Powerful running game propels Eagles in playoffs

Posted on January 31, 2023

The Eagles faced the league’s best defense in the NFC title game Sunday and scored 31 points against a 49ers team that allowed an average of 16.3.

The Eagles gained 148 yards on the ground against NFL’s best defense, a 49ers team that allowed an average of 78 yards per game, second-best in the league.

The Eagles ran the ball 44 times and threw 25 passes to win the time of possession, 37:26 to 22:34. The Eagles’ offensive line should get most of the credit for opening holes and protecting Jalen Hurts.

Hurts wasn’t the dazzling, long-bombing artist throwing the ball all over the Linc. He wasn’t the guy running around and through the San Francisco defense, either.

Hurts admits he’s not 100 percent after suffering a right shoulder sprain on Dec. 18. He will only allow that he’s “felt better,” without elaboration.

His mindset is simple. Playing quarterback is his job and it’s time to do that job. Since missing two games, he has won the three most important games of the season.

The Eagles’ offense was somewhat stymied by the Niners but they still managed 25 first downs (to 11 for the Niners), and a 269-164 advantage in total yards. Twelve of the 25 first downs were earned on the ground. They scored a franchise playoff record four rushing touchdowns.


Winning NFL games is dirty business. It’s almost never easy, especially in the playoffs. Yet, the Eagles won their two playoff games by a combined score of 69-14.

  • “We found a way to get it going,” Hurts said after the 31-7 win over San Francisco. “It looked different.
  • “That’s been the thing of this whole entire team, this whole entire offense this year. Come out there and throw for a lot, go out there and run for a lot.
  • “Come out there and be kinda efficient. That’s the best defense [49ers] in the league.”

That efficiency can be attributed to Hurts’ game management. The Eagles had zero turnovers in the playoff games. The Giants had one turnover and the 49ers had three.


Expect the Eagles to move the ball more efficiently, and spectacularly, against the 12th-ranked Kansas City defense. The Chiefs are ranked eighth against the run and 19th against the pass.

The Eagles’ ground game has been the star of their postseason show. Before their 148 yards against the Niners, the Eagles ran for 268 yards in the divisional playoff win over the Giants.

In the two playoff games, Kenny Gainwell has rushed for 160 yards. Miles Sanders has rushed for 132 yards. The Eagles have scored seven rushing touchdowns in the two games.

  • “They have a really good coach [Niners defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans],” Hurts said.
  • “I’ve always talked about that. He does a really good job with them, especially those guys upfront.
  • “And the linebacker corps, kinda rallying to the ball. We ran the ball really well and they didn’t really give us many opportunities to take shots down the field.
  • “We had kinda some one-on-one shots and kinda hit or miss. But we took what they gave us and it kinda ended being one of those games.”


Sanders has been a workhorse back this season. He gained a career-high 1,269 yards on 259 carries — an outstanding 5.0 yards per carry. He scored 11 touchdowns and only had two fumbles.

  • “It’s a dream come true for a lot of people on this team, especially myself,” Sanders said about going to the Super Bowl.
  • “The job’s not done. We didn’t get this far just to get there. [We’re] trying to win it all.
  • “We got one more game for the rest of our lives. Play our best ball.
  • “I’m proud of this team. Proud of the defense. Lights out all game. I just like how we won against a team that claims that they’re physical and has a lot of players on the same side.
  • “The way we won today is very satisfying.”

Sanders, 25, can become a free agent next season. He has said many times he wants to remain an Eagle. He also has internet access, so he probably knows mock drafts have the Eagles selecting a running back with their second first-round pick.

  • “I had to get my respect,” Sanders said about this season. “I had to earn it. I demanded it this year.
  • “That was one of my main goals, silent goals, that I really didn’t want to tell everybody but I wanted to demand respect and do whatever I can to help this team get to the Super Bowl.
  • “I promised that when I first got drafted here and we’re here now. We just got to finish it. One more game.”

The Eagles’ rushing numbers are textbook examples of grind-it-out playoff football — and maybe a bit contrary to the trendy aerial attacks of many NFL teams. Passing is what teams do now — unless you run out of quarterbacks as the Niners did.

In the AFC title game, Patrick Mahomes passed 43 times and Joe Burrow threw 41 times. In *both* playoff games, Hurts combined for 49 passes. Running the ball has worked for the Eagles. Expect it to continue.

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Chuck Bausman

Chuck Bausman is an Eagles writer for Iggles.com. Chuck formerly was the Executive Sports Editor of the Philadelphia Daily News and the Executive Sports Editor of the Courier-Post in South Jersey. He learned how to cuss by watching Philly sports.

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