PHILADELPHIA - The Eagles believe they've found a formula on offense and veteran running back Jordan Howard is a big part of it.
Howard's north-south, physical downhill running style has helped Philadelphia transform from a spread team that got pushed around early in the season to a smash-mouth bunch relying on a powerful offensive line that pushes around opposing defenses.
The metamorphosis started in Las Vegas and was completed in Detroit before carrying over to Lincoln Financial Field against the Los Angles Chargers last week.
Over that three-week span, the Eagles rushed for 135 yards in Vegas, a gaudy 236 in Detroit, and 176 against the Chargers as they shifted from RPO-heavy to play-action dominant.
Howard was the biggest part of that resurgence as a practice-squad elevation against the Lions and LAC, running for a combined 128 yards and three touchdowns.
The 182.3 yards-per-game on the ground over the past three weeks would be leading the entire NFL by over 20 yards-per-game but the asterisk there is that the Raiders, Lions, and Chargers have bottom-five, run-stopping defenses while the Eagles' upcoming opponent, the Denver Broncos, are No. 6 in the NFL and allow less-than 100 yards-per-game (98.3 to be exact) on the ground.
Despite the shift in competition the Eagles want to force the Broncos to live up to their reputation with Howard being a big part of that.
A six-year veteran who was once a two-time 1,000-yard rusher and Pro Bowl selection in Chicago, Howard has been very effective dating back to 2019 with the Eagles when he wrested the RB1 job away from then-rookie Miles Sanders with solid games at Buffalo and vs. the Bears before a shoulder/stinger injury essentially shut him down.
A poor season as a free-agent signing in Miami led to an in-season return with the Eagles in 2020 but Howard had gone from the penthouse to the outhouse as a player and thought that his NFL run was coming to an end in this offseason when the phone wasn't exactly lighting up.
The Eagles had a history with Howard, however, and liked the Indiana University product, agreeing to bring him on as a safety net for a backfield now headlined by Sanders and Boston Scott before being further supplemented by rookie Kenny Gainwell in the draft.
Howard was intent on doing everything possible to take advantage of what might have been his final opportunity.
"I had a great offseason, probably my best offseason so far," Howard said on Friday after the team's next-to-last tune-up for Sunday's game. "... I looked in the mirror, I looked at what I needed to change and what I needed to do differently."
First on Howard's to-do list was losing weight and regaining his explosiveness.
"I needed to lose weight so I can get into better shape," Howard admitted while confirming he dropped from 234 pounds to 225. "I also started working out a lot earlier than I usually did, so it helped me get into great shape."
The big back had a great training camp and deserved to make the Eagles' initial 53-man roster but the COVID-19 roster rules, which were extended into 2021, actually hurt solid vested-veteran who weren't permitted to be on the practice squad pre-COVID.
With that as an option, the Eagles went young understanding that Howard would likely be there when needed.
"Going into training camp, I told myself if I don’t make the team, it’s not going to be because I didn’t do well. It’s because it was a numbers game," Howard said. "I felt like I put in the work, but things didn’t go my way. That’s life. Things won’t always go your way. When you face adversity, it’s how you respond to it."
And respond to it, Howard did.
"Everyone in my inner circle encouraged me to keep going even when things weren’t looking good for me," Howard said, admitting there were some bad days. "...The first day, I’m on the practice squad, I’m on the ‘look’ team, and stuff like that. That’s just my reality right now. Game days were pretty tough for me. Just trying to be there and support the guys."
When Sanders went down with an ankle injury in Las Vegas the Eagles broke the Howard glass in case of emergency with consecutive PS elevations.
With the limit of elevations reached against the Chargers, Howard was promoted to the 53-man roster this week but Sanders is eligible to return next Sunday against New Orleans, a scenario which could put Howard on the waiver wire.
"I’d be thankful that I got to play a few games," the veteran said. "That’s all I wanted was the opportunity to show what I can do. I’m just grateful for that."
The Eagles, meanwhile, are grateful for Howard. While Sanders has the talent to be a star, Nick Sirianni's offense has been more effective with Howard's no-nonsense running style.
"I still view myself as that [Pro Bowl] player," said Howard. "I feel like I’m better now. But what I did in the past doesn’t matter because it’s like, what have you done for me lately? Just gotta focus on the next task at hand. None of the past really matters. Just gotta keep pushing forward."
-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.