The Philadelphia Eagles’ run game had been flying (some pun intended) under the radar until recently this season, and its success has had a big impact on other aspects of their offense.
Though the Eagles are 3-6, they seem to be a better team than their record suggests, and they’ve been a better team this season than anyone really expected. Only one of their six losses has been by more than two scores—including playing the AFC-contending Los Angeles Chargers to within three points and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers to within six. On top of that, two of their three wins were blowouts. Given, those were games against the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions, which aren’t two of the NFL’s best teams, but we always say, “good teams are supposed to beat up on bad teams,” right?
The biggest reason the Eagles have found recent success is head coach Nick Sirianni’s transition in focus to their run game on offense. They’ve got a ton of weapons in that backfield: Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, and recent (re)breakout stud Jordan Howard, who was elevated from their practice squad. Jalen Hurts, too, has been a great weapon in Philadelphia’s run game.
Hurts had been struggling early in his first full year as Philadelphia’s starting quarterback. He never was a strong passing prospect throughout his time in college, yet in the first seven weeks of the season, he was averaging nearly 35 pass attempts per game. Meanwhile, Sanders, the Eagles’ starting back, was averaging just nine rushes a game. Before Sanders was injured in Week 7, the most carries he had had in a game were his 15 in Week 1.
When the Eagles finally did switch their offensive philosophy to be more run-heavy, they saw just how effective their run game could be. Scott has been great since stepping into the starting spot in the backfield with Sanders sidelined, and Howard’s been incredibly productive as of late. In the last two weeks, the two of them have 51 carries combined for 228 yards (4.47 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. Their total offensive Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) jumped from 21st to 13th in the NFL, with their rushing attack’s DVOA surging to become the league’s fourth best.
With the pressure off to carry the offense with his arm, Hurts has begun to find his true place in the Philadelphia offense. After all, one of the Oklahoma product’s greatest skills is his running ability and his potential to extend drives with his legs has been a crucial asset for the Eagles. He had six first downs rushing on Sunday, bringing him up to 35 rushing first downs in 2021, fourth in the NFL behind Jonathan Taylor, Derrick Henry, and Lamar Jackson.
One thing that has also opened up with the sudden run game success is play-action passing. With such an explosive rushing attack, play-action has become a big part of fooling opposing defenses to better move the ball in the air. That’s given Hurts more time in the pocket and he’s been very efficient on those plays over the past couple of weeks. Hurts is 10-of-12 on play-action pass attempts in that time,m and he’s been able to throw for deep chunk plays more often in those situations.
The Eagles’ shift to an emphasized focus on their running game has paid dividends for their offensive production. Their backfield has been impressive; all of their running backs have put up great numbers since taking over the brunt of offensive production in the last two weeks.
Philadelphia’s offensive EPA (Expected Points Added) per play has been the best in the NFL over the last two weeks after seven weeks of floating around the middle of the pack. Philadelphia’s offense has looked brand new in the last two weeks, and while they may not yet have all of the pieces to truly be contenders, the Eagles will more often be able to stay in games late in the back half of the season.