Life is not about to get any easier for the NFL's best rushing offense.
On Sunday the Eagles will face a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense that ranks ninth in the league against the run, only giving up 94.3 yards per game, and tied for seventh in yards per attempt (3.7). Last week, the Eagles went up against a New York Giants run defense that was among the league's worst, and the thought going into the game was that LeSean McCoy and company would have a field day. That was not the case, however, as the Giants front four consistently made plays up front by beating blocks and stuffing runs in the backfield. McCoy was held to a season-low 46 yards (on 20 carries) and 2.3 yards-per-carry average, including seven carries for negative-4 yards in the second half, and the inside-zone run call was rendered ineffective.
"Up until this point, we've run that (inside-zone) play extremely effectively," said center Jason Kelce, who took the blame for what happened against the Giants. "I believe we've been averaging, before (the Giants) game, over 6 yards per carry on that. Their whole game plan, really, was to stop that play, or at least that's what it felt like out there."
Kelce mentioned that the Giants defensive linemen were "jetting upfield" to make him commit to the front-side block in order to thwart penetration, then countering his move by slanting the nose tackle behind him, where there was no help. This "nut stunt," as Kelce called it, is a "zone-beater" call that the Eagles have seen before this season, but the Giants used it more frequently and successfully than any other team. Far too often, there was a defensive lineman at the mesh point to greet the running back as he was taking the handoff, and plays were dead before they even got a chance to develop. It was the quickness of the Giants' front four, particularly former Eagle Mike Patterson, that enabled them to execute the "nut stunt" so well and give the Eagles offensive line fits.
"The guys who hit it better are the quicker ones, and that's what Mike (Patterson) was," Kelce said. "He's a much quicker guy, lower center of gravity, and he was the one who was really getting on me a lot."
That the Giants shut down the run game once Nick Foles replaced Michael Vick had nothing to do with the former being less of a threat to run, according to Kelce, but because of missed blocks up front.
"(The Giants) were doing (the stunts) in the first half a little bit," Kelce said. "They did it more in the second half, but I think that was because they had success when they did it in the first half. I really don't think it correlated to Vick or Foles being in the game."
The Eagles should expect more of the same from a Buccaneers defense that relies on out-scheming the opponent and utilizing its collective speed, explosiveness and a swarming mentality.
"You'll see a lot of slanting, angling, blitzing," Kelce said. "(Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano) is not just going to give you straight-up looks, he's going to try and screw around with a lot of the things you do."
Playing the part of Mike Patterson this time, however, will be Gerald McCoy, a preeminent talent and one of the league's most disruptive interior defensive linemen. He will be primarily responsible for wreaking havoc inside and either making the stop himself or freeing up linebackers to do so.
"Very good player," Kelce said of McCoy. "I played against him in college a little bit. … Not only is he athletic, he's big, he's powerful. We've faced some good (defensive) tackles up to this point, but he's one of the best in the league, so we're looking forward to that test."
The drawback to the "nut stunt" for the defense is that it opens up "huge holes," according to Kelce, and that if the defensive lineman does not get to the ball carrier in the backfield, it will result in loads of space to make a play. The key, then, for the Eagles run game will be for the offensive line to stay disciplined in its calls, find the right matchups and create one-on-one opportunities for LeSean McCoy.
"I think, up front and all together, they're a fast group," McCoy said of the Buccaneers defense. "They play well together. They run to the ball. They tackle well. I think they're a complete defense. … They match well up front. They do tons of stunts and try to stop the run game. As far as the matchups, if you catch them in the right stunt and block it up the right way, you'll get a one-on-one opportunity with the safety, that's what we want. Hopefully we get that done."
Kelce has placed the onus on himself to make the proper blocking adjustmentsand elevate his game overall. Luckily, after film study, the Eagles know how to counteract defensive lines that will run the "nut stunt" nonstop, though it will involve taking away a double-team block on the backside.
"It's good that it happened that early in the season and we got a victory out of it because now we can correct it," Kelce said. "Moving forward, if some team is trying to do it in a game, we now have answers for it. Before, on that type of play, it's hard to bring the backside (guard) into it because it's such a downhill play that when you bring the backside into it, now all of a sudden you're losing a double-team block on the backside between the guard and the tackle."
That is the give-and-take inherent with making adjustments in the NFL. Helping with a block at the expense of another is a reality, but one that must be embraced in order to prevent what happened against the Giants from being repeated. Getting the run going against a lightning-quick Buccaneers front four will take a big-time effort from the Eagles offensive line, but the NFL's best run-blocking unit will be up for the challenge.
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