Eagles Run Defense Weakness Matches Seahawks Strength
If you have read any of my analysis of this game so far this week, or listened to my podcast, you know I have gained a lot of respect for the Eagles individual talent and team achievement across all three phases of football. One thing that became clear when watching a handful of their games was that their strong run defense is quite different than other strong run defenses the Seahawks have faced like Arizona. I am far more optimistic about the Seahawks ability to run the ball now against this Eagles defense than I was a day ago.
Overall strong run defenders
It is worth remembering that the Eagles are a good run defense. They are ranked eighth in the NFL in opponent yards per carry, and have held six of their twelve opponents under 100 yards on the ground. Fletcher Cox is a dominating right end in their 3-4 defense, and left end Cedric Thorton is pretty darn good as well. Mychal Kendricks is incredibly fast at inside linebacker, and the effort is high across the board.
They most recently held the Cowboys under 100 yards rushing in Dallas. I expected to see a very stout collection of run defenders when I flipped on their games. Instead, in games against the Titans, Panthers, Cowboys and Texans, I saw a defense that consistently gave up three or more yards on inside runs.
Weak against power runs inside
The Titans game was a perfect example of needing to see a game instead of just reading the box score. Bishop Sankey had his best luck when he ran between the guards. The totals for Tennessee were 19 carries for 52 yards and 2.7 YPC, but it was a far less dominating performance than those numbers indicate.
FootballOutsiders.com has a useful set of statistics that breaks down not only if a team has a good run defense, but how are they good? They can rank defensive lines against power runs and also shows their success at defending runs against specific parts of the defense.
Eagles defensive line rankings from FootballOutsiders.com
Philadelphia ranks #26 in defending runs between the guards and #25 in runs over right tackle. They are also somewhat suspect in runs outside of left tackle, which was surprising to see given Cox’s presence. That sounds like a linebacker issue, but is somewhat besides the point.
They are the best in the NFL in defending runs over left tackle. Those would be runs directly at Cox. They are also very strong against runs outside right tackle. The implication is that Thorton is more athletic than powerful and can be susceptible to runs directly at him.
Now take a look at where the Seahawks run game, and where they are best.
Seahawks offensive line rankings from FootballOutsiders.com
The Seahawks love to run between the guards, and they are among the best in football at doing it. A healthy Max Unger would turn this from an edge to a sizable advantage for Seattle. They also are best in the league at running outside left end, which is not a strong suit of the Eagles. Expect the Seahawks to run behind J.R. Sweezy and Justin Britt a lot to test the middle-right part of the Eagles defense.
Not a power run defense
I was convinced the Seahawks would struggle to run against the Cardinals a couple of weeks ago. They did when running designed plays to the running backs. That Arizona defense is stacked up the middle with powerful defensive lineman and inside linebackers. Teams like that give the Seahawks trouble because of their strong tendency to run up the middle.
The Eagles are not like the Cardinals. FootballOutsiders also tracks team’s success against things like power runs. They define those as runs on 3rd or 4th and short and goal-to-go situations near the goal line. Seattle’s offensive line excels in those moments.
Seattle offensive line rankings for power runs
They are near the top in power success, and are rarely stuffed (being tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage). They are less great on open-field runs, where a running back gains more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, but that simply is not something they rely on.
Philadelphia has the opposite strengths on run defense.
Eagles defensive line rankings for power runs
The Eagles are 27th in the NFL in defending power runs, but are terrific at limiting teams in the open-field. That supports what I saw.
This is a group that excels at tackling and limiting damage. They are good in pursuit and will generally seal outside runs (although that left end ranking stands out). Whether they can withstand the pounding from a team like Seattle up the middle is a legitimate question. This is a Seahawks team that considers a 3-yard run up the middle success, and will be happy to keep pounding to set up 3rd and short. The Seahawks best run blockers are both guards and at right tackle with Unger out. They also have the ability to go heavy with Alvin Bailey and/or Garry Gilliam at tight ends. There is good reason to expect Seattle will have some success applying their style of running to this Eagles defense.