught up in his schemes that he’s gonna run his head against the wall trying to force something, he’s gonna go somewhere else,” Austin continued.
In order to not hit the proverbial ‘wall’ of sorts, Stoutland incorporates a bit of everything into the Eagles running game. Dives, iso, traps, inside & outside zone, power runs, counters, and split zone runs.
They pin and pull interior linemen, they mix in zone schemes, man schemes, gap schemes, and they even run various blocking schemes at the same time.
If it doesn’t work, he’s gonna try to fix it and he’s gonna not sleep at night until he fixes it. Then when he finds out what works, he’s gonna hammer it, he’s gonna frickin hammer and hammer it, and he’s gonna believe in it. He’s gonna have conviction.Greg Austin
Their run game is multiple. It’s layered and it doesn’t care who’s in front of them. They can go vertical or horizontal. They use different personnel groupings, different formations, they use motion as window dressing.
And all of this production on the ground isn’t unilateral to just the running backs. Jalen Hurts leads the Eagles in rushing yards and it’s because of 1) Hurts’ ability first and foremost and 2) Stoutland makes teams account for Hurts. And this isn’t a mirage. Hurts is an active contributor to the Eagles rushing attack.
The biggest example of this is a play against the Giants where they pulled Mailata and Landon Dickerson on G/T counter bash.
The run game has even bled over into the passing game. Hurts’ 111 pass attempts off play-action have registered 994 yards (11th in the NFL). And in the RPO game, Hurts’ 95 pass attempts have registered 819 passing yards (1st in the NFL).
In the words of Greg Austin, “He’s (Stoutland) going to maximize the process while keeping it simple.”
Stoutland’s knowledge of the tendencies of the various boxes of opposing teams along with his knowledge of what his players excel at is uncanny.
Stout was always the best at breaking down defensive schemes and alignments so that based on where the safeties and linebackers were we knew which coverage and blitzes were coming, so we knew which defenders were responsible for which gaps which would allow us to change our protections, set angles, or run angles to take advantage of what the defense was doing. It was always about being aggressive and dictating to the defense instead of reacting to it.Julian Vandervelde
Look around the Eagles offense and Stoutland’s fingerprints are everywhere.
Their left tackle is a 6’8 346 pound former Australian rugby player who had never played a snap of football before being drafted who is now one of the top starting left tackles in the league. Their starting center is quite literally one of the least physically imposing centers in the league yet he’s a 3-time All-Pro, and they’ve dealt with injury after injury to the interior guards.
Yet they’re still productive.
They tried being a pass-heavy team early on and it led them to a 2-5 record.
They flip the script and transition into a run-heavy team and go 7-2 over their next 9 games, through a run game coordinated by Stoutland.
They place their wide receivers, including 170-pound DeVonta Smith, into positions where they have to contribute as blockers in the running game and they do it (quite well I might add).
A lot was made by not only media members but fans alike about Nick Sirianni not having a veteran coach on his staff, but Stoutland has been there the entire time. And it isn’t a stretch to say, this ‘turnaround’ of sorts would not have happened without him.
Sirianni called Stoutland “the best offensive line coach I’ve ever been around.”
Stoutland may not only be the best offensive line coach Sirianni has been around, but he may be the best assistant coach in Eagles history. Across his time with the Eagles he’s coached five players to 16 Pro Bowls and four players have earned All-Pro honors under his tutelage.
The common theme that came up time and time again on Stoutland was how much he cares about his players.
“He’s not only one of the greatest coaches that I know, but he’s one of the best men.” – Greg Austin
“He cared about me and my well-being, but he also cared about my development as a player.” – Julian Vandervelde
When you’re as elite of a teacher and coach as Stoutland is and you can combine that with also being an elite person, you have all the makings for an absolute legend of a coach.
The Eagles have rushed for at least 100 yards in 11 straight games. The brain trust of Sirianni, offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, passing game coordinator Kevin Patullo and Stoutland have completely revamped the offense and made it into one of the most efficient and explosive attacks all of the NFL.
They’re in the playoffs in what was supposed to be a re-tooling year. And with the versatility of their rushing attack and prowess of their offensive line, they can compete with anybody.
And the man at the controls is the man with (deservingly so) the most staying power in the NFL: Jeff Stoutland.
Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire