Eagles’ dominance starts with guys who don’t score touchdowns

PHILADELPHIA – Show some love for the big boys. The self-proclaimed uglies upfront who do all of the dirty work and receive a fraction of the shine compared to the players who score touchdowns and catch interceptions. 

In other words, it’s time to acknowledge that the Philadelphia Eagles’ dominance in the trenches propelled them to the No. 1 seed and is the primary reason why they will host the NFC championship game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. 

Perhaps it is only the 49ers who can even think of challenging the Eagles for having such strong defensive and offensive lines. The teams will have a chance to settle the debate on the field. 

In the NFC divisional round Saturday, the Eagles manhandled the New York Giants on both sides of the ball from the first drive – which ended in a touchdown – to their last play from scrimmage, a Kenneth Gainwell 35-yard touchdown, in a 38-7 victory. 

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Gainwell, a second-year running back who rushed for a career-high 112 yards on 12 carries, said the push the offensive line generated against the Giants was apparent from the very beginning. Philadelphia ran the ball 44 times for 268 yards (6.1 yards per carry). Running back Boston Scott and quarterback Jalen Hurts also had rushing touchdowns in the win. 

‘Our O-line, I can’t say enough about those guys,’ Gainwell said. ‘They know what’s coming. Jalen, too, to get us into position (for) big gains.’

On a second-quarter touchdown drive against the Giants, the Eagles ran nine plays. Eight were runs. Miles Sanders, the team’s primary running back, had his number called on the first six plays of the series and gained 43 yards alone. 

Well, maybe not ‘alone.’ His teammates opened up holes and gave him plenty of room to run. 

‘When we know we’re going to get a chance to run the ball,’ Sanders said after the game, ‘the (offensive line) and running back take it upon ourselves to just make a statement every time.’ 

The Eagles never had worse than the seventh-best rushing performance in the NFL during any week this season. Consistency is what elevates the offensive line. With the return of right tackle Lane Johnson, who is playing through a groin injury, the starting five from the majority of the season is intact. 

‘Having that same continuity on the O-line is a factor, a key stat to winning games,’ left tackle Jordan Mailata said. ‘You have the same five guys who have been together most of the year – almost all year. It helps when you get your star players back, for sure.’ 

The Giants struggled against the run all season (5.23 rushing yards allowed per play, 31st in the NFL) and Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen saw an opportunity to exploit a personnel mismatch. Nonetheless, the Giants have interior defensive linemen Dexter Lawrence, who played at an All-Pro level in 2022, and Leonard Williams. Young edge rushers Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari had assumed larger roles as the season progressed. But the Eagles’ blocking scheme made all of them non-factors. 

Offensive line coach/run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland reminds his unit to never tire of the process, Mailata said. What, exactly, does he mean by that?

‘Just be where your feet are,’ Mailata said. ‘ ‘Oh, this is the play?’ We know the game plan, but we’re not really like, ‘Oh, we’re going to blow them away.’ I think O-lines that think like that put themselves in trouble. We just take every play as it is. Four seconds, not that hard, four seconds, and just execute the right technique. And whatever the next play is, do it again. Just keep going.’ 

Defensively, the Eagles pressured Giants quarterback Daniel Jones on 64% of his dropbacks in the first half, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Philadelphia racked up five sacks, including two on back-to-back plays by Haason Reddick that forced a turnover on downs to end New York’s first drive. 

‘It’s one of those things,’ Reddick said, ‘when you get rhythm, you get real streaky.’

Four Eagles recorded 11 or more sacks during the regular season and the team had seven against the Giants in their first meeting. The front seven’s ability to rush the passer helped the Eagles finish the regular season with 27 takeaways, tied for fourth in the league, but behind Dallas and San Francisco in the NFC.

‘I think this might have been our most complete game thus far,’ Reddick said Saturday. ‘Put some good things on tape and it was able to be a blowout victory. We dominated the trenches (Saturday). That’s a testament to every man in this building.’

The Eagles have a starting quarterback who lost one game all season. Hurts has a pair of star receivers in A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith as his weapons, along with tight end Dallas Goedert. James Bradberry, Darius Slay and C.J. Gardner-Johnson are the nuclei of a solid secondary. 

But what the Eagles have in the trenches is the reason they have advanced – a stretch they hope includes winning the Super Bowl. 

‘The O-line and the D-line, you win there, you’re gonna win a lot of games,’ Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said. ‘And that O-line that we have, that D-line that we have, they’re special. They got special players, and they’ve got special men.’

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.

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