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Spadaro: 6 key stats to follow Thursday and why they matter

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

Each week, prior to kickoff, let's take a look at some of the numbers that matter and keep them in mind when the game begins.

1. After not reaching the end zone in 2021, running back Miles Sanders has scored five touchdowns in seven games this season, just one shy of his career high (set in 2020). Sanders has 563 yards on 114 attempts and has gained 29 first downs with the ball in his hands. The Eagles have scored 14 touchdowns on the ground this season, the most for any team in the first seven games of a season since the 2009 New Orleans Saints.

Why is this important? Well, Houston ranks 31st in the league against the run, allowing 5.6 yards per carry, and on Sunday in a 17-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans were pounded by Derrick Henry, who gained 219 yards, as part of the Titans' 314-yard effort.

"I think we have it going on in the ground game and it's because we have the best offensive line in football," Sanders said. "I have a great deal of confidence, and it all goes back to what I was saying at the start of the year: I've taken my focus to a new level and I'm keeping it there. Focus and concentration on the little things. That's not going to change. Even if teams know we're going to run the ball, we're still going to have the confidence that we can have success – because of the guys we have up front. It's a combination of them winning at the line of scrimmage and me following their lead and trusting that the holes are going to be there."

2. Big plays are a no-no in Jonathan Gannon's defense and the Eagles have done a good job at limiting explosive plays – defined by the Eagles as runs of 10 or more yards and passing plays of 16-plus yards. That means a lot to Gannon.

"That's a winning stat," he said. "All the stats out there, I'm not a stat guy, but that's one that I look at. That is. That's why I said, I love that the head coach, it's important to him because we're completely in lockstep with that. Taking the ball away and explosive plays, offense and defense, those are two winning stats. We always have that in our mind. Our players have that in their mind.

"Certain situations, you obviously see, I call the game with that in mind. I do know that there's stress and there's a strength of every call. I think our players have done a really good job of knowing that if a stress point of a call is an explosive play, they play it that way. They're not going to gamble and guess or be super aggressive in certain calls because they know they don't have help and they can't play like that. When there's other calls that the strength of the call is to take away the explosive pass, then they can be a little more aggressive in certain routes. That comes down to having really good coaches.

"They have the players understand within each call what's the stress and the strength of the call, when they can be aggressive and when they can't. That's an entire defensive thing that we talk about with all of our guys because the quickest way to get beat is the ball going over your head. Our guys know that. They've done a really good job with it."

Here is why that matters for this game: Houston quarterback Davis Mills has completed just five passes of 10-to-20 yards downfield in the last three games. The Eagles want to keep it that way tonight.

3. How about some recognition for the season Haason Reddick is having? He's been dynamic rushing the quarterback, as we've all seen. Reddick is the only player in the league with more than five quarterback sacks (he has 5.5), three or more forced fumbles, and 2-plus forced fumbles. The Eagles are moving him around the line of scrimmage and Reddick has been everything the Eagles hoped he would be with his quickness off the snap, his speed, and his transfer to power finishing the play.

Reddick has helped the Eagles record 23 sacks, tied for fifth-most in the NFL.

"I've felt great in the defense and it's truly getting better and better," he said. "I think the best is yet to come, I really do."

4. Houston ranks 30th in the NFL, converting 32 percent of its third-down opportunities. Philadelphia's defense ranks first in the NFL in forcing three-and-out offensive series, so a key in this game will be the Eagles getting off the field quickly and getting quarterback Jalen Hurts and Co. back in operation. Houston's offense ranks 31st in the league in yards per game (289) and averages 16.6 points per game, ranking 29th.

5. The Eagles have never started a season 8-0, so clearly, there is some history to be made with a Philadelphia win in Houston. The team was 7-0 in 2004 before a loss at Pittsburgh and in that season, the Eagles advanced to Super Bowl XXXIX.

"We're not interested in what's happened in the past or on setting records or anything like that," center Jason Kelce said. "This team has focus. It's about going 1-0 each week. Maybe that sounds boring, but nothing else really matters. I think the ability to keep that focus is one of the things that makes this team really special."

6. Here is a number to remember and to keep in mind throughout the remainder of the season: 53. That's the number of points the Eagles have scored after taking the football away, and it ranks second in the league (New England has 68). It is the most points off of turnovers through seven games for the Eagles since the 2015 season, when they had 60 points off of takeaways. This is a huge, double-whammy kind of number as it signifies the strength of the defense with its NFL-high 16 takeaways and an offense that is making those takeaways show up on the scoreboard.

That kind of defense-to-offense success is something the coaching staff loves and that leads to victories.

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