After a close win at Detroit in Week 2, there were some who critiqued the Eagles defense and their ability to stop the run. If you recall, Lions running back Jahvid Best had a spectacular first half that afternoon, rushing for 76 yards and a touchdown before halftime. In fact, the Lions ran for over 100 yards as a team in the first half.
Since that day in early September, the Eagles run defense has been tested by some of the best the NFL has to offer – and has passed that test with flying colors.
There are 13 teams in the NFL that sport a Pro Bowl running back in their backfield. The Eagles, as the schedule would have it, have faced four of them in the past four weeks, and will face yet another – arguably the best of all - on Sunday in Tennessee. Starting in Week 3 at Jacksonville, the Eagles have faced Maurice Jones-Drew, Clinton Portis (Washington), Frank Gore (San Francisco) and Michael Turner (Atlanta). Remarkably, not one of those elite running backs has run for a touchdown against the Eagles defense.
"Honestly it's just an attitude and also a great coaching plan by coach (Sean McDermott)," said linebacker Moise Fokou. "He studied them. He studied them good. He came out with a good game plan and we executed it."
To prove just how well the defense executed, consider this: the Eagles held Jones-Drew, Portis, Gore and Turner to 240 yards on 66 carries, which is good for 3.6 yards per carry. In their other games, those four have combined to rush for 1,355 yards on 326 carries, or 4.2 yards per carry, and five rushing touchdowns. They also have five 100-yard rushing games between them, none of which came against the Eagles.
After the game this past Sunday, McDermott praised his defense for stopping the run, and explained how it was crucial to getting the Falcons in third-and-long situations.
"We wanted to give our offense a chance to put points on the board like they did, and stopping the run was a big part of that," McDermott said. "That was big for us on third down. Stopping the run like we did on first and second down, it put them in some third-and-long situations where we thought we could exploit them protection-wise."
Stopping the run takes a certain kind of attitude. It also takes hard work and good preparation. But it certainly doesn't hurt when your offense puts points on the board early and forces teams to become one-dimensional, much like what happened last Sunday against Atlanta.
"When they make it one-dimensional, it's game-over as far as I'm concerned," said defensive tackle Trevor Laws. "Our pass rushers are on the field, our defensive backs are able to go to work, Trent Cole is going to work. We just changed everything like getting them away from the run game, which is what (Atlanta has) been great at all year."
This Sunday in Tennessee, the Eagles face their fifth straight Pro Bowl running back in the reigning NFL rushing leader Chris Johnson. And if they contain him, the Eagles defense will enter the bye week as one of the hottest rushing defenses in the league. From 1988-92, the Eagles went 53 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. It won't quite be that impressive, but if it helps get the Eagles into the bye week with a 5-2 record that will plenty suffice.
*-- Posted by Josh Goldman, 5:30 p.m., October 19 *