PHILADELPHIA — Last Sunday, Titans running back Derrick Henry bulldozed through the Kansas City defense. It’s been a recurring theme and nightmare for the Chiefs.
Steve Spagnuolo’s unit hasn’t been able to stop the run all season. It doesn’t matter if Patrick Mahomes lights it up on offense. He threw for over 400 yards with three touchdowns against the Titans. It was rendered useless because his defense couldn’t stop Henry.
That might be the Chiefs undoing this season. It could be their fatal flaw.
As for the Patriots, they’ve also had some issues with running attacks. Certainly not to the degree of the Chiefs, but the Ravens struck a nerve with Bill Belichick’s unit and opened some eyes. They hit a weak spot, for sure. How weak? That’s still to be determined.
After their bye week, the Patriots will get back on the horse and deal with another good running team in the Philadelphia Eagles, and see if they’re able to fix some of the issues.
“I view the Ravens game as a learned lesson,” said safety Duron Harmon. “What we do with it will determine the future of this team.”
The Patriots can surrender some yards on the ground, and still be an effective defense. They showed that over the course of the first eight games of the season. But against Lamar Jackson and his unique skill set, and the Ravens ground game with multiple backs led by Mark Ingram, they ran into more trouble than they could handle.
The Eagles with Carson Wentz and his ground crew don’t present the same degree of difficulty as Jackson & Co. No one does. But they do run the ball well, and incorporate run-pass option plays (RPOs) in their offensive repertoire.
“They do a good job of it. They have a couple of different versions, I would say. And they do it maybe a handful of times a game,” said Belichick. “I’m sure if it’s working well, it’ll probably be more frequent, and if they don’t like the way it sets up, they have plenty of other good things they can do, as well. But, it definitely shows up, I would say, in most every game and they make some plays on it.”
The last thing the Patriots want is to be repeat offenders. They know it’s a copycat league. Teams will try to beat them the same way the Ravens did, or try to mimic as much of the game plan as they’re capable of doing. Teams won’t stop running, until the Patriots stop them.
Safety Devin McCourty said it’s important for the defense to “get back in the groove,” after their brief hiatus.
“They’re going to run on us. You know that. I think everyone that follows football knows that,” McCourty said of the Eagles. “They’re going to do what they think gives them the best chance to win, and as always, we have to stop them. So the running game is definitely going to be a part of that.”
Speaking with reporters during a conference call Wednesday, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson didn’t say the Eagles wouldn’t run, but wouldn’t completely marry himself to the approach based on what transpired in the Ravens game.
“The Ravens offense is unique because of their quarterback, I’ll just throw that out there,” Peterson said, referring to Jackson of course. “This kid is special and he’s hard to bring down. So they can do some things every other team in the league can’t. But I think you can look at the structure of things, and what Baltimore did, and the success they had in the game, and match that to what we do, or try to do.
“The thing is, you gotta look at the entire body of work,” he went on. “You can’t just focus on one game. The Patriots defense changes from week to week based on who they play. So, we would anticipate maybe a little different structure than what they used against Baltimore. You have to look at it with a wide lens, obviously, and try to pick a few things that might help you win.”
Statistically, the Eagles have the league’s 11th best rushing attack led by Jordan Howard, who has 525 yards on 119 attempts (4.4 yards per carry) with six touchdowns. Miles Sanders also averages 4.4 yards per rush, as he has 336 yards on 76 carries. Both backs can catch the football coming out of the backfield. Howard, however, is listed as “questionable” for the game with a shoulder injury, so that would alter the dynamics considerably if he can’t play.
“They’re both explosive players, certainly can run the ball and they can run inside, run outside, make explosive plays, catch the ball, screen passes, turn check-downs into long catch-and-run plays, things like that,” said Belichick. “Howard is a tough downhill runner. He plays in the passing game too, but I’d say those guys show up more in some more explosive plays — wheel routes, seam routes, some plays down the field that are pretty challenging for the defense.”
Wentz isn’t a running quarterback like Jackson, but he’ll take off if the need arises, or if there’s an opening. During one game against the Bills, he rushed 8 times for 35 yards.
Pederson also isn’t afraid to be aggressive and go on fourth down, and sprinkle in a few trick plays. He pulled out the “Philly Special” in Super Bowl LII against the Pats, with then quarterback Nick Foles catching a touchdown pass.
“For us as a defense, and as a team, it’s a tough test,” said McCourty. “We’re going on the road in a tough environment, very similar to Baltimore. A tough environment, a type of offense we haven’t seen a lot. So it’ll be a tough challenge for us.”
PREDICTION – Patriots 31, Eagles 20
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