Can Nick Foles continue his magic act? Can the Eagles front four make Deshaun Watson’s life miserable? Can the secondary find a way to neutralize DeAndre Hopkins?
Here’s a breakdown of the Eagles game against the Houston Texans on Sunday (1 p.m., CBS3).
When Eagles run the ball
Sunday, the Eagles faced a Rams defense that owned the league’s worst opponent rush average (5.1). This weekend, they’ll face one with the best (3.6). The Texans haven’t given up more than 124 rushing yards in a game this season. In their last three games, against the Jets, Colts and Browns, they allowed just 2.7 yards per carry. They have held teams to 3.3 yards per carry on first down, which, like their overall opponent rush average, is the best in the league. They’ve given up just 29 runs of 10 yards or more, third fewest in the league.
The Eagles ran the ball 30 times in their win over the Rams (for 111 yards), including 16 times in the first half. They had three rushing touchdowns for the first time since 2016. The Eagles use a three-back rotation with rookie Josh Adams, Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood, though Adams has received the largest share of the carries lately. Smallwood, who had just four carries in the previous five games, had 48 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries against the Rams.
When Eagles throw the ball
Nick Foles will make his second straight start in place of injured Carson Wentz. He completed 24 of 31 passes Sunday for 270 yards, but has thrown just one TD pass in 113 attempts this season. Foles got the ball out quickly against the Rams, averaging just 2.19 seconds from snap to attempt, compared to 2.76 in his previous two starts, which will be helpful vs. the Texans' fierce pass rush led by edge-rushers J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. Watt and Clowney have combined for 22 ½ of the Texans’ 39 sacks, as well as 114 total pressures.
Foles was 3-for-5 for 112 yards on throws of 20 or more yards, including 36- and 50-yard completions to Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery had eight catches for 160 yards against the Rams. TE Zach Ertz has 101 receptions, but just eight for 60 yards and three first downs in the last two games. Texans have given up 24 TD passes, four more than the Eagles. In their last four games, opponents have averaged 9.3 yards per attempt and have a 70.3 completion percentage.
When Texans run the ball
The Texans’ leading rusher, Lamar Miller, suffered an ankle injury last week and has been limited in practice. Miller is eighth in the league in rushing with 917 yards and a 4.8-yards-per-carry average. If he can’t go Sunday, veteran Alfred Blue will get the bulk of the carries. Blue is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. The Texans are averaging 4.0 yards per carry on first down, fourth lowest in the league. They were held to 47 yards on 17 carries last week by the Jets.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson is coming off an ACL tear, but still is a dangerous chain-moving run threat. He is averaging 5.6 yards per carry and has 25 rushing first downs on 78 carries.
The Eagles' run defense has been inconsistent all season. They’ve allowed 6.3 yards per carry in the first half of games, but just 3.5 in the second half. In their last nine games, they’ve given up a league-worst 6.33 yards per carry on first down.
When Texans throw the ball
The more distance Deshaun Watson has put between himself and last November’s ACL injury, the better he has been. In the last seven games, he has a 120.1 passer rating, including 14 TDs and just two interceptions, a 73.5 completion percentage, and an 8.8 yards-per-attempt average. He’s managed to put up those numbers despite playing behind an offensive line that has given up a league-high 52 sacks.
DeAndre Hopkins is one of the best wideouts in the league. He is fourth in TD catches with 11 and third in receiving first downs (67 on 94 catches). Hopkins has 25 third-down receptions, 19 for first downs. Demaryius Thomas, who was acquired in October, has offset the loss of Will Fuller (ACL). He has 20 catches in six games.
The Eagles rely on their front four to get pressure and try to keep receivers in front of them and limit their yards after the catch, a strategy that was successful vs. the Rams. They sacked Jared Goff just once, but pressured him 17 times, including 11 by Fletcher Cox (7) and Michael Bennett (4).
Jake Elliott has converted 23 of 28 FG attempts. Just two of those five misses have been from closer than 53 yards. His 77.1 touchback percentage is the fourth best in the league. Opponents have returned just 16 kickoffs. P Cam Johnston is second in gross (48.5) and net (43.4) average. He’s put 12 of his last 21 punts inside the 20.
Since his return from a slow-healing hamstring injury, Darren Sproles has averaged 8.8 yards on eight returns. He had a pair of impressive second-half fair catches vs. the Rams that he had to run a long way for and avoided negative field position. The Eagles are fifth in punt coverage (5.9).
Texans PK Ka’imi Fairbairn has made 34 of 39 FG attempts. All five misses have been from 40-plus yards. P Trevor Daniel is 23rd in net average (39.2). He’s had 44.4 percent of his punts returned, which means Sproles could get some return opportunities. Former Eagle DeAndre Carter has averaged 9.1 yards on punt returns for the Texans. Houston’s coverage teams are very good. The Texans are second in kickoff coverage (19.5) and 10th in punt coverage (7.6).
The Texans are third in turnover differential (plus-10), while the Eagles are 22nd (minus-4). But the Eagles are plus-5 in their last four games. The Eagles are third in red-zone defense (43.4) and held the Rams to two TDs on six trips inside the 20 on Sunday. The Texans are tied for 26th in red-zone offense (50.0).
Texans 19, Eagles 17
Eagles defensive line vs. Texans offensive line: The Texans have allowed a league-high 52 sacks. The Eagles’ front four has 43 QB pressures in the last two games, including 17 by Cox and 10 by Bennett. ADVANTAGE: Eagles
Eagles RT Lane Johnson vs. Texans DE J.J. Watt: Watt is tied for second in the league in sacks with 14 ½. Johnson was a first-team All-Pro selection last year, but has been slowed by injuries and hasn’t played at the same elite level he did last year. ADVANTAGE: Texans
Eagles CBs Avonte Maddox, Rasul Douglas and Cre’von LeBlanc vs. Texans WRs DeAndre Hopkins, Demaryius Thomas and DeAndre Carter: Maddox’s return from injury gave the secondary a shot in the arm Sunday. But Hopkins is one of the best pass-catchers on the planet. The Eagles must find some way to prevent him from being a difference-maker. ADVANTAGE: Texans
- Ball security: The Texans are third in turnover differential (plus-10) and are tied for ninth in interceptions (13). Ball protection will be critical for the Eagles in a pick-‘em game.
- Limit the YAC: The Eagles aren’t going to shut down DeAndre Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas. Those two are going to get their catches, probably a lot of them. The key for the Eagles will be the same as last weekend vs. the Rams: Keep the ball in front of them and limit their yards after the catch. Jared Goff had just one completion longer than 20 yards Sunday.
- Catch and release: Nick Foles got the ball out considerably faster Sunday than he did in his Weeks 1-2 starts. Given the quality of the Texans’ edge-rushers, he needs to the same thing Sunday. Like this past Sunday, look for an RPO-heavy game plan.