On an afternoon when LeSean McCoy ran on top of the snow into the record books, the Eagles' all-pro running back did nearly all of his damage in between the tackles. Early on, when they had all of 1 total yard of offense through one quarter and a half, the Eagles tried, with little effectiveness, to stretch the Lions defense horizontally. Then, as head coach Chip Kelly adjusted the playcalling, McCoy exploded for a franchise record 217 rushing yards.
The unsung key to McCoy's success on the day came from the performance of the Eagles' three interior offensive linemen as they battled with the Lions' vaunted defensive tackle duo of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.
"I thought the job those three inside guys did was outstanding," Kelly said after the game. "I just know (Fairley and Suh) weren't as disruptive as they've been during the year, and I know going in that was one of the big challenges because Detroit was so stout from a run standpoint. (They hadn't given up more than 62 yards rushing in six consecutive games). Obviously that was a big matchup we knew going in, and I thought Todd (Herremans), Jason (Kelce) and Evan (Mathis) did a real good job of that."
Indeed, for the Eagles to run for a season-high 299 yards against a Lions defense that was ranked third in the league against the run coming into the game required a superlative effort from the big guys up front. That they accomplished the feat in such surreal conditions made the afternoon all the more memorable.
"I think we knew that we could do that," Herremans said. "The ends of some of these games where we had to run the clock out and just rely on the running game, we've been able to do it. So I don't think we proved anything to ourselves. I think we all were on board and knew we could get it accomplished."
"When you are running the ball effectively, you always believe you are forcing your will on the opponent," said Kelce. "Whenever you start running, the best thing to hear is the defensive guys yelling at each other. That's usually a good sign."
Before they started moving the ball effectively on the final drive of the second quarter, the Eagles had only 14 yards rushing on the afternoon. Through the first quarter and a half, the majority of the Eagles' running plays came on the perimeter.
"In the first half, it seems like we were calling the wider run plays, the outside zone plays and things like that," said Mathis. "It seemed like it was kind of hard for the backs, the line to kind of get their footing. Everyone was slipping around. It was really sloppy. Over the course of the game, we figured you kind of could tell the inside zone, the straight, downhill runs were the ones that would allow the back to hit it now without having to be shifty and allow the offensive line to keep their base, kind of attack straight downhill. That's probably something that's best for those kind of conditions."
"I mean, some of the adjustments we make in games are awesome," said tight end Brent Celek, who was also credited for his blocking by Kelly. "Sometimes, things that we don't get a chance to run in practice at all, the way guys execute them is great and the fact that coach Kelly has the faith in us to do those type of things, I think, is big. Guys appreciate it."
The road to 299, then, was paved by the three interior offensive linemen. That the performance came against such a prolific duo made the day even sweeter.
"Every week we take it as a personal challenge," Herremans said. "That's a dominant front four and it's, I think, the heart of their team. There's good reason for that. They're all good players. They come off the ball and they play really hard until the whistle.
Of course, the dynamic of the battle up front was completely changed by the weather conditions. In the end, the layer of snow atop the field played to the advantage of the good guys – once they adjusted.
"When the snow kept falling down … most of us were moving our feet around so we could get our feet in the ground so we had a base to start with," said Mathis. "You have to adjust what you're doing. You can't play your normal technique. You really have to adjust what you're doing. So we were kind of learning on the run."
"I think the snow took everybody out of the game a little bit," Kelce said. "Those guys (Suh and Fairley), they survive on such explosion. So I think that slowed them down a bit. But I think overall, we went into the game knowing that those were their two primary guys that we needed to take care of. So all week we were preparing for that."
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