ROLE PLAYERS AND THE LITTLE THINGS HAVE HELPED THE BIRDS TO THEIR 8-1 START
To get past Kansas City, San Francisco, Buffalo and the rest of this tough stretch, the Eagles will need big moments from every corner of the roster
When the 2023 Philadelphia Eagles take to the field, fans can usually count on big games from their All Pro players like quarterback Jalen Hurts, wide receiver A.J. Brown and edge rusher Haason Reddick.
As they did in 2022, those elite players have played a big part in the Eagles great first half of the season; sitting on top of the NFL standings with an 8-1 record coming out of their bye week.
But just as important, the Birds have had contributions in big moments from other spots on the roster, some that went unnoticed at the time. Here are a few from the Birds 28-23 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
The Auburn standout, drafted in the fourth round of the 2020 Draft has played many roles on the Eagles offensive line and has consistently come through.
Last year Driscoll filled in well for All Pro tackle Lane Johnson at right tackle over the final three games of the season while Johnson recovered from a sports hernia.
Against Dallas on November 5, the 6-foot-5, 315-pounder was asked to come on cold after the Eagles defense stopped the Cowboys on fourth down and just inches from the goal line.
The Birds were starting the ensuing drive less than the length of a football from their goal line.
A safety could spell disaster in a game that eventually came down to the last second.
Head coach Nick Sirianni called for a quarterback sneak, a formation that has been virtually unstoppable since last year. The play has earned several nicknames including the “Cheek Sneak,” “Philly Shove,” “Brotherly Shove” and the original “Tush Push.”
The Birds needed some room, so the play was called. One problem…tight end Dallas Goedert is almost always in the play which has many formations…this version called for three tight ends.
Only two were available, so Driscoll was asked to play a role he had never practiced.
The play was executed seamlessly.
“I was in at tight end, Dallas had gotten hurt,” Driscoll said. “We run three tight ends. They (the coaches) said go in there and you know how to run ‘Snoopy, right?’ I've done it as a guard and tackle…They said just get off on the ball and run your feet, and just get low and understand the magnitude of being on that one-inch line. You’ve got to get one or two yards, give the offense room to work with. So yeah, I went in there and took pride in just trying to do my part and help the team.”
When Sirianni was asked about how he looks at a player like Driscoll, who can come in and nail a play that had so much on the line.
“I love that question: Sirianni said. “These guys work so hard. These backup players work so hard to be ready for their opportunity, so hard.
“Yesterday was a great example of that, and that’s such great examples that you can show how important practice is, how important walkthrough is, how important individual preparation is, how important position meetings are, all of those different things.
“Everybody’s locked in, at the end of the day, Jack wasn’t getting those reps in practice, Dallas was. So, that takes a commitment and mental toughness to make sure you’re ready to go when your number is called and why you’re ready to go, you’re ready to go because you’ve put in the work to prep yourself, even though you may not have had the reps.
“As far as the question about Jack being there, we do that play out of so many different personnels. That particular play, it was a 13 personnel play, we only had two tight ends up, so we needed an extra offensive lineman to go in there and execute at that part of the field, and he did.
"So, I guess I would say if we needed [Jack Driscoll] to do it again, yes we can use him. But if were not in that personnel grouping, we might not need him to do so.
“But I know this, like you said, Jack Driscoll will be ready because of the person and the player and the teammate he is.”
With 1:08 left in the third quarter and the Eagles up 28-17 having just scored on a four-yard pass from Jalen Hurts to A.J. Brown, Dal Prescott and the Cowboys started a drive from their own 28-yard line.
Prescott was hitting CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup with passes of 20 and 11 yards…then to Tony Pollard for seven more. The Cowboys matriculated the ball downfield with ease.
But the drive stalled at the Birds one-yard line with 10:10 left in the fourth quarter.
Instead of kicking a chip shot field goal to make a one-score game, head coach Mike McCarthy goes for it.
Sneak? Nope. Prescott throws a pass to rookie tight end Luke Schoonmaker who caught the ball right at the goal line.
At first, the officials called it a touchdown. But upon further review, Schoonmaker’s knee touched the ground just inches before the ball broke the plane of the goal line.
On the goal line play, Blankenship was asked if he knew Luke Schoonmaker was short of the end zone when he caught the ball and failed to score by the slimmest of margins.
As soon as the play ended the second-year safety out of Middle Tennessee State waived to the official that it was not a touchdown. Working the ref, or did he really know?
“Honestly, yeah,” said Blankenship, who almost immediately walked back his statement…a little. “I mean, it was more 85 percent that I had him out. And then obviously you saw a video he was out. But it was just one of many situations (that night). So, luckily he was out.”
Blankenship was asked how he felt after he left the field having kept Dallas from
“It felt great,”Blankenship said. “It comes with communication and all that and like, they trust me, it's all about trust, and we believe in everybody that's on our home field. So it's just good.”
Blankenship was also involved with one more close call.
With 46 seconds left in the game, Prescott almost pulled off what might have been the biggest regular season win of his eight-year career.
He moved his team from their own 14-yard line to the Eagles six with still 27 seconds on the clock. But somehow the Cowboys committed two five-yard penalties and gave up an eleven-yard sack to Josh Sweat.
With five seconds left and the ball now on the Eagles 27, trailing by five points, Prescott threw a pass to Lamb at the Birds four-yard line.
Slay and safety Sydney Brown were right there to bring Lamb to the ground. Lamb fumbled on the play and Blankenship, who was right there tackling Lamb, recovered the fumble.
“They ran a great designed play there,” Slay said at his locker after the game. “Our thought process was…if he catches it, we gotta have him. Nothing else. We did a great job getting him down. And got the ‘W’”.
Blankenship said it was one simple strategy on that final play.
“It’s just one of those in-the-game situations where you just got to keep them out the end zone,” Blankenship said. “It's their last desperate play and obviously, if you keep them out of the end zone and you win. We did that; we executed and got off the field.
“You can't really think it's like, you’ve got to read your keys and go,” Blankenship continued. “You don't have time to think about ‘Oh my gosh; there’s one second left. It's just…we’re in-the-game situation…keep them out of the end zone and we win.”
Honorable mention for the Eagles defensive end as he is already a big star. His eleven-yard sack of Dak Prescott with 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter was as big as any play of a game with so many big plays. Photo by Andy Lewis.
Over the last six games, the Eagles running game has not been as productive as it was last year and not what it was over the first three games this season.
A big part of the decline is the loss of Jalen Hurts as a threat to run the ball.
Eagles RB1, D’Andre Swift had two monster games at the start of the season. The first big game for Swift, against the Minnesota Vikings, produced a career high of 175 yards on 28 carries and a touchdown.
The second, against Tampa Bay, saw the 24-year-old carry the ball 16 times for 130 yards…both were Eagles victories.
After that, Hurts’ knee brace started to appear and the threat was gone.
In the six games after his outburst, Swift has rushed for 366 yards on 90 carries and two touchdowns. That’s 60 yards per game over that six-game span.
Swift fumbled three times over those six games, losing one in the team’s lone loss to the Jets.
The other two came against the Dallas Cowboys on November 5.
The first fumble was in the second quarter and Swift recovered the ball on his own.
No harm other than one-yard loss on the play.
The second fumble could not only have had a serious impact on the outcome of the game, but for the season.
With just 1:17 left in the fourth quarter and the Birds hanging on to a five-point lead, the Eagles had a first and ten from their own 29-yard line.
Sirianni was just going to call running plays, all to Swift in an effort to run out the clock, get Dallas to use their timeouts and above all, not turn the ball over.
First down to Swift went for two yards, Dallas timeout.
Second down to Swift went for one yard, Dallas timeout.
Third down to Swift was a disaster…after taking the handoff, Swift collided with A.J. Brown from behind, who was the lead blocker.
The ball came out and hit the ground. At first, it looked like Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons had his hands on the ball, but in the darkest corner of the scrum, somehow Eagles rookie guard Tyler Steen found the ball and didn’t let go.
It was a huge play and Steen probably earned a free dinner from his running back teammate.
When asked how Steen played in the game, Sirianni was curiously a bit cool with his evaluation of the former Alabama standout offensive lineman.
“I think [Steen] played pretty good. Obviously, he's going to want plays back. A couple times he got matched up with some different guys, and you've got to go through some of those adversities to continue to grow as a player.
“I thought he played a good game, though, being his first start, being a rookie, going against a really good defense, I thought he played a good game.
"Obviously, any time you get reps, that's beneficial for you. And he did a good job. He's in between Jason and Lane (Johnson), so that obviously helps.
“But that was a good front that we went against, and I thought he did a lot of good things, and I thought he got more and more comfortable as the game progressed.
“We are going to need all hands-on deck continuing on going into this next game versus Kansas City. So, we'll need Cam (Jurgens). We'll need Tyler. We'll need Sua (Opeta). Glad we have the depth that we have and look forward to them continuing to grow as players.”
Steen may also be called on for the all-hands team. *
Email Al Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Some stats are from www.pro-football-reference.com.