Super Bowl 2023: Eagles' old-school rushing approach could dictate game vs. Chiefs

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PHOENIX — The Philadelphia Eagles have a lot of modern ideas in terms of roster building, game management and schemes. It’s a big reason they’re in the Super Bowl.

At Philadelphia’s heart though, it’s an old-school team. The Eagles are just fine lining up on offense and knocking a defense around.

Quarterback Jalen Hurts joining the MVP conversation got a lot of attention, and the Eagles are a very good passing team, but the thing they do best is run the ball. Hurts, of course, is a big part of that rushing attack with 760 yards and 13 touchdowns. Last season, the Eagles led the NFL in rushing yards. This season they led in rushing touchdowns, and had the top-ranked rushing offense in Football Outsiders’ DVOA.

When the Eagles line up Sunday for Super Bowl LVII, they’d be fine if they rarely passed it at all.

“It’s physical,” running back Boston Scott said of Philadelphia’s run game. “Explosive. Sound. It’s a machine, man.”

The Eagles are OK taking what the defense gives them. And if that defense can’t stop the run, it’ll be a long day.

Eagles have top rushing attack

The Eagles’ run game hit its peak in Week 12. Philadelphia ran the ball better than nearly any other team over the past four decades in the NFL.

Philadelphia ran for 363 yards in a Sunday night win over the Green Bay Packers. Since 1978, only four teams have had more rushing yards in a game. It was the most for an Eagles team since 1948, when they had a franchise record 376 yards against Washington.

“Games like that, you feel like you can just keep running, keep it simple,” starting running back Miles Sanders said. “Those boys are hungry up front. They love tossing grown men around, and it’s fun to watch it.”

The Eagles finished first in rush offense DVOA at Football Outsiders, and their mark of 15.4% is one of the highest in years. Since 2014, the Eagles are just the third team to reach 15% rush DVOA (2018 Rams were 20.6%, 2019 Ravens were 16.9%).

The Eagles might have an old-school appreciation for the running game, but they do it in a modern way. They don’t invest much in the running back position.

Philadelphia’s four running backs — Sanders, Scott, Kenneth Gainwell and Trey Sermon — have a combined salary-cap hit of $5.24 million according to Spotrac. That’s just 2.3% of the salary cap, 21st among NFL teams. They haven’t invested much draft capital either. Sanders was a second-round pick, but Gainwell was a fifth, Scott was a sixth and Sermon was picked up off waivers after he was cut by the San Francisco 49ers.

Those are the faces of the most effective running game in the NFL. They’re all versatile, talented and can carry the run game for long stretches.

“It’s been great,” Gainwell said. “You have three different options you can go with.”

One of the best offensive lines in the NFL and a fantastic running quarterback obviously have a big part in the run game too.

Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders runs through a huge hole in a divisional playoff game against the Giants. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders runs through a huge hole in a divisional playoff game against the Giants. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Eagles’ offensive line is elite

The Eagles’ offensive line has two players in center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson who were first-team All-Pros this season. There aren’t any weak spots on the line.

Scott also gave a nod to offensive line coach and run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland, saying his attention to detail is a key part to the success of the run game.

“It makes things clearer for us,” Scott said. “When things are clear for us, we can hit it a little bit harder, hit it a little bit faster.”

The NFC championship game against the San Francisco 49ers was a good example of how the Eagles’ ground game can take over.

The Eagles scored on their first possession but then had three straight punts. They gained 13 yards on 10 plays in those drives. The 49ers scored to tie the game 7-7. Then the Eagles got it going on the ground, mostly with Gainwell having the hot hand. Gainwell gained 30 yards on three straight plays (nine coming on a short pass). Sanders scored on a 13-yard run. The Eagles never trailed again.

That 75-yard drive was one of the turning points of the NFC championship game. Perhaps the Super Bowl will play out differently.

“We take pride in doing whatever the defense gives us, and having an answer,” Scott said. “We want to win. Whatever the defense gives us, if it’s not an ideal look for the run, then we pass.”

If the Eagles are having success on the ground, like they have most of the season, don’t expect them to stop running it.

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