The Eagles Must Run The Tush Push More
11:01 AM EDT on October 9, 2023
The Eagles finally failed on a tush push late in the fourth quarter of their win against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. They’d run the play twice in a row, actually, after getting a third-and-3 deep in Rams territory. The first try gained them a yard. The second gained another yard, and the Eagles turned it over on downs. A replay review showed Hurts crossing the first down line, but the refs had already called his forward progress stopped.
The luck or stamina that had gotten them that lead had run out for the Eagles by then, but it didn’t matter. They led 23-14 at the time, and that ended up being the final score. The Eagles were mostly interested in running out the clock by the time that they tried the back-to-back tush pushes. It matters that the replay did show Hurts getting enough yardage for the first, if refs hadn’t blown it dead—I am noting it a second time for that reason—but it's not what's most important, here. Needing three yards on third down, the Eagles ran the tush push. Then they ran it again on fourth. It was brilliant. They should do it more.
For the uninitiated: The tush push is a play for short-yardage situations. Philly fans have been trying to get people to call it the Brotherly Shove; the Eagles run it way more than anybody else. I’ve also heard cheek sneak. Can I submit some more? Bum scrum, bun run, derrière prayer, caboose sluice, rump thump, “da butt.” One of the owners at my favorite pizza place called it “tushy-pushy” on Friday. I like all of these, but I think I’ll stick with tush push.
Anyway: The play involves the Eagles lining up in a tight formation with Hurts under center and six guys on the line. Two or three other players are close behind Hurts, and can try to push him in or over while the offensive line attempts to give him clearance to do so. In January The Athletic’s Kalyn Kahler did explored the Eagles’ success with the play. Teams both respect and hate the play. In Kahler’s story the Eagles’ offensive line was praised for its level of “knockback,” but center Jason Kelce was also accused of moving the ball forward before the play. This season, the NFL has warned Landon Dickerson about lining up in the neutral zone. The Eagles say defenses do it too, and they kinda do.
The play has also been derided for aesthetic reasons. It really does look like a rugby scrum, almost like what American football was in the 1800s. The game has more finesse now. “I don’t think it's a football play,” said Sports Illustrated's Peter King. “I don’t think when the fathers of football invented this game, they invented it so that two or three guys can push somebody from behind and try to help them gain yards.” Cris Collinsworth sniffed to a similar effect during yesterday's Sunday Night Football broadcast.
Whether or not you can push your teammate has been a subject of debate almost back to when the fathers of football were alive. (Note: There is some debate about the historicity of the football fathers.) The Wikipedia page for Helping The Runner is remarkably thorough and seems to have been exclusively updated by a user named BeanieFan11. They did a great job.
In 1904 the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that Yale’s football team had made “wonderful improvement, especially in helping the runner” in its most recent game against Columbia: “It was seldom that the man with the ball was not pushed or pulled for an extra yard or so.” Yale was successful with this strategy: The 1904 team went 10-1, outscoring opponents 220-20. The agreed-upon rules changed before the 1910 season, and now banned pushing or pulling the runner. Previously “mass play was unrestricted and the backbone of the attack of all the leading teams,” the Pittsburgh Review wrote. This has generally been the rule in football since, until the NFL legalized the ability to push a teammate in 2006. Pulling or picking up a teammate is still a penalty.
But even those fouls are almost never called. In 2019, Football Zebras blogged that the foul hadn’t been called in the NFL since a 1991 divisional playoff game. Here’s a clip of that penalty, which shows just how obvious it needs to be for the refs to call a guy dragging another guy forward.
The NFL threw a flag on the play during the 2022 season, just not on the field. In a midseason memo to teams, the league said a Week 5 tush push where Dallas Goedert wrapped his arms around Hurts and pulled him into the end zone should’ve been a penalty.
This year the league considered banning it in the offseason, but pushed it off for another year of study. The official concern with the play is injury. Last week John Michael Schmitz and Daniel Bellinger of the Giants were hurt on a push sneak (which failed).
The Eagles ran the tush push six times yesterday against the Rams. It gave the Eagles first downs on two field goal drives. It went for a touchdown to end the first half. The Eagles used it for a first down on that final drive before the two to end the game.
And they could’ve done it more! One of those situations came on one of those field goal drives. The Eagles had a third-and-2 at the Rams 15. They ran a screen to Quez Watkins that lost a yard. It looked like Watkins had a hole. But the Eagles should not have had to worry about whether their third receiver was going to misread the play and run right out of bounds. They could’ve just run the tush push! If it only gained a yard, they could’ve run it again. This is what they tried at the end of the game, and replay showed it could’ve been a first down.
Before yesterday”s game ESPN Stats & Info said that since 2022, the Eagles had run the tush push 46 times with a 91 percent success rate. The Bills run it second most, and are perfect on 12 tries. Teams should run this play more! It is really successful. It is like basketball’s football inbounds play.
I should also say I think everyone should like this play, too, although that's admittedly a more subjective thing. The tush push is a marriage of analytical thinking and old-time smash mouth football. Numbers will say teams should spam the tush push, although numbers say plenty of things coaches are too timid to do. But every football coach should want to jam it down the other team’s throats and run all their players straight up the middle. There is nothing more football than the tush push. I think the Eagles should do it more. But I guess I really don’t think other teams should do it more, because I'd rather the Eagles win.
And because the Eagles didn’t tush push enough, they really could’ve lost to the Rams on yesterday. The Eagles outgained the Rams, 454-249. They went an absurd 13-for-18 on third-down conversions. He threw a bad pick, but Hurts looked the best he has all season. The defense clamped down on the Rams passing game in the second half. How was this game even close? I’ll tell you how: Not enough tush push. The league will probably ban it eventually. Use it now while you can.