After blowing a 17-0 first-half lead and losing their season-opener to Washington, the Eagles will try to rebound Sunday when they host the Los Angeles Rams in an empty Lincoln Financial Field.
This will be the third meeting between Doug Pederson’s Eagles and Sean McVay’s Rams. The Eagles won both previous battles — 30-23 in 2018 and 43-35 in 2017. Both of those games were played at the Los Angeles Coliseum. That 2017 game, of course, was the one in which Carson Wentz tore his ACL. Nick Foles replaced him and the Eagles went on to win their first Super Bowl.
When the Eagles run
The Eagles ran the ball poorly against a Washington defense that finished 31st in run defense and 26th in opponent rush average last season. They were held to 57 yards on 17 carries. Eight of those 17 carries gained two yards or less. They had just three rushing first downs. They were without their No. 1 back, Miles Sanders (hamstring), but Boston Scott and Corey Clement are capable backs.
The problem was their offensive line. It was missing two Pro Bowl starters — right guard Brandon Brooks and right tacle Lane Johnson. They had a rookie — Jack Driscoll — at Johnson’s spot, and a second-year guy with three career snaps — Nate Herbig — replacing Brooks. On top of that, their nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle, Jason Peters, played like, well, like a guy who is four months away from his 39th birthday. Left guard Isaac Seumalo also struggled. They are hoping to get both Sanders and Johnson back this week, which will help. But they need a better overall run-blocking effort from everyone up front.
They’ll be facing a Rams defense with a new defensive coordinator (37-year-old Brandon Stanley) and a new scheme (3-4), but the top priority will be the same: neutralize All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald. In their Week 1 win over the Cowboys, the Rams did a decent job on Zeke Elliott and Tony Pollard, holding them to a combined 106 yards on 24 carries.
When the Eagles throw
Carson Wentz was sacked a career-high eight times in the Washington loss. Some were his fault, some were not. But he has to do a better job of getting rid of the ball. He was under pressure on 40% of his dropbacks last week. That was the second-highest percentage in the league in Week 1.
The Eagles have to find a way to slow down All-Pro Aaron Donald, who had 10 quarterback pressures against the Cowboys. Even with the pressure he faced, Wentz had an outstanding first half, completing 14 of his first 18 passes and throwing two touchdown passes to help spot the Eagles to a 17-0 lead. But then things went to hell.
Even with the return of DeSean Jackson and the additions of rookie receivers Jalen Reagor and John Hightower, the Eagles used 12-personnel 56.7% of the time. Tight end Dallas Goedert had possibly the best game of his career, catching eight balls for 101 yards and a TD. Wentz hit Goedert and Reagor early with deep balls, but he missed his last five 20-plus-yard throws. He targeted Jackson, Reagor, and Hightower 15 times, but they combined for just four catches.
Stanley likes to move his defensive backs around and disguise coverages. The speed with which Wentz is able to diagnose those coverages and locate All-Pro corner Jalen Ramsey will be critical to the line’s ability to keep Donald out of his lap.
When the Rams run
With Todd Gurley gone, the Rams are turning to a share-the-load running attack featuring veteran Malcolm Brown, second-round rookie Cam Akers, and 2019 third-round pick Darrell Henderson. And there’s apparently going to be a big load to share if their Week 1 win over the Cowboys is any indication. Forty of their 72 offensive plays against Dallas, or 55.2%, were run plays.
Brown, who has never had more than 69 rushing attempts in any of his previous five NFL seasons, had a team-high 18 on Sunday. He and Akers both are powerful, 215-plus-pound backs, while the 5-foot-8, 205-pound Henderson, who has been nursing a hamstring injury and had just three carries in Week 1, is kind of their version of Boston Scott.
The Rams averaged only 3.8 yards per carry overall against the Cowboys but were very productive running the ball on first down, which set up manageable third downs. Brown averaged 6.6 yards per carry on first down, including runs of 12, 11, 8, and 6 (twice) yards.
It will be interesting to see whether Sean McVay repeats his run-heavy approach this week. In two previous meetings with Pederson’s Eagles, McVay’s Rams ran the ball just 18 and 17 times. Last week, Washington ran the ball 36 times against the Eagles but averaged just 2.2 yards per carry.
When the Rams throw
The Rams are predominantly an 11-personnel team (three wide receivers) Jared Goff completed three passes of 30-plus yards against Dallas and averaged 8.9 yards per attempt, but he didn’t have a touchdown pass. He is coming off a subpar season in which he threw 16 interceptions and finished 22nd in passing and 28th in touchdown percentage.
He has an experienced receiving corps headed by Robert Woods and slot receiver Cooper Kupp. The Rams added a burner in the draft in second-rounder Van Jefferson. Woods had 1,100-plus receiving yards each of the last two seasons. Kupp had 94 receptions and 10 touchdowns last year. A league-high 37 of those 94 came on third down. He’ll be matched up against his former Rams teammate, slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman. Goff also has two capable pass-catching tight ends in Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett.
Cornerback Darius Slay had a solid Eagles debut. Matched up against Washington’s Terry McLaurin, who put up 250 receiving yards and two TDs against the Eagles last year in two meetings, he held McLaurin to five catches for 61 yards and no TDs. He’ll likely spend most of Sunday shadowing Woods, while Robey-Coleman battles Kupp.
The Eagles need to get pressure on Goff. He finished 22nd in completion percentage when under pressure (42.3) last year. Against Dallas, he completed just 1 of 6 passes and threw his only interception when under pressure.
The Eagles' Jake Elliott entered the season with a solid 84.1 career field-goal accuracy mark. He has never missed more than five field goal in any of his three NFL seasons. The Rams didn’t re-sign their longtime kicker, Greg Zuerlein, after he converted just 72.9% of his attempts last year. They’ve replaced him with a rookie, seventh-rounder Sam Sloman of Miami of Ohio. Sloman got off to an inauspicious start in the win over Dallas. He hit the left upright with an early 29-yard attempt.
The Rams' Johnny Hekker is one of the best punters in league history. His 47.0-yard career average is the best among active punters and second only to Shane Lechler all-time. But the Eagles' Cameron Johnston has quickly developed into one of the league’s top young punters. He finished in the top 10 in both gross and net average in each of his first two years. Last week against Washington, he averaged 53.6 yards per attempt on five kicks, and put three of them inside the 20. Washington averaged just 3.4 yards per return.
The Eagles' Jalen Reagor averaged 17.8 yards on punt returns last year at TCU, but he still has to prove to Dave Fipp that he can hang on to the ball. Greg Ward is a more dependable but slightly less explosive alternative. The Rams are using slot receiver Cooper Kupp on punt returns. He had four fair catches and no returns against Dallas. Before that, he had handled just three punts in his NFL career.
With most teams not allowing fans, the home-field advantage is pretty much nonexistent. Home teams were 8-8 in Week 1. While the popular perception is that Sean McVay is way smarter than Doug Pederson, Pederson is 2-0 against McVay, beating him twice on the road.
Rams 20, Eagles 17
Eagles interior offensive line vs. Rams DT Aaron Donald: The Cowboys' Zack Martin is the best guard in the NFL, and Donald had him for lunch in Week 1. He had 10 QB pressures. Jason Kelce and Co. have to find a way to slow him down. Advantage: Rams
Eagles slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman vs. Rams slot receiver Cooper Kupp: Kupp had a league-high 37 third-down receptions last season, but nobody knows him as well as his former Rams teammate. Advantage: Rams
Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson vs. Rams CB Jalen Ramsey: Ramsey’s one of the best corners in the league and has a new $21 million-a-year deal to prove it. The 33-year-old Jackson had just two catches on seven targets vs. Washington. Advantage: Rams
Keys to the game
Protect Wentz. This didn’t work out so well last week, though Wentz and his refusal to get rid of the ball was a big part of the problem. Under new defensive coordinator Brandon Stanley, the Rams try to disguise their coverages and slow up the whole get-the-ball-out process. Wentz needs to quickly decipher what he’s looking at, and his blockers need to slow down Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers.
Stop the run. The Rams ran the ball 40 times (for 153 yards) against Dallas. Goff is an effective play-action QB who averaged 8.9 yards per attempt in Week 1. Malcolm Brown averaged 6.6 yards per carry on first down. The Eagles need to neutralize the Rams' rushing attack on first and second downs and put Goff in obvious passing situations. Last week, 11 of the Rams' 17 third-down situations were four yards or fewer.
Stick with what has worked. In both of the Eagles' previous two wins over Sean McVay’s Rams, they did two things: (1) won the turnover battle; and (2) got off to fast starts. In ’18, they scored on three of their first four possessions and won the turnover battle, 3-1. In ’17, they also scored on three of their first four possessions and won the turnover battle, 2-1. Wash, rinse, repeat.