The game plan couldn’t have been any simpler.
Stop Derrick Henry, force the Titans to throw more than they want, then unleash the hounds.
It worked perfectly.
In one of their most impressive defensive performances this year, the Eagles held Derrick Henry – the NFL’s leading rusher over the last five years – to just 30 yards, sacked Ryan Tannehill six times, didn’t allow a second-half point and limited the Titans to just 209 total yards.
The Titans, atop the AFC South, were supposed to be one of the Eagles’ biggest challenges this year. Instead, it was a laugher, the Eagles reaching 11-1 with a 35-10 drubbing at the Linc.
“People talking about the Titans were a physical team, maybe the most physical team in the NFL, it didn’t sit right with us,” Haason Reddick said. “When we’ve been playing the way we’ve been playing, I think we set the standard of who’s the most physical team in the NFL. At least this week we did.”
A few weeks ago, the matchup between Henry and the Eagles' run defense would have been scary. But things have changed around here.
On the Titans’ first two drives, he ran five times for 10 yards. The Eagles smothered him, swarmed him, stuffed him. And as their lead grew and grew, the Titans had no choice but to abandon the run and start throwing behind an overmatched offensive line.
Exactly what they didn't want to do. That’s when the sacks started piling up.
Perfect gameplan. Perfect execution.
“I felt like everyone’s attitude was to stop Derrick,” 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.”
Not too long ago, the Eagles’ run defense was among the worst in the league.
From the Cards Week 5 through the Commanders Week 10 the Eagles allowed 144 rushing yards per game. That’s when Howie Roseman signed Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh, and since then they’ve allowed 97 per game.
The strength of this defense is generating pressure, so when the Eagles can stop the run and force teams to throw, they can really make life rough on quarterbacks.
That’s exactly what happened Sunday. The defensive line had six sacks, four tackles for loss and nine quarterback hits.
“In order for us to get the pass rush that we want to, we’ve got to make sure we stop the run up front, and we did that,” Graham said. “We accomplished exactly what we planned on doing and that’s a compliment to J.G. (Jonathan Gannon), he went out there and called a good game, and we just had the attitude that we were going to get them on the ground.”
The Eagles held the Titans to just 59 yards and no points in the second half. They’ve only allowed one offensive touchdown in their last six games after halftime.
“We definitely came in with a little intent to stop that this week,” T.J. Edwards said. “We think we’re pretty physical as well. Again, it was all about winning our one-on-ones and upfront, it was nasty in there. You could just feel the presence of our d-line getting after them and safeties filling in the box when they had to. It was a really good game.”
“I think 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 1-on-1's, winning your area, defeating blocks.”
Fletcher Cox, Linval Joseph, Javon Hargrave, Edwards, Marcus Epps, Reed Blankenship and Kyzir White – and then Nakobe Dean after White got hurt – all played huge roles in the defensive effort on Henry.
The Eagles tackled remarkably well – that was a problem not too long ago - got numbers to the ball and just never gave Henry lanes to run. Once the Titans were in known-throw, Josh Sweat, Haason Reddick and Graham teed off on an overmatched o-line.
After a Titans field goal late in the second quarter trimmed the Eagles’ lead to 14-10, the Eagles outscored Tennessee 21-0 the rest of the way. The Titans managed four first downs on their last seven drives - two after the Eagles' backups entered the game.
The Eagles have now held nine of their last 11 opponents to 17 or fewer offensive points.
“That’s the plan for us every week,” Reddick said. “If we can stop the run, we’ve got so many great rushers, that’s all we've got to do is let them know, ‘Listen, there’s no run game for you.’
“Once we take that away, they’ve got to pass the ball and we’ve got guys who can get after it.”