The Eagles have run the football well all season, especially so these last three weeks during which they've averaged 208.7 yards, an NFL-best figure. New Orleans brings to town its outstanding defense, one that has been best in the league against the run, allowing just 72.9 yards per game this season and a paltry 57 yards per game in the last three weeks.
Unstoppable force, meet immovable object, NFL style.
"Their offense is unique relative to the run design," Saints Head Coach Sean Payton told reporters this week in New Orleans. "It's been real productive – I think probably the last three or four or five weeks, they've been running it as well as anyone. So your eye discipline, your scheme, and understanding how you want to defend some of the zone read (is critical).
"And then the play-action that comes off of it – they've done a good job with explosive plays. Obviously, they've added some key weapons in the offseason, all the receivers run well."
New Orleans is well aware of the Eagles' ability to run the football dating back to last December's 24-21 Philadelphia win at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles ran for 246 yards and both running back Miles Sanders (115) and quarterback Jalen Hurts (106) eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground. It was the first time after an NFL-record 55 straight games that the Saints allowed a 100-yard rusher, and it's the only time in the last 70 games that it's happened.
Now, of course, the Eagles have a different offense and Hurts is a far different quarterback than he was then. It was his first NFL start and the Eagles had some big ground gains on the day – Sanders scored on an 82-yard run, Hurts picked up 24 of his yards on a single attempt, and wide receiver Jalen Reagor gained 19 yards on his sole carry. The Eagles attacked the edges of the New Orleans defense and had success.
Philadelphia averages 144.3 rushing yards per game on the season, best in the NFC and third best in the NFL. Hurts, the multidimensional threat at quarterback, has been a prime focus for the Saints all week.
"As shifty as he is, the speed that he has, he's probably as close to (former Eagles quarterback) Mike Vick with that elusive speed, that dead-leg that he has, his ability to scramble and extend his plays, as you're going to see," defensive end Cameron Jordan said this week. "I wouldn't call him typical in the least bit. For a D-lineman, it's something that you hate to see because you're not really allowed to rush, now it's all about containing the quarterback."
The Eagles' offense has been more than just the run and more than just Hurts as it has evolved this season. Minimized penalty numbers – as a team, the Eagles have averaged just 4 penalties per game since Week 6, the second-fewest number in the league – and a healthy offensive line that expects on Sunday to start the same combination for the fifth straight game has helped provide balance and consistency. Certainly, though, the subplot of the Eagles' running game against the Saints' running defense is one to watch.
"We've played really good football these past three weeks, really balanced. The rushing attack has been as good we've had here in a while, so I'm excited about that. Teams are going to try to stop that, try to take away what we're doing good. That's what we're preparing for this week. Very good D-line, very good linebackers, probably the most active linebackers we'll see," right tackle Lane Johnson said, discussing the New Orleans defense. "I've got Cam Jordan this week, a tremendous matchup for me. (Defensive end) Marcus Davenport is also a great player. (Linebacker) Demario Davis from their linebacker corps is very instinctive and breaks up a lot of run-game schemes."
Philadelphia faced a similar task last week when it played at Denver against a Broncos defense that at the time ranked No. 6 in the NFL against the run. In the first half of that Eagles victory, Hurts completed 15 of 20 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns and the Eagles ran for 100 yards, Hurts gaining 52 of them on five attempts, to jump out to a 20-10 lead on the way to a 30-13 victory.
Hurts and the offense, then, are going to be ready for a stout test against a defense they very much respect.
"They have a lot of the same guys. They had great players last year; they have great players again this year," Hurts said. "Great defensive ends, great linebackers who are really going to hit it downhill and flow to the ball. Everybody is rallying to the ball. They're really good in coverage on the back end.
"It's a great defense we're going against."
In New Orleans, they're saying the same thing about the Eagles' offense. And that's what makes Sunday's paradox so special: The unstoppable force meets the immovable object. Something has to give.