The Philadelphia Eagles threw a new wrinkle at the Buffalo Bills that produced the biggest play of the game Sunday at New Era Field.
Miles Sanders’ 65-yard touchdown run was a case of good play design and even better blocking execution by the Eagles. It tops the plays that shaped Philadelphia’s 31-13 victory.
1. Sanders to the house: On the second play of the third quarter, the Eagles lined up with three receivers out wide and both running backs – Sanders and Jordan Howard – in the backfield. They had not run that grouping – 20 personnel – in the first seven games this year.
They did run it once in the first half, but instead of handing off from the shotgun formation, quarterback Carson Wentz threw a slant pass for Alshon Jeffery that fell incomplete. This time he handed off, and Howard led Sanders through the hole off left guard.
Bills defensive tackle Star Lotulelei crashed down inside toward the center, taking himself out of the running lane.
Howard met Matt Milano with a full head of steam and knocked the Bills’ linebacker backward 5 yards. All-Pro Jason Kelce, as mobile as any center in the NFL, got out quickly on Tremaine Edmunds.
Neither Milano nor Edmunds could shed their blocks. Micah Hyde, the safety on that side of the field, came toward the line of scrimmage too quickly. Sanders blew by him.
The Bills said they messed up the defensive call.
“Just poor communication on our part,” said Hyde.
“We just didn’t fit it right,” said safety Jordan Poyer. “It was a little miscommunication on the run fit. It’s a run fit we work on all the time. We just didn’t do it right.”
“We just got to be good with our keys, fit it up right and just execute,” Edmunds said.
In the Eagles’ locker room afterward, there was praise all around for Howard’s block on Milano.
“When you have a set like we had, they were probably expecting us to run a route or something,” said Sanders, referring to the shotgun, three-receiver group. “They probably weren’t expecting us to run the ball in that formation. We haven’t showed that this year.”
“The block that Jordan made was spectacular,” Sanders said. “That play doesn’t happen without him. When I saw the hole, I just took it. I didn’t even feel nobody behind me. I felt like I was going (all the way) the whole time. I was just running, and when I crossed the goal line it was a great feeling.”
“That was sweet,” Wentz said.
It was the longest run allowed by the Bills in almost six years, since an 80-yard TD run by Tampa Bay’s Bobby Rainey on Dec. 8, 2013.
“That was a new kind of play we wanted to put in this week, take advantage of our two running backs,” said Eagles coach Doug Pederson. "Jordan had a tremendous block on that play, and Miles just kind of pulled away and showed his speed.”
Sanders, a second-round pick, sat for two years at Penn State behind current New York Giants back Saquon Barkley. Sanders rushed for 1,274 yards and 5.8 yards a carry for the Nittany Lions last year. He ran a 4.49-second time in the 40-yard dash before the draft.
2. Fourth-down miss. Trailing, 24-13, late in the third quarter, the Bills squandered a scoring chance when Josh Allen threw incomplete on a post route for John Brown on a fourth-and-10 play from the Eagles’ 38.
It was a good throw, but Brown didn’t run his route properly, which allowed Ronald Darby to break up the pass.
“I thought I would make it with a body catch,” Brown said. “At the end of the day, it was a great throw by Josh. Honestly, I ran the wrong route. That’s me. I take the blame for that. I was supposed to come flatter to an in-route. Instead I ran the post. That was on me and I take the blame for that.”
“He made a nice play most definitely,” Brown said of Darby. “Josh tried to make me right with a great throw.”
3. Allen sack. On the play before the incompletion to Brown, Allen took a 2-yard sack. Allen had tight end Tyler Kroft wide open near the right sideline but didn’t see him.
4. Allen fumble. The Bills should have taken a 7-3 lead into halftime. Instead, defensive end Brandon Graham forced Allen to fumble on a quarterback sweep around right tackle. The Eagles recovered at the Buffalo 24 and converted the turnover into a touchdown.
Graham explained the pre-snap situation. The Bills audibled. Then the Eagles adjusted their defense to account for the audible.
“I was supposed to slant down,” Graham said, referring to a move inside toward the Bills’ tackle. “They seen me stem. It was one of those things where they did a hard count to see if I was coming down. They made a check at the line.”
“Nate Geary or somebody back there behind me was like, ‘POWER, POWER,’ ” Graham said, referring to a pulling play off tackle. “We knew they liked to run that power, that stretch G-C where the guard and center pull. So I played to the tight end, went across his face. I was right there. I just poked at the ball. It ended up coming out, getting a strip.”
Said Allen: “That’s a play that coach puts in my hands, and I have to be better with taking care of the football. It’s just one of those, they got a hat on it and they made a play when they need to, and it’s one that shouldn’t happen.”