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November 27, 2017

How the Eagles are built to win down the stretch

Eagles NFL

As the 2017 season enters the home stretch, there's undoubtedly going to be changes across the NFL landscape. Some teams will rise, while others will fall.

And at a league-best 10-1, there's only one way for the Eagles to go, right? Not quite.

Sure, the Birds have a second-year quarterback with no postseason experience. The same can be said about their coach. However, this team has all the makings of one that can win games in December and January, when another inevitable shift in the landscape takes place: the weather.

The Eagles are winning games with style, something not typically associated with the gritty teams that win battles in the trenches, which you need to do if you want to be successful late in the season. But don't be mistaken – this team is dominating up front, a clear sign it was built and designed to win down the stretch. 

And it starts with their league-leading rush defense, which held the Chicago Bears to negative yards for most of the day Sunday and finished with just 140 yards against, including just six on the ground. A week earlier, the Bears ran for 222 yards against the Lions and had been one of the NFL's better rushing teams prior to Sunday's 31-3 loss to the Eagles.

The Eagles, meanwhile, ran for 176 yards against the Bears and are averaging 162 per game during their current nine-game winning streak.

"I think it's very important as we go down the stretch now," head coach Doug Pederson said of his team's ground attack. "Our running game versus us stopping the run, and we've been real dominant there all season long. It was a great performance again. It starts up front with the defensive line. Just a swarm-attack style on defense, and every week you try to make a team sort of one-dimensional. The defense had their hands full because the Bears do have – they are going to run it and they are going to continue to run it. Guys did an outstanding job [Sunday]."

For the Birds, it really does all start up front, especially in the middle with Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan. 

“Even if he’s not on the stat sheet at times, chances are [Cox] has caused a bunch of other things to happen," said defensive end Chris Long. "He’s as good and as disruptive as anybody that I’ve been around, and I’ve been lucky that I’ve played with some good players. I have a lot of respect for Fletch. And Timmy doesn’t get enough credit. He’s an absolute dog in there. He’s like a junkyard dog in that he brings attitude and fearlessness. He’s a tone-setter for us and a hell of a football player.”

But's it's really been a team effort by the Birds, with everyone in the defensive front seven chipping in to make their unit the best in the league against the run.

“It starts with all four of us up front, and takes guys like Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and Chris Long. There’s no way that me and [Fletcher Cox] can do that by ourselves. It’s seemingly impossible because this league is too good and [we] go against too good of competition. 

"It just goes to show that [Eagles defensive line coach] Chris Wilson is doing a great job. Whoever is in the game, he makes sure they are ready to play. I think Coach Wilson does a great job.”

With not much of a passing attack, the Eagles knew that the Bears were going to try to run on them – it's what they do – but that didn't matter much at all. 

“Especially coming into a game like this one, we knew that they were going to try to beat us by running the ball," Jernigan said. "We wanted to make sure we were keeping tabs on what was going on. It would’ve been pretty cool to hold them to negative six yards, though. I wouldn’t have been complaining.”

The six yards allowed by the Birds was the fewest they've allowed in 71 years.

"We’ve been here a long time. I’m just happy to be a part of this," said Brandon Graham, who picked up his sixth sack of the season in the win. "I’m just happy they stuck with me and now we’re out here. We put a team together and now we’re trying to take advantage."

The Eagles are taking advantage, to say the least.

For as good as their rush defense has been, it's offensive equivalent has been almost as good.

So what's been the key?

"It just comes down to the way these guys practice, the way they practice during the week and they prepare," Pederson said. "The way the coaches put game plans together and the way we – our plan to attack a defense, and it's just all about the execution."

And the Eagles are executing.


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