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October 17, 2017

Eagles' balance (and depth) makes them an extremely difficult team to defend

Eagles NFL

Ranked No. 1 in the NFL in rushing yards allowed and fifth in takeaways, including three in their most recent win over the Panthers, there’s no doubt that the Eagles defense has been a big part of their league-best 5-1 start.

But this team is balanced – just look at the different ways in which it won those five game – and it’s the offense that has been the most consistent, scoring at least 20 points in each game (actually the Eagles have done that in eight straight games dating back to the end of last season). 

That’s an impressive run for a second-year quarterback. 

Then again, Carson Wentz isn’t your average quarterback. 

With 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions, the 24-year-old QB has played his way from MVP longshot to MVP candidate to MVP favorite in just a month and a half. Those numbers have been bolstered by his seven touchdowns in his last two games, which has also made it easy to forget that a couple short weeks ago, the rushing attack – not Wentz – was the talk of the town.

Although there's a lot to like about the way his unit is currently playing as a whole, offensive coordinator Frank Reich hasn’t forgotten about Week 1, when the Eagles were held to just 58 yards on the ground by Washington, their opponent this week.

“I feel pretty confident about our balance, and a lot of that starts with running the football, and we do feel like we can go toe to toe with anybody running the football, and we're going to be challenged on that this week because this team is good against the run,” Reich said Tuesday. “They've been good against us playing the run. So it's a big challenge. They're well-coached, and we have to maintain our aggressiveness in the running game, and there's something about being able to go toe to toe in the running game with anybody and feel like you can impose your will that way, and each week that is definitely part of the plan.”

But that balance extends beyond just establishing the run.  

The Eagles already have four players with at least 200 yards receiving, all of whom have scored at least once. They also have receiving touchdowns from six different players.

In other words, if opposing defenses want to take away the rushing attack, the Eagles can beat you through the air. And if you try to take away the passing attack, sure, they can try to beat you on the ground. But they don’t have to.

Stack the box? We’ll go over the top. Drop an extra guy into coverage? We'll pick you apart underneath.

“I think it makes us hard to defend,” Reich said when asked what that kind of balanced attack does to opposing defenses. “I think the analogy that I was using with someone the other day is if you were using a basketball analogy, we don't have anybody averaging 30 points a game, but we've got five guys who can score. And so you don't know who it's going to be week to week, who can beat you, and I think right now that's what we're doing well. 

“We have to play to that strength. We've certainly got some guys that we want to score a lot of points and that we look to try to feed and get the ball, but I think we're in a good position that we've got a lot of confidence in all our players, that they can all make that shot, make the winning shot that we need them to make.”

Just as the running game has opened up the passing game and vice-versa, the threat of Wentz hitting one of the receivers deep – whether that be Torrey Smith, Alshon Jeffery or even Nelson Agholor – is opening things up for Zach Ertz, who caught two more touchdowns on Thursday night against the Panthers and, like Agholor, is having a career year.

"I think there's no doubt we made some plays down the field," Reich said. "Nelson [Agholor] is a threat. I think you not only see the plays that he's made down the field, but if teams are watching, you can just see his speed on the tape even when he's not making plays down the field. Teams see that combination of things – same thing with Torrey [Smith]. ...

"Corners that are watching our tape are seeing that, defenders, coaches. We're going to continue to be aggressive in that vein, and we've got to make plays, which we've been doing, but for sure that opens things up underneath."

And it’s that balance – the kind that comes from having an offense ranked in the Top 10 in both rushing and passing yards – that has carried the Eagles to one of their best starts in years.

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