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Paul Domowitch: Eagles’ Tush Push makes a potent ground game even more lethal

Lincoln Financial Field

Photo Credit by John McMullen/JAKIB Sports

OCR Logo Color 300DPI 2The NFL had an opportunity to ban the Tush Push in the offseason but elected to punt, allowing the Eagles to once again pile up first downs with the QB-sneak-with-friends play.

They’ve used the Tush Push eight times in the last two games, including five times in Monday night’s 25-11 win over Tampa Bay, and cashed them in for seven first downs. The only time they came up empty was on their first drive of the third quarter against the Bucs when Jalen Hurts was thwarted on a third-and-one at the Tampa one-yard line.

But as they say, if you don’t succeed, try, try again. Hurts and the Eagles used the Tush Push again on fourth down from the one and Hurts rode the wave of helping hands into the end zone to give the Eagles a 17-point lead. Although, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how many helping hands, or shoulders, a guy who can squat 600-plus pounds really needs.

Hurts is tied for eighth in the league in rushing first downs with 13. Seven of them have come on Tush Push sneaks. Last season, his 67 rushing first downs were the third most in the NFL behind running backs Josh Jacobs (93) and Nick Chubb (69). Twenty-eight of those 67 came on Tush Push sneaks.

All three of Hurts’ touchdown runs this season have been on Tush Push plays. He’s 2-for-2 (both for TDs) on second-and-1, 3-for-4 on third-and-1 and 2-for-2 (one TD) on fourth-and-1.

Last year, the Eagles used the Tush Push on sneaks 33 times and converted 29 of them. Hurts was 28-for-31, while his backup, Gardner Minshew, was 1-for-2 in the two games he started.

Pushing the runner to advance him forward has been legal in the NFL since 2005. But until head coach Nick Sirianni and then-offensive coordinator Shane Steichen turned it into an art form last season, not many teams really took advantage of it.

Last year, 12 teams had 10 or more quarterback sneaks, but the Eagles were the only one with more than 20. And nobody else was doing the Tush Push.

“We knew the rules,’’ Sirianni said. “Any time we put a play in that maybe not a lot of people run, and that there could be anything within the rules, we’ll always look into that.

“So, we knew that it was completely legal, and it’s been a good play for us. Really good play for us because the guys make it go and make it work.’’

Ground and pound

–The Eagles are second in the league in rushing, averaging 185.7 yards per game on the ground in their first three games. The Dolphins are first at 188.3. The Eagles have racked up back-to-back 200-yard rushing performances the last two weeks, rushing for 201 yards against the Bucs and 259 against the Vikings. They’ve now rushed for 200-plus yards in 11 of Sirianni’s 37 games as head coach.

–D’Andre Swift is second in the league in rushing with 308 yards, just 45 behind the 49ers’ Christian McCaffrey. Former Eagle Miles Sanders is 26th with 141 yards. Swift is averaging 6.8 yards per carry, which is the most of any player with at least 20 carries. Sanders is averaging half of that (3.4) for the Panthers.

–Twelve of Swift’s 45 carries have gained eight yards or more. Only Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson has more (13). Seven of his 16 carries against the Bucs gained eight or more yards, including 26- and 29-yard runs.

–The Eagles had 40 rush attempts against the Bucs and 48 the week before against the Vikings. They only had six games with 40 or more rush attempts in the previous two seasons. Their run-play percentage in the last two games has been 57.5. For the season, it’s 52.8. Only the Ravens have a higher run percentage over the first three games (53.0).

Three-wide looks lead the way

–The Eagles have used 11-personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR) on 66.3% of their offensive plays in the first three games. They’ve used 12-personnel (1RB, 2TE, 2WR) 26.6% and 13P 7.0%

–They used 11P on 43 of 78 plays (55.1%) against the Bucs. They used 11P on 27 of 35 plays in the first half (77.1%). In the second half, they went more to multiple-tight end packages. They used 12P/13P on 28 of their 43 second-half plays (65.1%).

–Swift is averaging 5.8 yards per carry with 11P (24-139) and a whopping 8.0 with 12P (21-169).

Slow-starting offense

–Last season, the Eagles led the league in first-half points (296), second-quarter points (207) and first-half point differential (plus-121). This year, their starts haven’t been quite as jet-fueled. They’ve scored 42 points in the first half in the first three games, just 20 of them in the second quarter, and have a modest plus-18 first-half point differential. Last year, the Eagles put up 72 points in the first half in their first three games.

–The defense hasn’t given up any points yet in the first quarter and has allowed just seven points to opponents on their first three possessions. They’ve held teams to 3.7 yards per play and nine total first downs on their first three possessions.

The Pass Rush

The Eagles, whose 70 sacks last season were the third most in NFL history, have just six in the first three games. Twenty defenses have more sacks than the Eagles.

But that number isn’t indicative of the pressure they’re getting on opposing quarterbacks. It’s indicative of the high priority opposing quarterbacks have put on getting the ball out quickly against them. All three quarterbacks they’ve faced – the Patriots’ Mac Jones, the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins, and the Bucs’ Baker Mayfield – had a quicker snap-to-release time against the Eagles than they did in their other two games this season.

–The Eagles’ defense had 12 sacks in the first three games last season. But that included nine in their 24-8 Week 3 win over Washington. They had 68 total quarterback pressures in the first three weeks last season, including 15 QB hits. In the first three games this season, they’ve got 56 pressures and 17 hits.

–The Commanders could once again be fertile ground for padding their sack numbers this week. Their quarterback, Sam Howell, has been sacked an NFL-high 19 times, including nine times last week by the Bills.

–Rookie Jalen Carter has the fourth-highest pass-rush win percentage (21.9) among interior linemen with at least 40 pass-rush opportunities. The only players with higher win rates: are the Falcons’s David Onyemata (26.8), the Rams’ Aaron Donald (25.3), and the Giants’ Dexter Lawrence (22.2). Not bad company to be in.

–Carter’s 15 total pressures on 76 rush opportunities are the most on the team through three games. Josh Sweat has 12 on 98 rush opps, and Fletcher Cox and Haason Reddick have eight on 94 and 92 rush opportunities respectively.

More stat stuff

–The Eagles’ average drive start in the first three games has been the 31.7 yard line. Their opponents’ has been the 29.1. In the last two games, opponents have had 19 possessions. Just two of them started at their 40-yard line or better.

–The Eagles are second in the league in average time of possession (36:24). The Browns are first (36:36).

–The Eagles have had 153 offensive plays in the last two games. Their opponents have had just 99.

–The Eagles converted just one of five red-zone opportunities into touchdowns against the Bucs on Monday. Jalen Hurts completed just one of seven passes in the red zone. In the first three games, Hurts has completed just three of nine passes for 10 yards and one touchdown in the red zone.

–The Eagles ran 19 plays in the red zone against the Bucs. Ten were run plays and nine were pass plays. In their first two games, 13 of their 17 plays in the red zone were run plays.

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