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Eagles' defense has become the No Run Zone | David Murphy

David Murphy, STAFF COLUMNIST

Updated: Sunday, November 5, 2017, 5:54 PM

Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry bends back Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson during the first quarter on Sunday.

All week, Malcolm Jenkins and other members of the Eagles’ defense heard the chatter. They heard about Von Miller, and Chris Harris, and Aqib Talib, and the No Fly Zone, and the nightmares that all of these things were supposed to induce in their teammates on the opposite side of the football. There was an easy inference to make, and the Eagles milked it for all of the motivational power it was worth.

Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor watches the football against Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris during the fourth-quarter on Sunday, November 5, 2017 in Philadelphia. Agholor caught the ball. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles' Corey Clement, center, celebrates a 3rd quarter touchdown with Stefen Wisniewski, left, and Carson Wentz, right, as the play the Broncos. Philadelphia Eagles win 51-23 over the Denver Broncos in Philadelphia, PA on November 5, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photogra
Eagles running back Corey Clement raises the football after scoring in the third-quarter against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, November 5, 2017 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz leaves Lincoln Financial Field after the game against the Broncos November 5, 2017 at Lincoln Financial Field. Wentz was 15 of 27 for 199 yards and four touchdowns the Eagles won 51-23. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler fumbles the football against Eagles defensive end Chris Long (right) and Eagles defensive tackle Beau Allen during the third-quarter on Sunday, November 5, 2017 in Philadelphia. The Broncos recovered the fumble. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles' Rodney McLeod, center, returns a 3rd quarter interception against the Broncos. Philadelphia Eagles win 51-23 over the Denver Broncos in Philadelphia, PA on November 5, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photogra
Eagles Head Coach Doug Pederson and running backs coach Duce Staley celebrates Eagles running back Corey Clement's fourth-quarter running touchdown against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, November 5, 2017 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey catches a 4-yard touchdown pass despite the efforts of Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib in the 3rd quarter of the game November 5, 2017 at Lincoln Financial Field. Eagles won 51-23. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey celebrates with quarterback Carson Wentz after they hooked up on a 4-yard touchdown pass in the 3rd quarter of the game against the Broncos November 5, 2017 at Lincoln Financial Field. Eagles won 51-23. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham chases down Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler and sacks him for a 3-yard loss in the 4th quarter of the game November 5, 2017 at Lincoln Financial Field. Eagles won 51-23. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Eagles' Vinny Curry celebrates a 1st quarter stop as the Philadelphia Eagles play the Denver Broncos in Philadelphia, PA on November 5, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photogra
Eagles' Carson Wentz throws during the 2nd quarter as the Philadelphia Eagles play the Denver Broncos in Philadelphia, PA on November 5, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photogra
Eagles' Jaylen Watkins, left, stops the Broncos' C.J. Anderson, right, on 3rd down. Broncos settled for a field goal in the 2nd quarter. Philadelphia Eagles play the Denver Broncos in Philadelphia, PA on November 5, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photogra
Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery raises the football after scoring a first-quarter touchdown past Denver Broncos free safety Darian Stewart on Sunday, November 5, 2017 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles defensive backs Corey Graham (left), Patrick Robinson (center) and Rodney McLeod (right) smother Broncos receiver Isaiah McKenzie and break up this 1st quarter pass in the the game November 5, 2017 at Lincoln Financial Field. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Eagles running back Jay Ajayi runs for a 46-yard second-quarter touchdown against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, November 5, 2017 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
New Eagles running back Jay Ajayi acknowledges the fans as he leaves Lincoln Financial Field after the game against the Broncos November 5, 2017 at Lincoln Financial Field. Ajayi had one touchdown as the Eagles won 51-23. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Eagles running back Jay Ajayi claps after running for a 46-yard second-quarter touchdown against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, November 5, 2017 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
New Eagles running Jay Ajayi gets pumped up with running backs coach Duce Staley during warmups prior to the the game November 5, 2017 against the visiting Denver Broncos. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
New Eagles running Jay Ajayi acknowledges the applause of the fans after scoring a 46-yard touchdown run in the the game November 5, 2017 against the visiting Denver Broncos. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Eagles' Nigel Bradham, left, tackles the Broncos' quarterback Brock Osweiler, right, in the 4th quarter. Philadelphia Eagles win 51-23 over the Denver Broncos in Philadelphia, PA on November 5, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photogra
Eagles running back Corey Clement runs past Denver Broncos inside linebacker Brandon Marshall (right) and outside linebacker Von Miller during the third-quarter on Sunday, November 5, 2017 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles strong safety Malcolm Jenkins (right) and defensive end Brandon Graham stop Denver Broncos running back Devontae Booker during the second-quarter on Sunday, November 5, 2017 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles running back Jay Ajayi scores on a 46-yard run past Denver Broncos free safety Darian Stewart during the second-quarter on Sunday, November 5, 2017 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles running back Jay Ajayi scores on a 46-yard run past Denver Broncos free safety Darian Stewart during the second-quarter on Sunday, November 5, 2017 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles' Corey Clement leaps into the end zone for a 1st quarter touchdown as the Philadelphia Eagles play the Denver Broncos in Philadelphia, PA on November 5, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photogra
Eagles cornerback Patrick Robinson runs with the football after a interception with teammate free safety Rodney McLeod against the Denver Broncos during the first-quarter on Sunday, November 5, 2017 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz floats the football past Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller during the first-quarter on Sunday, November 5, 2017 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Injured Eagles tight end Zach Ertz walks on the field during player introductions before the Eagles play the Denver Broncos on Sunday, November 5, 2017 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles' fans and players celebrate a 1st quarter touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery against the Broncos. Philadelphia Eagles win 51-23 over the Denver Broncos in Philadelphia, PA on November 5, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photogra
Eagles' Jay Ajayi was all smiles as he rested on the sideline as the Philadelphia Eagles win 51-23 over the Denver Broncos in Philadelphia, PA on November 5, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photogra
Photo Gallery: Photos from the Eagles' 51-23 win over the Broncos

“They’re coming into our house,” Jenkins said, putting an emphasis on the word, “our.” “It was one of those things where we felt like it was an opportunity for us to make a statement.”

Well, consider it stated. Even on a day when the Eagles’ offense racked up 51 points and 419 yards against one of the most accomplished defenses in recent NFL history, it was impossible to overlook the sheer dominance Jim Schwartz’s unit imposed on a hapless Broncos offense. While the headline was undoubtedly the Eagles’ relentless pressure on an overwhelmed Brock Osweiler — they sacked him three times, picked him off twice, and probably could have added at least one or two more of both — the foundation for the performance was laid with their success in stopping the run on first and second down.

In a 51-23 win that further bolstered the Eagles case as the NFC’s leading Super Bowl contender, a dominant front seven limited Denver to just 35 yards on 19 rushing attempts, an average of a measly 1.8 yards per play. It was the seventh straight game that the Eagles held an opponent under 95 yards rushing, and the eighth game in nine games total, the lone exception a Week 2 loss to the Chiefs in which Kareem Hunt carried 13 times for 81 yards and Kansas City totaled 112 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.

“We knew they would have to protect their quarterback and the only way they could do that was to try to run the ball,” Jenkins said. “So we knew we’d have to come off the bus stopping the run.”

Their success in doing so has been one of the more under-the-radar reasons for the Eagles’ 8-1 start. They entered the game allowing just 3.8 yards per carry, the ninth-best mark among NFL defenses. Their 70.4 rushing yards allowed per game was the best mark in the league, just ahead of the Broncos’ 72.9.

[Eagles continue to raise bar, then surpass it]

One of the pivotal sequences in this one came midway through the second quarter, when a 30-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders helped move the Broncos deep inside Eagles territory, where Denver eventually found itself with a first-and-goal on the Eagles’ 5-yard line. Trailing 24-6, the Broncos had a chance to make it a two-possession game heading into halftime. Not ideal, but the closest thing to offensive momentum that they’d achieved to that point. But the Eagles put the clamps down, stopping C.J. Anderson on first and second down for a net of negative yardage, setting up a third-down pass from the 6-yard line that fell incomplete and forced the Broncos to settle for their third field goal.

On a Broncos possession that began at their own 8-yard line late in the first quarter, the Eagles stuffed Denver on three straight running plays for zero, minus-2 and minus-1 yard (one of which was wiped out by an offside penalty).

“When you know it’s a run, we’re calling it out,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “So if we see it, we just trust it and go with it. Sometimes it’s play-action, but at least we have the mindset of ‘This is a power play or this is a trap play.’ Usually, that’s what people run in certain situations.”

Graham pointed to a Jamaal Charles run early in the fourth quarter on first-and-goal from the Eagles’ 2 that Mychal Kendricks stuffed for a minimal gain.

“That’s because people were yelling, ‘Trap! Trap! Trap!,” Graham said. “That’s why we’re so good against the run, because everybody is reading their keys and trusting their game preparation. It’s paying off because we know what is coming.”

[Eagles 51, Broncos 23: Five quick observations]

The Eagles success in stopping the run on first down has helped make them one of the most dangerous third-down defenses in the league, particularly against below-average quarterbacks like Osweiler and C.J. Beathard, against whom they’d spent the previous Sunday teeing off. Osweiler and the Denver offense converted just three of their 13 third-down attempts. On the opposite side of the ball, the Eagles rushed for 197 yards on 37 carries against the Broncos’ vaunted defense.

“They always don’t give us credit,” Graham said, “but we have to go out there and keep putting people on notice that the Eagles are new and improved.”

In doing so, they are getting harder and harder to ignore.

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David Murphy, STAFF COLUMNIST

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