The Eagles Confusingly Abandoned Their Biggest Strength, and It Almost Cost Them Against the Bears

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Jalen Hurts leads an Eagles huddle.

The Philadelphia Eagles were on an absolute roll heading into their Week 15 tilt against the Chicago Bears. In the previous three games, the NFC East leaders went 3-0 and put up 123 total points. Miles Sanders exploded for 311 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 48 carries during that span.

Going up against a Bears defense that ranks 27th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game, it felt obvious that the Eagles would feed Sanders early and often to build a comfortable lead. Instead, Philadelphia abandoned the running game and didn’t give Sanders his first touch until midway through the second quarter, and it almost cost the team a victory.

The Eagles brought a lazy game plan to Chicago in Week 15

There hasn’t been much to complain about for Eagles fans in regard to head coach Nick Sirianni and offensive coordinator/play-caller Shane Steichen this season. Philadelphia ranks second in the NFL in points per game (29.4), second in red-zone touchdown percentage (73.91%), and third in yards per game (392.0).

Sirianni and Steichen have been exceptional at targeting their opponent’s weakness, but against the Bears in Week 15, they got lazy for the first time all year.

I don’t know if it was an effort to pad Jalen Hurts’ MVP resume or if they simply overlooked Chicago’s defense, but it took them until the middle of the second quarter to call the first designed run for a running back. Considering Sanders entered the week as the fifth-leading rusher in the NFL, it was shocking to see him completely shut out of the game plan early on.

The Penn State product recorded just three carries and 12 rushing yards in the first half. Meanwhile, Hurts rushed seven times and attempted 16 passes before halftime. He threw two interceptions and took a few damaging hits along the way.

Here’s how Philly’s first three possessions went:

-Jalen Hurts rushes for six yards
-Jalen Hurts rushes for one yard
-Jalen Hurts passes to DeVonta Smith for 21 yards
-Jalen Hurts interception

-Incomplete pass
-Incomplete pass
-Incomplete pass

-Jalen Hurts rushes for two yards
-Jalen Hurts passes to DeVonta Smith for 45 yards
-Incomplete pass
-Jalen Hurts passes to A.J. Brown for 16 yards
-Jalen Hurts passes to Quez Watkins for one yard
-Incomplete pass
-Jalen Hurts passes to A.J. Brown for nine yards
-Field goal

Zero running back carries in the first three possessions of the game. That’s unacceptable for a team with the best offensive line in the league and a Pro Bowl-caliber RB in the backfield. The Eagles needed a Hurts touchdown run in the final minute of the first half to take the lead for the first time. They went on to win, 25-20, but the questionable offensive approach almost cost them the game.

The Eagles can’t afford to make the same mistake again

Jalen Hurts leads an Eagles huddle.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts leads a huddle during a game against the Chicago Bears | Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

After getting just three carries in the first half, Sanders saw more work in the second half and finished the game with 11 carries for 42 yards. He was crucial down the stretch when the Eagles were attempting to ice the game away.

Philadelphia may have gotten away with the pass-happy game plan this time, but this coaching staff can’t afford to make the same mistake again. What happens if Steichen abandons the run early and the Eagles fall behind in a playoff game? They’ll be forced to air it out even more, and their opponent will know it’s coming by then. That’s exactly what happened in the wild-card matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year, and we all know how that ended up.

The Eagles have an unstoppable rushing attack when everyone is involved, but they don’t like to lean on it as consistently as they should. You can get away with that against the Bears, but not against smarter and more talented teams once the playoffs roll around.