Their ineptness at stopping the run basically ended their Super Bowl hopes when they were gashed for 208 rushing yards by the New Orleans Saints in the NFC playoffs.
If the Eagles come up short again this season, it won't be because of their deficiencies against the run. On Sunday, they held the league's leading rusher, Adrian Peterson, to 70 yards and 3.5 yards per carry in a much-needed 23-16 win over the Minnesota Vikings that improved their record to 3-4.
Through seven games, Jim Johnson's defense has played splendidly. It has allowed just 16.7 points per game, which is the best by the Eagles since 2004. The Eagles have yet to give up more than 21 points in a game, something they haven't done since 2001 when they went the entire regular season without giving up more than 21.
They are allowing just 90.4 yards per game on the ground, and just 3.7 yards per carry. They've given up just two rushing touchdowns.
Their performance Sunday against Peterson, who came into the game averaging 6.2 yards per carry, was impressive. The night before the game, Johnson had his unit watch a film of Peterson's best runs of the season to give them an idea of what they were up against. Had the team's video people splice scenes from the movie "The Gladiator" between each of the runs.
Peterson ended up with just two double-digit yard runs against the Eagles. Thirteen of his 20 rushing attempts went for two yards or less.
"We showed them a tape of 15 plays of all his runs over 10 yards," Johnson said. "We said, ‘Hey, if we can keep this guy from making 10-yard runs, we can win the football game. And for the most part, we did."
Johnson seldom plays eight men in the box. But out of respect for Peterson's incredible talent, he did against the Vikings, moving safety Sean Considine up close to the line.
"I don't like to (play eight in the box)," Johnson said. "That's not our style. But against this guy, we had to do that."
Led by defensive end Trent Cole and middle linebacker Omar Gaither, the Eagles had few missed tackles against Peterson. They used effective gap control and pursued aggressively and made sure they always had several defenders around the ball.
"You have to have the same mentality against Peterson as you have when you play L.T. (LaDainian Tomlinson)," cornerback Sheldon Brown said. "You can't be a spectator because at any moment he could be gone."
Said Gaither: "The key to stopping him was tackling well. I can't stress how important it is to tackle well. You're going to be in open-field positions with him and I think we did a great job of bringing him down."
The Eagles will have another challenge this week when they face Cowboys running backs Marion Barber and Julius Jones. The punishing Barber has been an effective fourth-quarter runner, wearing weary defenses down with his running style.