The Philadelphia Eagles running game got going early and often on Sunday night against the New York Giants. In his Monday afternoon press conference, head coach Chip Kelly said, “I’ve said it all along, it takes 11 guys to run the football.” What occurred on Sunday night is as true an example of that as you’ll find. The offensive linemen, tight ends, and wide receivers all did an excellent job of hitting their blocks and finishing them, and the running backs hit the holes and made plays in open space. The end result was that LeSean McCoy gained 149 yards on 22 carries (6.8 yards per attempt), and Darren Sproles gained 39 yards on 7 carries (5.6 yards per attempt) as they helped lead the Eagles to a 27-0 victory.
The coaching staff also did a great job of adding a few wrinkles to their plays, going under center a little more often to disguise the run direction, using some mis-direction runs, and running out of more two tight end sets than they did earlier in the year. Let’s go to the tape…
This play was the first of many mis-direction runs the Eagles ran on Sunday night. The offensive line blocks to the right and Foles initially shows a handoff to the right, but the run is actually going to the left. Look at how the offense gets the Giants defense going in the wrong direction. Brent Celek does an excellent job of sealing the edge against defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, and Josh Huff seals off his block against safety Quintin Demps. The result is an 18-yard gain for McCoy.
The Eagles go mis-direction again on this play, creating a one-on-one opportunity in space against cornerback Trumaine McBride. McCoy jukes him to the outside, and a key block downfield by wide receiver Jeremy Maclin allows McCoy to turn the corner and pick up 15 yards and a first down.
This next play shows the kind of big play opportunities that can open up in the pass game when the run game is working well. The Eagles line up in a three tight end set. They are also in an unbalanced line as they’ve moved right tackle Lane Johnson out to the left side next to Jason Peters, with tight end Brent Celek lined up as the right tackle. Pre-snap, this looks like a sure-fire run play, but it’s actually a play-action pass. The offensive line sells their run blocks, Foles fakes the handoff to McCoy, and tight end James Casey is left open streaking across the field as the Giants defenders are out of position to defend this play.
This next play isn’t a huge gain, but it’s another example of how the blocking by the wide receivers and tight ends was instrumental to the success of the run game against the Giants. Once again Brent Celek is one-on-one with Jason Pierre-Paul and once again he wins that blocking matchup. Wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jordan Matthews then come in to seal off the edge and allow McCoy to take the outside and pick up a 9-yard gain.
The Eagles get a big gain on a sweep from the shotgun on this play. Todd Herremans and David Molk pull to the outside and take care of their men, and once again it’s the receivers leading the way downfield for McCoy after he turns the corner. Matthews shows great awareness in recognizing that Herremans and Molk are there to take care of the two defenders in front of them, so he heads downfield to block the safety. And that quick glimpse of two players on the left side of the screen as McCoy turns the corner is Jeremy Maclin blocking his man to the point that he’s almost taken him off the field. I’d like to see Matthews improve on his technique on this type of play as Demps was still able to get a hold of McCoy to slow him down, but that’s something that can be worked on.
Darren Sproles scores on a 15-yard scamper on this sweep play. Once again, Celek is isolated against Jason Pierre-Paul and wins this blocking match-up. Celek impressed all night with blocks like this. There aren’t many tight ends in the NFL that can be matched up with a defensive end and constantly win that battle. Jason Peters and Molk pull to the outside to lead the way for Sproles. Peters clears out linebacker Jon Beason and Molk does his best Jason Kelce impression by getting downfield and crashing into safety Quintin Demps. Huff and Cooper also do a great job of sealing off their blocks, keeping their defenders from getting a hand on Sproles before he gets into the end zone.
Here’s a look at the same play from the broadcast angle so you can see Huff and Cooper seal off their blocks. Look at how Huff hits his man, and then drives him to the left to help clear a lane for Molk to lead Sproles into. Huff really impressed me with his blocking skills on Sunday night. When he got his hands on a defender, that defender was taken out of the play. Very impressive.
Here is another single back mis-direction run, which is the same as the second play I showed in this post. This time McBride starts off in the box, and once again meets McCoy one-on-one on the outside. This time McCoy jukes him to the inside and Ertz does a great job of finishing his block on Demps to keep him from getting a hand on McCoy. At the end of the play, there is Maclin again blocking his man downfield which helps McCoy pick up an additional 10 yards on this play.
The last play I’ll show in this post is the failed reverse attempt to Josh Huff. Unfortunately, when Darren Sproles attempted to toss the ball to Huff, he hit his own left elbow and the ball fell to the ground. This play was set up perfectly though. Look at all of the open space Huff would have had in front of him had they been able to execute the handoff. You can be sure that we’ll be seeing this play again sometime in the near future.
That wraps up my review of the run game from Sunday night. The play calling, blocking, and running were about as perfect as you can get, and the result was a consistent ground game that picked up positive yards all game long. Out of the 29 combined carries between McCoy and Sproles, seven of them went for at least 10 yards. And just as importantly, only five of them went for one yard or less (and two of those came in the 4th quarter when the Eagles were already winning 27-0). What this means is that when they weren’t hitting big runs, they were still gaining positive yardage to put themselves in a good position for the next play.
The Eagles next game is against the Arizona Cardinals in two weeks. This will be a great test for the Eagles running game as the Cardinals have one of the best run defenses in the league. I think the Eagles are up for the challenge.