Tennessee running back Derrick Henry received the handoff and barreled his 247 pounds straight into the teeth of the Eagles’ defensive line. Time after time.
The Eagles’ defensive line, resolute, stood their ground. The Titans’ star running back was rendered virtually unusable. Henry gained 30 meaningless yards on 11 carries. His longest gain was six yards.
The NFL’s third-leading rusher arrived in town with 1,048 yards on the season. He left town without leaving any impact in his wake as the Eagles dominated in a 35-10 victory.
As the playoffs approach, the Eagles are going to need this level of run defense. January playoffs games, likely with wind and cold, favor strong defensive teams — especially if the offense struggles in unfavorable weather conditions.
- “I think it honestly came down to winning our one-on-one matchups today,” said linebacker T.J. Edwards, who led Eagles tacklers with six.
- “I think obviously, they had a good idea of what we were going to do, and we had a good idea of what they were going to do. It was all about winning your one-on-ones, winning your area, defeating blocks.
- “Honestly, I thought our d-line just ruined that game. I thought they were dominant, all across the board.
- “They’re stopping the run, and in the drop-back pass game they were getting to the quarterback as well, so I thought the front had a really good game.”
BATTERY OF BACKS
Remember last month when the Eagles faced a stretch of quality running backs and the consensus was how they defended these guys was probably going to determine the outcome of their games?
If that were an exam — and it was presented as such — the Eagles easily passed. Not everyone expected that, as the Eagles’ run defense hasn’t been as strong as their pass defense.
Let’s take a look:
- Nov. 20 at Colts: Jonathan Taylor had 22 carries for 84 yards and one touchdown. Taylor had 49 yards on the game’s first drive and not much afterward. Eagles won, 17-16.
- Nov. 27 vs. Packers: Aaron Jones had 12 carries for 43 yards. AJ Dillon had eight carries for 64 yards and one touchdown. Eagles won, 40-33.
- Dec. 4 vs. Titans: Henry had 11 carries for 30 yards. Eagles won, 35-10.
- Dec. 11 at Giants: Saquon Barkley is next up for the Eagles.
- “I felt like everyone’s attitude was to stop Derrick,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “That is all we kept hearing: ‘That is what they are going to do.’
- “They are going to run the ball, screen us, and play quick ball with play action and deep shots. That is exactly what we got and I feel like we started from the jump with meeting them at the line and making tackles … I feel like people today had an attitude to get him on the ground.”
With the Titans running game ineffective on Sunday, quarterback Ryan Tannehill was left with one viable option — trying to pass.
When Tannehill dropped back, he looked left. He looked right. He looked over the middle.
Everywhere he looked, an Eagles’ defender was closing in.
Tannehill completed 14-of-22 passes for 141 mostly meaningless yards and a touchdown. Tannehill was sacked six times, making it virtually impossible for his offense to gather momentum.
When the Eagles get the lead, or get an opponent in a likely-pass situation, they can unload their talented and hungry pass rushers. The 11-1 Eagles have played with the lead much of the season.
The Eagles were equal opportunity sackers against Tennessee — Josh Sweat had two, Graham, Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox and Haason Reddick each had one. The Eagles have 42 sacks, second in the NFL behind Dallas’ 48.
Improving their pass rush was an offseason priority for the Eagles, who were 31st in the league last year with only 29 sacks. That strategy seems to have worked.
SLAY AND BRADBERRY
Tannehill faced more problems trying to connect against cornerbacks James Bradberry and Darius Slay, who were targeted four times and allowed zero catches. Bradberry had two pass breakups.
- “He’s been on fire,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said about Bradberry. “I really think that he just sees the field well.
- “He makes the play when the play comes to him, and I just think that he’s just been a great veteran help to the defense, been a really good complement on the other side to Slay.
- “He’s steady, he’s a pro. He doesn’t say much but he goes out and does his job every day and he leads by example.”
The Eagles visit the 7-4-1 Giants on Sunday, Bradberry’s first meeting against his former team. The Eagles acquired the free agent after he became a salary-cut casualty in May.
- “I’ve really enjoyed getting to know James, and you see why he’s been the type of pro that he’s been when you see his work habits every single day of how he goes about preparing for an opponent and how he goes about preparing for a wide receiver,” Sirianni said.
- “He’s a really good corner and not only because he has great, great talent but also because he has great, great preparation, great football IQ and great toughness and I’m sure glad he’s an Eagle.”