EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants hope to reinvent their offense this week after the dismissal of coordinator Jason Garrett. The Philadelphia Eagles, their opponents tomorrow in MetLife Stadium, have already done that.
These Eagles prefer to move on the ground rather than through the air. Philadelphia is 5-6 but has won three of four games since first-year coach Nick Sirianni abandoned a scheme heavy on screen and downfield passes and unleashed his rushing attack. The Eagles lead the NFC and are second in the NFL with an average of 153.4 rushing yards a game and their 5.0-yards-per-carry average is third in the league.
While much of the attention on the 3-7 Giants have been on the offense, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham's unit will be challenged against a run-intensive team.
"The thing you've got to be careful of with a team like this, you don't want to do too much," Graham said. "If you do too much and then they start to adjust – it's like when I was in college coaching and you go against an option team. If you start doing too much, you're going to spend too much time adjusting and then the next series they're going to be onto something different. The thing we've got to do, I think we've got to put our best run defenders out there and that's where it has to start, stopping the run. Put our best run defenders out there and react to the pass game."
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Sirianni, 40, began his first season as a head coach and play-caller frequently throwing the ball. Through their first seven games, the Eagles averaged 34.7 passes and 245.1 passing yards per game. During that stretch, their ground game averages were 23.6 carries and 116.7.
Philadelphia won just two of those games and before a Halloween day game in Detroit, Sirianni switched attack modes. That afternoon, they ran 46 times for 236 yards in a 44-6 romp over the Lions. The Eagles have since run for 176, 216, and 242 yards, the first time since 1950 they exceeded 175 rushing yards in four consecutive games. Their four-game averages are 43.5 carries and 217.5 yards, while their passing numbers have fallen to 20 throws and 150.2 yards game.
Sirianni was asked if the Eagles are using smashmouth football to their advantage.
"The way we're playing right now is based off of the way we feel like the strengths of our team are," Sirianni said. "We feel like we have a strength on offense as far as upfront and there's different ways. Smash mouth football, I know that can mean like, hey, you're just pounding it and that's part of it, but there's also some other things we're doing with some quarterback runs and this and that. I loved what you just said because I want to be known as a team that's tough and physical. For you to say smashmouth, good. I love that. I appreciate that compliment."
The Eagles' multi-pronged rushing attack starts with quarterback Jalen Hurts, who leads the team with 618 yards and eight touchdowns. Running backs Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard and Boston Scott have combined for 889 yards and six scores. Scott's 4.8-yard average is the lowest of those four players. Entering their matchup in Philadelphia last Sunday, the New Orleans Saints had the NFL's highest-rated rushing defense, allowing only 72.9 yards a game. But the Eagles strafed them for 242 yards on the ground in a combined effort from Sanders (94 yards), Howard (63), Scott (16) and Hurts (69 and three touchdowns).
Howard, however, will not play tomorrow because of a knee injury.
The Eagles' offensive line, featuring center Jason Kelce and tackles Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata, is widely considered one of the NFL's best and has been wearing down opponents.
"What you're seeing right now is that the offense is going through the quarterback and there's more of an emphasis to run the ball, like what you would think for most teams in this division – whether it's the Cowboys, whether it's what we're trying to do and trying to get the run game going," Graham said. "They're doing a good job with it. They cause a lot of confusion or they put a lot of stress on you with how they're running the ball because of the fact that the quarterback can run the ball and it's running through him."
The quarterback can also throw the ball. Hurts has completed 61.6% of his passes and has thrown for 13 touchdowns and five interceptions.
"He presents definitely a challenge for us, his legs are another weapon for him," cornerback James Bradberry said. "He does have a good arm. I feel like he's pretty accurate and makes good decisions."
The Eagles' leading receiver is rookie DeVonta Smith, whom they selected 10th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft after trading with division rival Dallas to jump ahead of the Giants. He has team-high totals of 46 catches and four receiving touchdowns and a 14.4-yard per catch average.
"This guy's everything you thought he was going to be in the draft, he really is," coach Joe Judge said. "He was a guy that was very, very impressive coming out. Not just in terms of how he played, everyone sees that on tape, but the competitiveness, the leadership, the instincts, the intelligence and just the whole package. This guy was very, very impressive leading up to the draft and you can see that the things you saw in college that the biggest knock on him coming out was the question mark of is he big enough, right? That's the thing everyone asked was he big enough to go ahead – and you had to go back in your evaluation and say, 'He's done it at every level.'
"(Offensive assistant) Jody Wright would tell us stories all the time about when they were at Alabama's camp and he was working out, they had the same questions about him. Every coach asked the same questions, like 'This guy, he's not big enough. Look at his legs, they're skinny legs. This guy can't do this or that.' Well, he made a whole lot of plays in Tuscaloosa, right? Now, he's making a lot of plays in Philadelphia. He's obviously their go-to guy or one of their go-to guys."