Eagles analysis

Why trust from Brian Johnson helped Eagles run through the Vikings

Eagles offensive coordinator Brian Johnson trusted his offensive line on Thursday and it helped get a big win.

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During the Eagles’ team meeting on Wednesday night, offensive coordinator Brian Johnson spoke a lot about trust.

It was the word of the night.

“Trust in each other, trust in everybody, players, coaches,” Jordan Mailata said. “I think that’s what happened tonight. He spoke about it yesterday and then he lived by it today.”

After the Eagles’ offense hit a rough patch in the first half, Johnson began to trust the run game. And it paid off in a major way in the Eagles’ 34-28 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday Night Football. The Eagles are far from perfect, but they’re 2-0.

And by the end of Thursday’s game, the Eagles had rushed for 259 yards and D’Andre Swift went off for a career-high 175, running behind the talented offensive line. Those 259 yards are the second most of the Nick Sirianni Era and the Eagles ended up controlling the clock for over 39 minutes.

It was a dominant performance from the O-line and from Swift.

But what was perhaps most encouraging was that Johnson, the first-year OC, was able to adjust and figure out what worked. The Vikings were clearly hell-bent on taking away downfield explosives and were conceding chunks in the run game. 

So Johnson didn’t overthink it. He kept calling runs and the Eagles kept moving the sticks.

“Obviously, it can be kind of monotonous for the play-caller,” longtime center Jason Kelce said. “‘OK, am I just gonna call inside zone 18 times?’ But I think that’s the mark of somebody that’s taking what the defense is giving them and being smart. I think with what was happening out there, that was something clearly that we were having success with. Even though it appears simple, it can be harder than it appears to stay with it.”

After some rather uninspired offensive play-calling early in Thursday night’s game — there were boos from fans to express their displeasure — the Eagles got the ball at the 10:39 mark of the second quarter on their own 25-yard line and began to run the ball right down the Vikings’ throats. That’s when things changed.

The Eagles went on a monster 16-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took 7:55 off the clock. What really stood out, though, was that 13 of those 16 plays were runs. And most of them were just inside zones.

It worked. And the Eagles’ OL loved it.

“We could look across the field and see that their D-line is getting tired and that gives you a lot more juice as an offense,” right guard Cam Jurgens said. “When you look across and see them tired, it don’t matter how you feel. Let’s keep doing it. Let’s keep running it.”

On that huge second quarter drive, which gave the Eagles a 10-7 lead, Swift carried the ball eight times for 39 yards and really began to get in a rhythm.

So the Eagles kept feeding him the rock.

By the end of the game, Swift had 175 yards, the most on the ground for an Eagles running back since LeSean McCoy’s 217-yard performance against the Lions in the Snow Bowl back in 2013.

“I think that D’Andre was kind of hot tonight so don’t mess with it,” Landon Dickerson said. “Let him do his thing.”

The Eagles on Thursday night had 24 first downs and 19 of them came on the ground. Mailata said it felt like the Vikings were daring them to run the ball, so they did.

It wasn’t just Mailata who appreciated the vote of confidence from Johnson.

“It feels good,” Jurgens said. “When we come to the sideline and tell him what we think and he listens and he trusts us. And we trust him to put us in the right calls and I think he did a great job today. We’re really happy with how we’re running that ball and how the running backs are flying.”

While the Eagles will eventually need to find more success through the air and Jalen Hurts will need to correct some of his issues from the first two weeks, what makes this team so dangerous is the variety of ways it can win. So when the passing attack isn’t working or they’re struggling to find a rhythm, it’s a nice option to lean on the offensive line and let them clear the way.

If you think back to the midway point in the 2021 season, when Shane Steichen took over play-calling duties from Nick Sirianni, it was the run game that helped turn that season around.

Sirianni has now been the Eagles’ head coach for 36 regular season games and the Eagles have rushed for 200+ yards in 10 of them. To put that into perspective, the Eagles had just 5 games with 200+ rushing in 80 games during Doug Pederson’s five-year stint as head coach.

Those 10 games of 200+ yards also lead the NFL since the start of the 2021 season. The next closest teams are the Browns and Bears, each with seven.

The Eagles have a ton of great skill players and they have a quarterback who was an MVP runner-up last year, but they still run the football better than any other team in the NFL.

“That’s something we know is our strength,” Mailata said. “And I’m glad Brian (Johnson) had a lot of trust in us to go out there and execute.”

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