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Keeping a promise: Nick Sirianni's open-minded offensive approach has Eagles in playoff chase

From the moment Nick Sirianni became the Eagles' head coach and faced questions about his approach to the offense, he kept his answers consistent: He would adapt to the personnel on hand. Sirianni, the offensive coordinator for three seasons at Indianapolis and dealing with multiple quarterback scenarios prior to accepting the head coaching job here, would approach the offense with an open mind and with a background that included multiple offensive schemes and versatility.

"The offensive philosophy, we're going to be multiple. We can attack multiple ways," Sirianni said at his introductory press conference. "I'll just use the example here from Indianapolis. We had Andrew Luck as our quarterback (in 2018). That followed up with Jacoby Brissett (in 2019) as our quarterback then Philip Rivers as our quarterback (in 2020). Those three teams looked different. They were all different in their own ways of how we attacked defenses and how we played the game.

"I think that's the sign of a good coach, that you're going to change based off of your personnel, right? We have a certain personnel in place. We're going to figure out what they can do well and what their strengths are, and we're going to play to their strengths and we are going to try to keep them out of situations that they don't excel well at. That can change. We can look at the tape and think about, 'Hey, well this would look really good. This is how he fits a couple things we've done in the past.' But that can change based off of practice. In practice, say, 'We're going to have to see it in practice.' Then that could change based off of a game. It's an ever-changing offensive philosophy. Sure, we have our core plays in place that we want to do, that we want to be good at, because that's what we do. But a lot of it is going to depend on our personnel and utilizing our personnel to their strengths and their weaknesses."

Here we are with the Eagles, 13 games into this 2021 regular season. It has not been easy for Sirianni or the Eagles, a team that found itself in a 2-5 hole with a large handful of injuries on both sides of the ball. As the team returned after its loss in Las Vegas, the season could have gone in one of two directions. To Sirianni's credit – as well as his entire coaching staff and the roster – the Eagles used that game as a pivot point and have since won 4 of 6 games, planting themselves firmly in the NFL playoff picture.

Along the way, the Eagles revised their offensive approach, turning to a run-heavy attack behind one of the game's best offensive lines. What has happened is the Eagles lead the NFL in rushing yards per game with 160, they've developed a deep stable of running backs to do damage, and the offensive line has brushed off injuries to dominate the trenches. The offense has become well balanced and potent.

"I think we can beat teams in a lot of ways," right tackle Lane Johnson said. "Pick your poison."

Said running back Miles Sanders: "It all starts with our offensive line. Those guys are doing a great job. When we're winning there, it makes it easier for everyone. I think it's smart that we're playing to our strengths."

The Eagles now find themselves in a position where they can win in a variety of ways, or as Johnson says, "pick your poison." While the running game has, indeed, soared in the last six weeks, averaging more than 210 yards per game, the Eagles have been effective on the ground all season. In only two games have they not reached 100 yards on the ground, and before this six-game blitz the Eagles had put up 173 ground yards in a win at Atlanta, 151 yards in a narrow loss to visiting San Francisco, and 135 yards at the Raiders.

So, the running game has largely been there all season for the offense. No doubt, though, the Eagles have taken it to a new level in the last six games.

"I think you're always evolving and changing to make sure you're doing the best things for your players," Sirianni said earlier this week. "I think we definitely changed who we had been and who we are, and to find out what we do best. I don't want to talk about particular plays, but our style is being together, playing together as a team, being tough and being physical, and so that's kind of the mentality we have, the identity that we have, of 'Hey, this is who we are,' and we're just trying to tailor things around that to allow those things to shine – the togetherness and the toughness and the physicality of the game and that's what I think we've been doing these last two months of the season."

What's ahead, then, for the Eagles' offense? Sirianni said that part of this bye week would be used to self-scout and break down tendencies and to examine what's gone right to date and what needs to improve moving forward. The Eagles believe they can run on any defense in the NFL. They also know that there may come a time when a defense stacks the box to stop the run, and the passing game will have opportunities to win. Sirianni believes in that phase of the offense, too. He believes it because he's seen it.

"We're going to keep working on it and attacking where we think we have good matchups," he said. "I do think we're versatile. I have confidence in every part of our offense."

Sirianni made a "campaign promise" in that opening press conference about his approach to the offense and he's kept it. That doesn't always happen. Some coaches have a system and they want to shoehorn the personnel to fit the scheme. Sirianni hasn't done that, and that's one of the many reasons the Eagles have improved so much, steadily, week by week, on the offensive side of the ball and why they feel so good about things heading into this final month of the regular season.

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