HOUSTON –- The Eagles cranked up the running game just in time on Sunday at NRG Stadium in a 31-21 win over Houston. The team ran for 190 yards, with 70 of them coming on a critical third-quarter drive that stretched a 3-point lead into 10-point cushion late in the quarter.
And while LeSean McCoy led the way with 117 yards on 23 carries, the ground attack was very much a three-headed effort as Chris Polk (eight carries, 50 yards and a touchdown) and Darren Sproles (three carries, 17 yards) chipped in.
"It's always been a three-headed monster," said Polk, who had just three carries and 13 yards entering the game. "But based on the scheme and the way defenses were playing us, it didn't show up until now."
The most impressive part of that 190 yards came in a four-play chunk when the Eagles rammed the football into Houston's defensive line with aplomb.
Following a missed 39-yard field goal attempt by Houston's Randy Bullock, the Eagles took over at their 30-yard line and pounded the football.
McCoy gained 14 yards on a run to the left side on first down and then followed with a 26-yard burst to the Houston 30-yard line. On first down from there, Polk turned the right corner, powered down the right sideline and gained 22 yards to the Houston 8-yard line.
Polk got the call on the ensuing first down and burst up the middle for 8 yards and a touchdown to complete the 4-play, 70-yard drive.
"It was great playing downhill football in the running game," said Polk. "That's what I'm all about. That touchdown run, boy, the line opened it up and I just ran to daylight."
It was an illustration of the running game at its finest. Philadelphia gained 66 yards on 17 carries in the first half against the aggressive Houston defense. Then right guard Todd Herremans left the game the third quarter with an ankle injury, replaced by Andrew Gardner. Houston's pass rush had been a problem all day, so the Eagles gave it a go with some power football on the ground to gash the defense.
And when the Eagles needed a yard in the red zone late, they ran the football. With just over four minutes to go, the Eagles went for a fourth-and-1 play at the 4-yard line and Polk powered his way for the first down. The officials brought out the sticks to measure, and the football just reached the spot. Houston challenged, adding to the drama with 3:56 on the clock.
The challenge failed, and the Eagles had a first down at the 3-yard line. A false-start penalty on Gardner moved the ball back to the 8-yard line. Quarterback Mark Sanchez used play action to put the ball in the end zone. He faked a handoff to McCoy, rolled right and threw to Jeremy Maclin, who made a diving catch in the right corner of the end zone with cornerback A.J. Bouye draped all over him. The touchdown and the ensuing PAT put the Eagles ahead by 10 points with 3:50 remaining in the game.
"We stayed with the run," said McCoy. "Even in the first half, I had something like 50 yards (44 yards on 11 carries). We just ran the ball well. Having (center Jason) Kelce back helped and we just wore the defense down and we gashed them."