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December 04, 2022

Derrick Henry who? Stopping the run could fuel Eagles to Super Bowl

The demise of the Eagles' defense has been greatly exaggerated.

Or maybe the natural ebbs and flows of a football season are destined to include some ugly trends no matter how good a team is.

The Eagles entered their Week 13 game against the Titans allowing just over 120 yards per game on the ground, 18th of 32 NFL teams. They have surrendered 99 or more yards (yes, 99, which is what they allowed to the Colts) in each of their last seven games and as a result of this vulnerability, Howie Roseman signed veteran defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh to help fill in for injured rookie run stuffer Jordan Davis.

What seemed like a desperate move a few weeks ago has created an unintended positive outcome for Jonathan Gannon's defense — their d-line rotation looks fresh, Davis is back on the field and Fletcher Cox has been light's out of late. 

And against the AFC South-leading Titans, the Philadelphia defense found a way to slow down one of the best running backs in the game.

In the wake of their shocking loss to the Commanders — a game that saw them expose the recipe for beating the Eagles by controlling the clock and pounding the ball up the middle on the ground — the Colts and Packers tried to replicate the approach unsuccessfully. Add the Titans to that list.

Derrick Henry was clearly going to be the emphasis for the Titans offense, with Tennessee hoping to put a strength of theirs against a Philadelphia weakness. The defensive line was on point Sunday, however, keeping Henry to just 30 yards on 11 carries (Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill actually out-gained Henry in the game). 

Some of this was due to the play of the run stoppers on the field, as well as the penetration of the pass rush and their six sacks putting Tennessee in long yardage situations. But there is no better defense against the run than a good offense.

The Birds were light's out with the football — even in the face of some ugly penalties. They possessed the ball 32:15 and out-gained them 453-209 (with a bunch of Titans yardage coming in garbage time) in the 35-10 victory. Get an opponent playing from behind, and see if they stick with the run game then. By the time the Titans took the field for the second time in the third quarter, trailing by 18, riding the Henry train was no longer an option.

Philadelphia is a city that is used to being alarmist when it comes to their pro teams, and Philly fans were rightly worried about how they'd fare against some of the better running teams coming up on the schedule. Their performance at home Sunday should go a long way at giving the team and fans confidence in their ability to win games in January, when stopping the run becomes even more paramount.

Here's a look at the remaining regular season slate for the Eagles, and the top tier RBs they'll have to give the Henry treatment:

OpponentStarting RBYPG (rank)
Week 14: GiantsSaquon Barkley151.1 (6th)
Week 15: Bears*David Montgomery192.0 (1st)
Week 16: CowboysEzekiel Elliott
Tony Pollard
139.2 (7th)
Week 17: SaintsAlvin Kamara113.2 (22nd)
Week 18: GiantsBarkley151.1 (6th)

* Chicago QB Justin Fields leads the Bears in rushing

Four of their remaining five games will be against top seven rushing offenses. Getting an early lead will be huge in each of those games, as the passing attacks concordantly are very much lacking (the Giants are 28th in passing YPG, Bears 32nd, Cowboys 20th and Saints 11th). The Eagles control their own fate when it comes to a top seed in the conference and a first-round bye.

The AFC sports six of the top seven passing offenses by total yards, but the Eagles won't have to face a team in that conference again until February 12. 

Until then, emphasizing the run defense, and relying on their talented secondary to handle subpar passing attacks is the path to defensive success and perhaps a Super Bowl title.

Follow Evan on Twitter:@evan_macy

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