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Eagles Aim To Keep Ground Game Humming

Posted Dec 1, 2017

Seattle’s defense is built to stop the run. The Seahawks have allowed an average of just 69 yards per game the last three weeks – Seattle is 2-1 in that stretch against Arizona, Atlanta and San Francisco – and understand that the priority is to win on the ground. Sounds like a terrific matchup on Sunday night, then, because the Eagles’ running game is lethal ...

Seattle’s defense is built to stop the run. The Seahawks have allowed an average of just 69 yards per game the last three weeks – Seattle is 2-1 in that stretch against Arizona, Atlanta and San Francisco – and understand that the priority is to win on the ground.

Sounds like a terrific matchup on Sunday night, then, because the Eagles’ running game is lethal.

The addition of Jay Ajayi has added a big-play element to the ground attack – he has three carries of plus-30 yards among his 20 carries as an Eagle – and the pounding, physical game is taking its toll on defenses. The Eagles are averaging 147.5 yards rushing per game, second best in the NFL.

They are on pace to run for 2,359 yards in 16 games, not terribly far off the franchise record of 2,607 yards, set in a 12-game season in 1949. The 2013 offense ran for 2,566 yards with LeSean McCoy leading the way, but how the Eagles are doing it now is so unique and, potentially, sets the team up in better positioning in the month of December and through the postseason.

“It’s working out. Everybody has his role and is playing it well. The offensive line is doing a great job,” running back LeGarrette Blount said. “Whenever your number is called, you have to go out and get the job done. I think that’s the approach we’re all taking.”

Blount leads the Eagles with 658 yards and he’s averaging 4.8 yards per carry in the three-headed-back attack. Corey Clement has 259 yards and 4 touchdowns on 59 attempts and Ajayi is averaging 9.7 yards on his 20 carries in the three games he’s played.

So how will it play out down the stretch? For all of the talk about cold-weather games, there are only three potentially on the schedule – at the Giants in a few games and home games against Oakland and Dallas to close out the season. Seattle’s weather, by the way, won’t be pretty, but it won’t be bad on Sunday night with temperatures expected in the mid-40s and dry.

“Obviously, you want to run the football effectively because it sets everything else up,” center Jason Kelce said after the Eagles ran for 176 yards on 33 carries in last week’s blowout win over Chicago. “We’ve been doing it well. I think we all feel good up front about the work we’re putting in and the running backs are doing a great job.”

This is a better challenge ahead, as Seattle’s defensive front is more formidable and the linebackers, particularly Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, are excellent against the run. Tackle Sheldon Richardson, a “dynamic” player, says right tackle Lane Johnson, anchors the Seahawks inside.

How much can the Eagles rely on the running game here? They plan on sticking to what has worked so far.

“I don’t think you change what you’re doing well,” Blount said. “Stay with what you do and what has worked. This is another game against a good team. That’s all this is. We’re going to go out there and do what we do.”

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It’s important that the Eagles continue to work on their running game and keep everyone involved. In 2013, the Eagles had a great running game all the way until they played New Orleans in the playoffs, and then the Saints limited McCoy to 77 yards on 21 carries and the offense struggled to get things going.

This Eagles offense appears to have the long-term success plan in place given the way the offensive is playing, the depth in the backfield, a quarterback in Carson Wentz who will make defenses pay if they load the box to stop the run and more weapons in the passing game to keep defenses honest.

But the first real test is in Seattle on Sunday. The Seahawks believe that if they contain the Eagles on the ground, they can generate a pass rush to get after Wentz and knock the passing game off-kilter.

So the Eagles need to keep running, sticking to what they’re doing and playing physical football at the line of scrimmage.

“I’m really pleased with the way we’re playing up front and I think we’re going to put in the work to keep that going,” offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said a couple of weeks ago. “They’ve played together all season and they have gained a lot of chemistry with that. Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, look at what they’re doing on the right side of the line. It’s been impressive. They want to be great and they’re working on that.”

Does this offense truly have a stamped-in personality? Maybe not quite yet. The Eagles have shown that they can move the football and score points in a lot of ways. But it starts with the running game, and the Eagles are committed to sticking with it.

Sunday night is maybe the most significant test of the season. Can the Eagles run the football effectively on the road against a swarming defense? Consider is another reason why the Eagles at Seattle has the smell of the postseason all over it.

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