The Eagles won’t admit it, but they had to be licking their chops when watching the film of Sunday night’s opponent, the Atlanta Falcons, as they tried to defend the run in their first game.
Atlanta opened with a 28-12 loss at the Minnesota Vikings in a game that was 28-0 before the Falcons scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns, including one with just 1 minute, 5 seconds left.
The Vikings rushed for 172 yards on 38 attempts (4.5 avg.) and three touchdowns. Only three teams allowed more rushing yards in the first week than the Falcons.
In this wide-open NFL era of passing, Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins attempted just 10 passes.
To put that figure in perspective, the Eagles’ Carson Wentz averaged almost 10 pass attempts per quarter during Sunday’s 32-27 win over the Washington Redskins. Wentz attempted 39 passes.
Don’t look for the Eagles to ease up too much on the passing game, but they may be able to establish the run a littler earlier than they did in their opener.
After rushing for just 22 yards on nine carries in the first half, the Eagles gained 101 yards on 22 second-half carries.
For the game, Darren Spoles led all Eagles rushers with 47 yards on nine carries (5.3 average).
“Whenever we get the running game going, we are devastating,” right tackle Lane Johnson said after practice Thursday afternoon. “It’s a matter of getting it going.”
Johnson loves when runs are called to the right side, where he lines up next to two-time Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks.
“I feel when we get the double teams, with me and Brandon Brooks, I don’t think there is a guard and tackle tandem that can do the things the way we do,” Johnson said.
When the Eagles won the Super Bowl after the 2017 regular season, they ran the ball well, especially on first down. That season, the Eagles averaged 4.7 yards on first-down running plays, according to pro-football-reference.com
In the first half against the Redskins, the Eagles ran the ball four times on first down (not counting a sack of Wentz) for 6 yards. In the second half, the Eagles gained 58 yards on 11 first-down runs.
So Johnson has a point about starting quickly.
After watching the film of the Vikings game, Johnson was giving the Falcons the benefit of the doubt.
“They will try to clean it up this week,” he said. “They have good interior players with Grady Jarrett and the rest of the defensive line. They have very good linebackers, who are very active, and we will have our work cut out.”
Jarrett, one of the defensive leaders, had five tackles and a sack against the Vikings.
Eagles running backs Jordan Howard and rookie Miles Sanders weren’t about to give the Falcons bulletin board material when asked about their run defense. Howard praised the victors instead of criticizing the Falcons.
“The Vikings offensive line got great push. The receivers blocked pretty well, and the backs hit the hole hard,” said Howard, who rushed for 44 yards on just six attempts (7.3 avg.) in his Eagles debut.
Sanders, the rookie from Penn State, rushed for 25 yards on 11 carries against the Redskins. He has been watching a lot of film of the Falcons defense this week.
“Watching film, they ran the ball about 80 percent of the time. The run game was working,” he said of the Vikings. “If something is working, don’t change it. We saw that.”
Sanders said the Eagles can move the ball effectively running or passing, regardless of the opponent.