The Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams game originally scheduled for Week 15 felt like a potential NFC Championship preview in the offseason. Fast forward to present day and the Eagles are crawling to the finish line in one of the most injury riddled years in recent memory.
After winning their first eight games, the Rams were blindsided with a reality check by dropping two pivotal matchups against fellow NFC powerhouses, the Saints and Bears. With the Eagles decimated secondary and Rams well-documented defensive struggles, Sunday night looking like a shootout. That’s not what any Eagles fan wants to hear after the news that Carson Wentz is likely to be shut down for the season. More on that later, but someone else has me more nervous about Sunday’s matchup.
Todd Gurley is a Legitimate MVP Candidate
His numbers on the season could take up this entire section. A few to note are that he has scored multiple touchdowns in five games this season, three of which he had a hat trick of touchdowns. On top of that, there have been only two games this season where Todd Gurley did not score a touchdown. His rushing and receiving numbers are off the charts as he’s the spark that ignites the Rams explosive offense. Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley ran wild against Eagles defense, but this unit faces the “final boss” in TG3.
The only way the Eagles can keep pace with the Rams offense is to dominate the line of scrimmage. A simplistic answer for sure, but it goes beyond the defensive line. Jim Schwartz still seems allergic to any exotic blitz calls. But on the final touchdown to Amari Cooper last week, he brought the house. And, as painful as it is to remember, Rasul Douglas was there for the interception but we all know what happened.
Incorporating “window dressing” on the defensive side of the ball disguises coverage and can throw Jared Goff off his normally relaxed progressions. In the Bears defensive beat down of L.A., they tallied three sacks and eight QB hits. Chicago accomplished this by primarily rushing four linemen and bulldozed their way into the backfield right up the middle of the Rams offensive line.
Timmy Jernigan’s status is still uncertain because of back spams and his absence impacts the Eagles more than they thought. It is no secret that offseason acquisition Haloti Ngata has been disappointing this season. Treyvon Hester, who was activated in the middle of the season, played only 14 snaps less than Ngata against the Cowboys. Fletcher Cox constantly battles through double teams with no formidable presence opposite him to bring pressure. However, constantly putting two linemen on Fletcher does free up the edge rushers with one-on-one matchups.
Michael Bennett has been on a tear of late with his increased role on the defensive front. He has 2.5 sacks, five TFLs, and six QB hits over the past three games. He and the entire defensive line rotation have to play with reckless abandon to not only stop Todd Gurley, but knock Jared Goff around as well.
Can the Eagles Keep Pace with Nick Foles at Quarterback?
The Rams defensive line somewhat makes up for what is lacking in their secondary. Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Aaron Donald, is having another stellar season with running mate Ndamukong Suh taking some of the pressure off his game. Still the Rams run defense ranks among one of the worst in the NFL, especially in the past three games (131 rushing yards allowed per game).
Josh Adams has been a refreshing addition to the offense so getting him established early is a must, especially with Carson Wentz expected to be inactive. Since Week 7, the Rams have allowed opposing teams to total over 100 rushing yards in every game except for one. That one exception was the Monday night offensive showcase against the Chiefs, where Kansas City combined for 98 total rushing yards.
A solid dose of Josh Adams followed by a quick change of pace with Darren Sproles could be a formula for success. If these two can get going, the Eagles can bleed the clock and keep the Rams offense on the sidelines.
The news came out Wednesday morning that Wentz would more than likely be shutdown for the rest of the season. While the Eagles remain in the playoff hunt, any sort of injury to the franchise quarterback would be catastrophic. In a hypothetical situation, Wentz could suffer two injuries within one year in his 1st three seasons in the NFL. See Andrew Luck’s first few seasons if you think this would not have a lasting affect on a quarterback. In my opinion, the Eagles are making the smart decision here by shutting down Wentz. He is the future and this season is all but lost. Target an offensive tackle in the draft and let Carson Wentz rest up until the 2019 season.
Now enter Nick Foles. His first two games were average at best and that is only because of a win over the Falcons. While Foles remains completely capable of running the offense, it might take a few series for everyone to gel. With an immobile quarterback like Foles, the pressure will be on the offensive line to keep Foles upright in order to take shots down the field.
Expect to see a lot more deep shots and 50/50 balls thrown as Foles is not afraid to let it rip. People may question whether Foles can keep up with Sean McVay’s offense but it really comes down to the Eagles defense and ball control.
Most Important Player
With Nick Foles at the helm and the season out of the Eagles control, Dougie P should pull out all of his tricks on Sunday night. Not only to regain the fans trust that is he a capable coach, but because it’s do or die at this point.
Foles can still launch the ball so there should be plenty of throws going beyond 20 yards downfield. Watch out for Nelson Agholor to get loose for a few big plays down the field as well as Darren Sproles to make some big plays, as is tradition for him on Sunday night.
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