Unlocking the mystery behind the Eagles' top-ranked running attack

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·5 min read
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  • Philadelphia Eagles
    Philadelphia Eagles
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Jason Kelce
    Jason Kelce
    American football offensive lineman
  • Miles Sanders
    Miles Sanders
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Jordan Howard
    Jordan Howard
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Nick Sirianni
    Nick Sirianni
    American football coach

Unlocking the mystery behind the Eagles' top-ranked running attack originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The running backs change. The offensive linemen change. The game plan changes. Even the quarterback has changed.

And still the Eagles continue to run the ball better than virtually any NFL team in the last half century.

“It’s tough to run the ball when teams know you’re going to run the ball,” Jason Kelce said. “When you run the ball a lot, the lanes become smaller and teams really hone in on trying to stop it, so it’s definitely a hard thing to do.”

Seven games into the season, the Eagles were 2-5 and middle of the pack in terms of rushing at 117 yards per game, but more importantly they were just 27th in attempts per game at 23.4 per game.

The running game was an afterthought.

It was a weekly routine. We would ask Nick Sirianni why he wasn't running the ball more, and he would agree that he needed to do it more.

READ: Miles Sanders, Jordan Mailata expected to play on Sunday

Then he wouldn’t.

Finally, something clicked.

The Eagles went out to Vegas and the rarely used Miles Sanders finally got the ball. He was 6-for-30 early in the first quarter before getting hurt. But the seed was planted in Sirianni’s head.

We can run the football.

And they haven’t stopped.

A week later they ran for 236 yards in Detroit, and they’ve run for 176, 216, 242, 208, 185 and 238 each game since.

That makes them the ninth team in NFL history to rush for 175 yards in seven straight games, the first since the 1985 Bears of Walter Payton.

Their 1,501 yards over the last seven games are the Eagles’ most in a seven-game stretch in 71 years and the 3rd-most by any NFL team since 1978.

Nobody’s stopped them yet.

What’s the secret? Kelce chuckled.

“I think we’re really good at it,” he said. “The coach trusts us, you have to give credit to Nick and Shane (Steichen) and Stout (Jeff Stoutland) for putting some really, really good plans together, having a quarterback like Jalen (Hurts) who can keep the ball. Teams have to respect that, and it gives us a lot of even boxes and fair opportunities to run into it rather than running into loaded boxes with a drop-back passer.

“It’s the whole package that really allows us to do what we’re doing this year, and the coaches trust in it and that all kind of culminates into probably the best rushing attack I’ve been a part of, at least over the last seven games.”

They’ve run it at record pace with Sanders missing three games and Jordan Howard three games. They’ve run it with their fourth right guard and their third left guard. They’ve run it against top-5 defenses. They’ve run it when the other team knows they’re going to run it.

The Eagles were 14th in the NFL running the ball after seven weeks, but they’re No. 1 now at 166 yards per game, No. 2 at 5.1 yards per carry and tied for No. 1 with 21 rushing touchdowns.

That running attack has lifted the Eagles from 2-5 to 7-7 and in the thick of the NFC playoff race.

Kelce said he knew all along the Eagles could run the ball. It was just a matter of getting the opportunity.

“Even from training camp on, we knew we could run the ball if we needed to,” he said. “We knew that we had the ability to do this and we have the guys to do it, to be able to take charge of the line of scrimmage, and I think that’s what we knew going into it.

"The results follow as long as you’re continuing to try to improve during the course of the season. I always knew that we were capable of doing this.”

Sanders is in the middle of the best stretch of his career, Howard has been revitalized after spending a couple months on the practice squad, Boston Scott has produced when he’s gotten the chance and Hurts is having one of the finest seasons as a runner of any quarterback in history.

Match that talent with a monster offensive line – Jordan Mailata, Landon Dickerson, Kelce, Jack Driscoll and now Nate Herbig, and Lane Johnson – and a tight end in Dallas Goedert who's a terrific blocker and you get what we’re seeing now.

A team that can’t be stopped.

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Kelce was a starter on the 2013 team that led the NFL in rushing and won the NFC East title in Chip Kelly’s first season.

“We had some really good players in 2013,” Kelce said. “Obviously, LeSean McCoy, the best running back I’ve been able to play with, so dynamic, the ability to make a big play any second, the offensive line we had was tremendous - Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Todd Herremans, a very young Lane Johnson.”

Which running attack was better?

“It’s hard to compare,” he said.

It’s not that hard.

That team never even had two games in a row with 175 rushing yards. This team has had seven.

And this group’s ability to attack a defense with the explosive and crafty Sanders alternating with the powerful Howard gives it a dimension few offenses have.

The last NFL team to rush for 175 yards in eight straight games was the 1972 Dolphins, the only undefeated team in history.

Sanders and Howard are healthy. Dickerson is back after missing one game on the COVID list. The Giants are 26th in the NFL in rush defense.

Don’t bet against the Eagles’ rushing attack continuing to roll on Sunday and into 2022.