The need-to-run-the-table portion of the Eagles’ schedule kicks off at 1 p.m. Sunday in South Florida when they face the 2-9 Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium, which is expected to be crammed with Eagles fans.
Here’s the scouting report for the game, along with my prediction:
When the Eagles run
The Eagles may or may not be getting running back Jordan Howard back. Howard missed the last two games with a stinger in his shoulder/neck. He has been one of the Eagles’ best offseason acquisitions, averaging 4.4 yards per carry overall and 4.5 on first down. In the six games before he got hurt, the Eagles’ run percentage was 48.5. Without him the last two weeks, it’s been 32.1. Rookie Miles Sanders rushed for 63 yards on 12 carries in the loss to the Seahawks, and averaged 4.8 yards on first down. Even if Howard can’t play, the Eagles will be getting right tackle Lane Johnson and right guard Brandon Brooks back, which will be a big boost for the ground game, regardless of who’s lugging the football. The Eagles run behind Brooks and Johnson much of the time. Jay Ajayi, who was signed two weeks ago, got six carries against the Seahawks. They used him on a second-and-1, third-and-1, and second-and-3. He converted just one of those (the third-and-1). The Dolphins are 31st in run defense and tied for 26th in opponent rush average (4.7). They’ve given up 41 runs of 10 yards of more. Only two teams have allowed more.
When the Eagles throw
Carson Wentz is coming off his two worst performances of the season. He completed just half his passes and averaged 5.3 yards per attempt in the New England loss, then turned the ball over four times and had just 100 passing yards in the first three quarters against Seattle. He’s 20th in the league in passing (89.6), 30th in yards per attempt (6.5), and 21st in completion percentage (62.6). He has thrown just eight TD passes in the last seven games after throwing nine in the first four. The wide receivers have underperformed. Nelson Agholor is averaging just 5.1 yards per target, and Alshon Jeffery is averaging just 6.4. Jeffery missed the last two games with an ankle injury but is expected to play. The Eagles have become predominantly a 12-personnel offense. But with tight end Zach Ertz nursing a hamstring injury, that could change. Ertz, who has a team-high 67 catches, was targeted 36 times the last three games with 30 catches for 288 yards, two TDs, and 19 first downs.
The Dolphins are 31st in opponent passer rating (106.8) and already have given up 26 touchdown passes. Only Arizona has allowed more.
When the Dolphins run
The Dolphins’ ground game has been atrocious this season. They are 32nd in rushing (63.2 yards per game), 32nd in rush average (3.1), and 32nd in first-down rush average (2.8). Their leading rusher, Mark Walton, who has just 201 yards, is serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Kalen Ballage, a 2018 fourth-round pick out of Arizona State, is their primary ballcarrier at the moment, but he is averaging just 1.9 yards per carry. At 6-2, 231, Ballage is a big back with 4.4 speed. But the Dolphins’ offensive line isn’t very good. Through 11 games, just 53 of the Dolphins’ 222 rushing attempts have gained 6 or more yards. The Eagles are fifth in run defense (94.0) and 10th in opponent rush average (4.1) but haven’t been as dominant against the run lately. They allowed 4.9 yards per carry in the last five games and 6.0 on first down. They gave up 174 yards on 26 carries to Seattle last week.
When the Dolphins throw
Thirty-seven-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick will make his seventh career start against the Eagles. He had one of the best games of his career against them last season with Tampa Bay, throwing for 402 yards and four touchdowns in a Bucs win. He still has a gun for an arm, but aside from wide receiver DeVante Parker, who is averaging 15.1 yards per catch, he doesn’t have much of a cast around him. He lost his other top receiver, Preston Williams, three weeks ago to a season-ending knee injury and his offensive line hasn’t protected him very well. He has the second-highest sack percentage of his 15-year career and has been taken down once every 11.4 pass plays. Fitzpatrick is averaging just 6.5 yards per pass attempt, which is his lowest average since 2009. He has thrown just 10 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in eight starts. The Eagles went up against two of the league’s top quarterbacks the last two weeks – Tom Brady and Russell Wilson – and did an outstanding job against both of them. They sacked Wilson six times last week. The Eagles had a 70.6 opponent passer rating over the last four games. They allowed just two touchdown passes in the last three games, both on trick plays.
Jake Elliott continues to be the only perfect field goal kicker in the league. He has made all 14 of his attempts, though just one of them has been longer than 42 yards. Punter Cam Johnston is sixth in gross average (47.2) and seventh in net average (42.5). Twenty-one of his 46 punts have been returned. He has put 15 inside the 20. After being promoted from the practice squad, Greg Ward replaced Boston Scott on punt returns. Scott had replaced the injured Darren Sproles. Ward had one return last week for minus-3 yards. The Eagles are 19th in punt coverage (7.4) and 23rd in kickoff coverage (24.5). Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders has made 10 of his 14 field goal attempts, but is 4-for-8 from 40-plus yards. He hit 18 of 20 attempts last year as a rookie. Punter Matt Haack is 15th in gross average (45.7) and 13th in net (41.8). He’s had 22 of 52 punts returned. One of the Dolphins’ bright spots had been the punt returning of Preston Williams. He was averaging 11.5 yards per return before tearing his ACL three weeks ago. His replacement, Jakeem Grant, has averaged 1.2 yards on five returns. Grant also handles kickoff returns. He had a 101-yard return for a touchdown against Buffalo two weeks ago.
This is technically a home game for the Dolphins. But thousands of Eagles fans are expected to descend on South Florida for the game, and there figure to be a lot E-A-G-L-E-S chants inside Hard Rock Stadium.
Prediction: Eagles 34, Dolphins 10
Eagles WRs v. Dolphins secondary: The Eagles wideouts have underperformed this season. But the Dolphins secondary is inexperienced and short on talent. Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor both are expected back.
Eagles CBs Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills v. Dolphins WR DeVante Parker: Parker is averaging 15.1 yards per catch and has 13 catches for 226 yards in the last two games. He has a team-high 10 third-down receptions, all for first downs.
Eagles OL v. Dolphins front seven: With RT Lane Johnson and RG Brandon Brooks both expected back, this should be a one-sided battle in the trenches. The Dolphins are 31st against the run and have just 14 sacks in 11 games.
Keys to the game
Off and running: The Dolphins have been outscored in the first quarter, 87-21. The Eagles need to take charge from the outset and never look back. The Eagles defense allowed just two first downs and no points on their opponents’ first two possessions in the last three games.
Don’t implode. The Eagles had five turnovers last week against the Seahawks. They have the seventh-most giveaways in the league (20) and the second-most lost fumbles (13). They’ve had multiple turnovers in five games and lost all five.
Don’t get lost. This one’s self-explanatory. Make sure the bus driver uses Waze to get to Hard Rock Stadium.