All-22: On the Eagles’ Run Game Struggles
Chip Kelly was asked earlier this week whether the win over the Carolina Panthers represented the Eagles’ most complete game of the season.
“No,” he said after a short pause. “We didn’t play well offensively at all.”
Considering Mark Sanchez posted a passer rating of 102.5 and the Eagles put 45 up on the scoreboard, Kelly’s response caught many by surprise. But the truth is the Eagles had trouble sustaining drives, with seven of 13 possessions gaining 10 yards or fewer.
To Kelly, not having an effective run game is like not having a morning cup of coffee. Regardless of what else happens, it’s likely to ruin his day. And on Monday night, Eagles running backs totaled 38 yards on 18 attempts (2.1 YPC). After the victory, the mood among the offensive linemen was different than many others in the locker room.
“It’s frustrating,” said Jason Kelce. “I didn’t play my best game. I thought for the most part we did pretty good in pass protection. But clearly, the run game, we couldn’t really get anything going, and that’s frustrating.
“They had been playing a lot of two-high safeties for the majority of the year. And they played us the way a lot of teams who have played us have done a good job against our run where they bring an extra safety down, Cover 1, and really pack it in the box. So we’ve just gotta get better at running against it.”
There were several different reasons why the Eagles couldn’t get their ground game going. But the main one was Carolina often chose to get an extra man in the box. Take this play, for example. The Eagles keep both tight ends in to block, but they’re still outnumbered eight to seven.
LeSean McCoy gets a one-on-one chance against a defensive back in the hole, but he doesn’t win, and the result is a 3-yard gain.
“There were times when they had one extra up there,” said offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. “Again, we’re going to try to be patient and run the football. Then there were times when we had some creases where all of a sudden Luke [Kuechly] showed up. I just think, generally speaking, when you leave some meat on the bone in the running game, we can finish better. There are just little things each guy can do better. Then you can have a game where you’re back effective again.”
After his performance last week, Kuechly has a lot of admirers in the Eagles’ organization.
“He’s a tremendous player,” said Kelce. “Very smart guy, gives himself a good position, a good chance to be successful pre-snap. I think that that’s really his main thing. He understands the plays that can be run out of certain formations. And then pre-snap, a lot of the times he makes it difficult for you to get to him.”
On Darren Sproles’ 8-yard TD run, the Eagles ran the counter play, or H-Reverse, that they unveiled earlier this season against the Giants. They caught Panthers defenders, including Kuechly, out of position.
But look at what happened when they tried to run the same play later in the game.
Kuechly diagnoses and attacks. Kelce has no chance to get to him.
“He knows where the ball’s going 60 percent of the time before it’s even snapped,” said Lane Johnson. “He’s very alert out there.”
Added Shurmur: “There’s a guy named Luke Kuechly. He was all over the field. I don’t know what his production numbers were, but he did a heck of a job of disrupting us in there.”
Some suggested the Eagles could go to more zone read looks with Sanchez at quarterback. Against Carolina, though, he looked pretty uncomfortable with that aspect.
Here, you can see the Panthers have seven in the box against six Eagles blockers. Edge defender Thomas Davis is intentionally unblocked.
Meanwhile, the nose tackle slants on Kelce so he can’t get to Kuechly.
At the mesh point, Davis stays at home. McCoy would have found himself one-on-one with Kuechly, and this likely would have been a short gain, but the rule for quarterbacks is to hand the ball off unless they cannot.
Instead, Sanchez kept it and was dropped for a loss.
“One of ‘em, I stared right at 58 and made a pretty bad read,” Sanchez said Wednesday. “And then I ended up getting down. But I’ve gotta clean those up because that ends up being a negative play for us, and I can’t put us in a second-and-long like that. That’s just worse than an incompletion. It’s like a sack. So that can’t happen. And I’ve gotta clean those up. Plenty of stuff to get better.”
Eagles offensive linemen were expecting to go with a ground-heavy attack against Carolina. But when the Panthers came out and played more man coverage with an extra guy in the box, the game plan changed.
“Whenever you dictate what a team is doing, and it’s something that’s out of their comfort zone, then you can put up the yards like we did,” Kelce said. “We obviously were able to get to a lot of points. Some of that’s a good job by our defense giving us good opportunities, but once we really got into a rhythm and understood what was going on, I think we settled in as an offense.”
Still, regardless of what defenses are doing, the Eagles know the run game is the foundation of their offense. With four of five starting offensive linemen back on the field, the results need to be better than they were last week.
“We didn’t execute the way we needed to execute in the run game,” Kelly said. “They did a better job at defeating our blocks than we did at sustaining our blocks. …I think that if you asked the guys on the offensive side of the ball, they felt like they didn’t play well. I believe we didn’t really play up to our potential on the offensive side of the ball.”
Added Kelce: “The run game is something, even though they were doing some things schematically, we still have to do a better job of running against tight boxes and things like that. I think we could have done a lot better job blocking. There were a lot of penalties and a lot of pre-snap things with the cadence and whatnot that hurt us early. And obviously my snaps have got to get a little bit cleaned up.”
The Packers rank 20th against the run, according to Football Outsiders. Chances are they’ll try to force Sanchez to beat them, but even if that’s the case, the Eagles need to get the ground game going to escape Lambeau Field with a victory.