Eagle Eye: Domination in the trenches ignites the rushing attack

After studying the Eagles’ offensive success on third down in thei opening-game victory over Washington, I now want to look closely at the Eagles' dominant performance on the ground, particularly with what they did in the second half.

The Eagles ran nine times in the first half for 22 yards, a two-quarter span that was largely controlled by Washington in terms of time of possession. Coming out of the locker room at halftime, however, the Eagles had a goal: dominate the trenches! The offense ran the ball 22 times in the second half, controlling the ball and the clock to the tune of 101 yards rushing, finishing the game with three carries of 10-plus yards (which could have been more if not for a couple of penalties).

I’ve said a number of times over the years that the Eagles are at their very best when they get their double teams going up front in the trenches. The Eagles love to "smash the stacks" in the zone run game. "Stacks" are defensive linemen paired with linebackers. These double teams take those D-linemen and smash them backwards, into the laps of the linebackers to prevent them from getting downhill to attack the football.

ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS FEATURE AUDIO ANALYSIS FROM FRAN DUFFY

That last double team from Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks, in particular, blew me away in this game. That is outstanding movement from the two Pro Bowl linemen as they helped bust holes up front for all of the Eagles' running backs in this matchup.

Brooks’ recovery from an Achilles injury is astounding. The fact that he was able to come out and play at such a high level just eight months removed from surgery is mind-blowing. I thought he was outstanding in this game in both the run and pass games ... but then again I thought the entire offensive line stood out against Washington. Johnson was super reliable in pass protection against the Redskins’ top pass rusher, Ryan Kerrigan. Isaac Seumalo was both stout and powerful, driving defenders backwards on base blocks and double teams. Jason Peters held up extremely well, and Jason Kelce was his typical self. This was a great outing for the entire O-Line.

The entire run game isn’t JUST about the offensive line. Tight ends, running backs, and even the quarterback are involved as well. I’ve written a lot about how the Eagles’ pair of dynamic tight ends, Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, are going to be integral parts of the passing game by finding favorable matchups for Doug Pederson and the offensive staff. While that was certainly the case on Sunday, they also helped give the Eagles confidence in their rushing attack.

The Eagles’ run game out of two-tight end sets was really effective against Washington, registering nine carries for 58 yards (just under 6.5 yards per carry). One drive, in particular, really stood out to me. The Eagles came out of the locker room at halftime down by two scores, got the ball, converted a critical fourth down, and then caught the defense in a tough spot. The Eagles were in their 12 personnel set, and the Redskins responded with their nickel package, meaning that an extra defensive back was on the field in place of a linebacker. The Eagles ran the ball four straight times, with Darren Sproles gaining 8 yards, before busting a 17-yard run that was followed by a 19-yard scamper by Miles Sanders to get the team inside the low red zone. In fact, five of the Eagles’ most effective runs of the day came against Washington’s nickel defense, and that drive helped the Eagles take control of the contest.

Physicality wasn’t the only name of the game for the Eagles, because they also did some things schematically to throw Washington off balance as well.

Jet sweeps are common around the NFL, and the Eagles have used them throughout the years, and I thought the team used them well on Sunday. Look at the effect that the jet sweep-action had on defenders at the second level on some of those plays, helping to prevent pursuit and give backs more time to pick up positive yardage.

The passing game is important, especially when you have a quarterback like Carson Wentz, but the best offenses at the end of the year are ALWAYS going to be some of the best running teams in the league. You have to be able to win in a variety of ways if you’re a great team in the NFL, and the Eagles showed really positive signs toward being a team that can win in the trenches when needed in Week 1.

Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices, and opponents.

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