In the Philadelphia Eagles’ upset victory over the New Orleans Saints in Week 14, both Jalen Hurts and Miles Sanders tallied over 100 rushing yards each. The Saints’ defense didn’t have an answer for the duo all game. Hurts was able to escape the pocket numerous times and repeatedly gain positive yards on his own. And when he wasn’t, Sanders was there to rip off an 82-yard touchdown run. With all facets of the passing game having trouble finding a rhythm the past few weeks, the ground game came up big to help pull off the win.
The desire to run the ball more seems like an everlasting theme in Philadelphia for the past 20 years, give or take. Chip Kelly may have set up LeSean McCoy to win the NFL rushing title in 2013, but outside of that, the team has been known to be very pass-happy under both Andy Reid and Doug Pederson.
With the way the league is now, no one should complain about emphasizing the passing game; it’s a passing league. Plus, I’m not one who is insistent that the run-pass ratio must be at a certain mark each game. You need to consider in-game situations, matchups, and other factors that go into finding the right times to run and pass. And all the statistics that say “Most winning teams have a run-pass ratio that’s balanced” are misleading. Good teams usually pass the ball to gain a lead and run the ball to close the game, whereas bad teams are forced to abandon the run because they’re behind on the scoreboard.
That being said, teams still need to be able to run the ball when needed. But there have been so many times with Reid and Pederson where the run game just gets completely neglected, and that’s not a good trend to fall into.
Fast forward to now, and the Eagles have an opportunity to finally flip the script.
I don’t need to remind you how much of a running threat Jalen Hurts is. But what I will tell you is that if there was ever a time for the Eagles to run a truly balanced offensive attack, that time is now. And that’s excluding plays that are designed pass plays that turn into runs because Hurts ends up scrambling.
The zone-read and read-option concepts are going to now be staples of this offense, even more so than it has been up to this point. These are concepts that Hurts is familiar with running, so it only makes sense to use them.
Since defenses must be cognizant of Hurts keeping the ball at the mesh point and running it himself, that opens lanes for the running backs, especially Miles Sanders. Even just forcing defenders to hesitate for a split second is all it takes sometimes. And you’ll also get 2nd level defenders attacking the wrong gaps because they’re anticipating the ball to go a certain way when in reality it’s really going another way. As we saw on Sanders’ 82-yard touchdown run, that may have been what happened to Saints’ LB Kwon Alexander.
Former Eagle Malcolm Jenkins got the better of Miles Sanders on a 4th down play in the 1st quarter, but it’s Sanders who ended up with the last laugh.
— Charles “Chux” Maranan (@ChuxMaranan) December 16, 2020
We also saw a few interesting designs the Eagles ran against the Saints. The coaching staff can continue to build off these designs going forward, which will only make the offense more difficult to defend. And what makes it even more interesting is that it isn’t just Hurts or the running backs that are running threats, but the wide receivers too.
Not sure whose play concept this was originally … but the reverse toss to Jalen Reagor that burned the #Saints in Week 14 is virtually identical to a play the Saints ran against the Cardinals last year.
It worked better AGAINST the Saints than it did FOR the Saints. pic.twitter.com/VBIDFjGBxg
— Jeff Nowak (@Jeff_Nowak) December 16, 2020
Someone please explain this run concept to me pic.twitter.com/RLxumxreXw
— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) December 17, 2020
The final element to all this is pass protection. It’s no secret that the offensive line, running backs, and tight ends have been subpar when it comes to pass protection this season. Not all the sacks given up have been their fault; a good amount is on Carson Wentz too. Nonetheless, it has been a big problem for the Eagles.
However, by getting that offensive line to “attack” via run blocking as opposed to “defending” in pass blocking, you help mask that flaw. And if you ask any offensive lineman, almost every single one of them will tell you that it’s easier for them to get into a rhythm by run blocking.
Notice that the Saints had no sacks against the Eagles. Was part of that because Hurts ran and escaped the pocket a lot? Yes, of course it is. But when you cut down on the number of times you ask your lineman to pass block, the fewer times the offense is susceptible to sacks.
No one is arguing that the Eagles now need to be a run-first team like the Baltimore Ravens or Tennessee Titans. Doug is still going to call a hefty number of pass plays because that’s his philosophy. But the nature of Hurts’ game calls for more of an emphasis on the running game, and to ignore that would be bad coaching.
This not only helps the offense settle in and stay ahead of the sticks, but it also helps your rookie QB by not putting him in tough situations like 3rd and long too often. And if this team wants to have success in these final 3 regular season games with Hurts, they need to make sure they’re molding the offense to his strengths, not trying to mold him to a certain offense.
2 straight weeks now we’ve seen @JalenHurts be poised in the pocket with blitz pressure right in his face.
— Charles “Chux” Maranan (@ChuxMaranan) December 15, 2020