When asked about his team’s physical identity, Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni unsurprisingly used an analogy:
“When you get on a bus to go to the game, you never want to go to that game without your guys that are tough. I feel that's a common denominator of a lot of guys on this football team. We've got tough, gritty guys. That's going to help you win a lot of football games throughout.”
You definitely don’t want to get on the bus without T.J. Edwards or Jordan Howard.
Because despite all the odds against them, the Eagles’ linebacker and running back have become the embodiment of the Eagles’ new physical identity.
And that identity showed up in a big way in their 40-29 win over the Saints on Sunday afternoon.
Edwards began the 2021 season buried on the Eagles’ depth chart at linebacker and Howard was stuck on the practice squad. But since the two of them became focal points on their respective sides of the ball four weeks ago in Detroit, something has changed with the Eagles.
And they’ve now won three of their last four games.
On defense, Edwards has become the team’s starting MIKE linebacker, shoring up that position and that entire side of the ball with a toughness that had been missing.
On offense, with Howard leading the way, the Eagles have become proponents of smashmouth football, happy to let their big offensive line move forward and impose its collective will on defensive lines.
Edwards and Howard are incredibly physical. And that physicality is contagious.
“I think it was a good, physical game,” Sirianni said. “That’s something that we really wanted to do is be physical in this game. I thought our guys really showed that. You guys have asked me a little bit about identity, and I can share with you what we talked about with our team -- and I don’t think it’s about plays you call, or defenses you call, or special teams calls you call, it was about our team is close. It’s a close-knit group of guys that connect. It’s a physical group of guys and it’s guys that leave everything out there on the field.
“That’s what we really talked about last night. You guys have asked me a couple times about identity, and what I just wanted to say to them is, hey, our identity is these three things that I just mentioned right there. That was really on display today.”
In his career, Edwards’ athleticism has been questioned, but he has great instincts and when he gets a chance to hit someone, he hits them.
In the last month, Edwards has 44 tackles, 3 TFLs, 3 PBUs, 1 QB hit, 1 INT and 1 FR. Edwards filled up the stat sheet on Sunday, including picking up his second career interception.
But it’s about more than the stats.
“T.J. brings a physicality that really is contagious,” Sirianni said. “And he continues to come after the ball.”
Howard brings a similar level of physicality to the Eagles’ offense. He exited Sunday’s win in the second half with a knee injury, but before then was still the Eagles’ most effective runner despite the return of Miles Sanders. Before his injury, Howard had 10 carries for 63 yards.
In his four games this season, Howard has 51 carries for 274 yards (5.4) and 4 touchdowns. He’s rushing at a higher per-carry clip than he did as a rookie in 2016 when he went to the Pro Bowl.
And Howard is doing it with his typical no-nonsense approach. No dancing, no hesitating, just hitting the hole hard and getting upfield.
Sirianni on Sunday was asked if he would have described his team as physical and tough a month ago.
“I think these guys have always had that physicality and toughness,” he answered. “And, yeah, I'd like to say that I've seen that from them the entire time through. Whether that was the joint practices with different teams that we had joint practices with, or the training camp practices or the practices we've had or games we've had. I know we've had tough guys.”
Two of them just had to wait their turn.
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