Zone Read: Eagles-Texans, the Day After

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Houston Texans

HOUSTON – Jason Kelce decided it was his turn to play DJ.

His linemate, Jason Peters, generally is in charge of the music in the locker room after games. But with Peters in the shower, Kelce took a peek at the playlist, found some 80s rock, blasted it and returned to his stall two spots down.

The Eagles’ center had reason to be in a celebratory mood. He suffered a sports hernia injury in Week 3, had surgery, rehabbed and returned ahead of schedule Sunday against the Texans. Kelce was part of an effort that got the Eagles back to their offensive roots: tempo and the run game.

Running backs LeSean McCoy (23 for 117), Chris Polk (8 for 50) and Darren Sproles (3 for 17) combined for 184 yards on 34 carries (5.4 YPC). The run game lifted the Eagles to a 31-21 victory over the Texans.

“I thought we wore them down a little bit with our tempo,” said Chip Kelly. “One drive, we had four runs for 70 and a touchdown. I think you could see the effects… the cumulative effects of it. I thought all three running backs ran really hard today. There wasn’t a whole lot of dancing going on right there. I thought they hit the hole. I thought we blocked really well. I thought Brent Celek did a really, really good job of blocking. What we ended up offensive line-wise, I thought those guys really hung in there and did a really good job.”

The common thread in post-game discussion about the run game was tempo. The Eagles moved quickly in the second half with Mark Sanchez at quarterback. Players pointed out that they could tell the Texans were fatigued.

“A lot today to help us out was just the tempo,” McCoy said. “Some of the times they weren’t lined up. They were just getting down. You’ve got guys that are 350 pounds, it’s hard to just put your hands down and move laterally. So that’s one of the things that we do best is just play with tempo.”

On one drive, the offense went 70 yards on four runs – two by McCoy and two by Polk.

“We really did a good job of running our tempo plays today, getting up to the ball and snapping it,” Kelce said. “And you can definitely see on their faces and in their play that they were pretty fatigued.”

Added Lane Johnson: “They were getting tired, to be honest. We could tell. It was pretty much the story of the second half. They were tired. That’s what happened. We got to run the ball effectively. …You could just tell it in their faces and their demeanor in the second half.”

“We had them on their toes,” said Peters. “They were wearing down with their hands on their hip. We just kept going and we wore them down in the fourth quarter.”

Early on, there were questions about whether Kelly would give the run game a fair shot. The Texans lost both of their starting cornerbacks to injury. With Nick Foles in the game, the Eagles had 15 called passes and four runs. With Sanchez in the game, it was 26 passes compared to 32 runs (not counting the kneel-downs at the end). Obviously, the Eagles were trying to milk the clock in the fourth quarter, but there’s no doubt that Kelly re-committed to the run game in the second half.

The offense is still turning the ball over at an alarming rate (three more interceptions vs. Houston). But there’s a chance that on Sunday, the Eagles regained some of their identity: a team that can run the ball effectively and wear down its opponents. Kelce’s return undoubtedly helped, and Evan Mathis is scheduled to come back next Monday night against the Panthers.

Todd Herremans’ status is up in the air, but at the worst, the Eagles will be working with four-fifths of their starting offensive line.

And then there are the running backs. McCoy has 349 yards on 66 carries in last three (5.3 YPC). But Sunday was a group effort.

With 4:07 left in the fourth quarter, the offense faced a 4th-and-1 from Houston’s 4 yard line. Sanchez lined up under center, and Polk charged up the middle for a first down.

“Polk is a whole different runner,” said Peters. “He’s a pounder. He’s a get-up-in-there power type of runner, plus he can hit the outside zone also. Sproles is so quick. He’s everything. Shady’s a dancer. You just have to wrap him up or he’ll break all the tackles. You get on a block, try to finish a block and you know something good is about to happen.”

Added Kelce: “I think they all offer their own unique running styles. And I wouldn’t trade them for any three-back rotation in the league right now. I think that all three of them play off each other extremely well. They all have things that they’re very good at and they’re huge for us.”

This is what Kelly wants to be. He wants to spread teams out, play fast and run the football. When defenses load up to stop that, he wants to run play-action and hit on chunk plays downfield.

Minus the turnovers, it was a formula that worked well last year. And going forward, it’s the formula that will determine how far this team can go in the second half of the season.