Eagles prove they can run on anyone in convincing win against vaunted Saints run defense
Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, Boston Scott, and Jalen Hurts made the difference in the game, combining for 242 yards against the top-ranked New Orleans run defense.
Miles Sanders spent the last three games watching Jordan Howard and Boston Scott carve through opposing defenses — and studying.
Even though the Eagles discovered an offensive identity centered on a productive running game that hadn’t been there before Sanders landed on injured reserve last month, the lesson he learned wasn’t all that complicated.
“Just run behind them big boys,” Sanders said, laughing, after the Eagles’ 40-29 win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
» READ MORE: Eagles-Saints instant analysis: Jalen Hurts, running game shine vs. NFL’s top rush defense in first home win
Sanders and the rest of the Eagles’ rushing threats did exactly that against New Orleans with considerable success. Sanders, Howard, Scott, and Jalen Hurts made the difference in the game, combining for 242 yards against a Saints defense that entered the game ranked first in several run-stopping metrics by a wide margin.
The Eagles’ 209 rushing yards per game in the three-week stretch going into Sunday was encouraging, but the performance against the Saints made a statement: Their running game can be dominant against anyone, even a top defense.
“We knew coming in that they had a good D-line and a good linebacking corps,” Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson said. “They’ve been stuffing the run all year. We’re going to try to keep doing what we’re doing. Looking forward, I know teams are going to try to scheme up to try to stop that.”
The Eagles’ offensive line was instrumental in the convincing win against the Saints. The line manhandled New Orleans’ defensive line and made some key blocks at the second level in the running game while also giving Hurts plenty of time to pass for the most part.
The team has found an offensive identity through the running game the last four weeks, but this was the stiffest test after three games against middle-of-the-road defenses. The Eagles are averaging 217 rushing yards per game in this stretch and have been one of the most efficient offenses in the league. They’ve scored 40 points twice and have gone 3-1 since making the offensive change against the Detroit Lions on Oct. 31.
Going into the game, Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said he harped on the importance of physicality during his final team meeting.
“I thought our guys really showed that,” Sirianni said. “[The media has] asked me a little bit about identity. I can share with you what we talked about at our team meeting. I don’t think it’s about the plays you call. ... It’s a physical group of guys and it’s guys that leave everything out there on the field. That’s what we talked about last night.”
The message seemed to resonate, at the very least, with tight end Dallas Goedert.
“We said they’re going to have to match our physicality,” Goedert said. “We went out there with a chip on our shoulder, knowing that they were the No. 1 run defense in the league.”
Led by Sanders’ 94 yards, Eagles runners surpassed the 200-yard mark for the second week in a row and the third time in four games. It took them less than a half to put up the most rushing yards the Saints have allowed all season (171). Howard, who left with a knee injury, added 63 yards on 10 carries while Scott had 16 on six attempts.
The last team to gain so many rushing yards against New Orleans? The 2020 Eagles in Hurts’ first NFL start.
Sirianni said Hurts, who had 69 yards on the ground and three touchdown runs, was a major factor in why they found success against the Saints when other teams haven’t.
“Jalen’s a special player that forces defenses to play different,” Sirianni said. “You look at the tape. You look at the stats, you look at your defense, but you also want to do what you do well. We know we’ve been running the ball well and it’s a little different when Jalen’s in there.”
The Eagles’ offensive resurgence against such a good defense has given them new life going into the final third of the season. At 5-6, they’re a half-game behind the Saints for the third and final wild-card spot and they’ll have the tiebreaker if it comes up.
They also have the easiest remaining strength of schedule in the NFL according to tankathon.com, with two games against the New York Giants and Washington Football Team ahead. They’ll also play the New York Jets in two weeks.
During his postgame news conference, Sanders mentioned the “playoffs are coming up.” He checked himself a few minutes later, but acknowledged the team is in the hunt once again.
“I’m kind of mad I said that, because we’re not really thinking about that,” Sanders said. “It’s just the fact that these last games are all division and if we win them all, we’re going to be in the playoffs.”