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What to watch for in the Eagles-Rams Week 2 matchup | Early Birds

The biggest matchups and story lines in the Eagles' second game of the season.

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (left) takes a snap from center Jason Kelce at practice. The Eagles are preparing to play the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (left) takes a snap from center Jason Kelce at practice. The Eagles are preparing to play the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Good morning, Eagles fans. I’ve got good news for you: We’re almost 48 hours away from kickoff by the time you’re reading this. It probably can’t come soon enough for most of you, considering how last Sunday went. Today’s events consist of a morning Doug Pederson press conference, followed by a practice around noon.

A few players will be available after practice for interviews. Most importantly, we’ll get the first look at the Eagles' injury report going into the second game of the season. Lane Johnson, Miles Sanders, and Derek Barnett are all on track to play after missing the opener. It will be worth watching whether Brandon Graham clears concussion protocol before Sunday.

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Keys to the game

1. Carson Wentz is coming off one of the worst games he’s had in the last few seasons. How he rebounds will be crucial if the Eagles are going to avoid starting the season 0-2 with a daunting schedule ahead. Excluding his rookie season, Wentz has seldom put together consecutive awful games. He’s never followed up a multiple-interception game with another, and he’s fumbled multiple times in consecutive games only once. It’s not a given Wentz will rebound against Los Angeles, though. The Rams' defensive secondary is much better than Washington’s, and the defensive front is productive. Still, Wentz will need to right the ship if the Eagles are to avoid digging a hole early in the season.

2. Miles Sanders missed the season opener with a hamstring injury, so Sunday will be his first chance to assume his new role as the Eagles' featured running back. The team is hoping the second-year runner will be the quick fix for the stagnant running game that stalled the Eagles offense against Washington. It’s a small sample size, but the Rams' run defense was ranked in the bottom 10 of defensive efficiency against the run by last week. More simply put, Ezekiel Elliott ran for 96 yards on 22 attempts in Week 1. Sanders would likely hope to be in the conversation with the Cowboys' running back this year, so the general benchmark for production has been set.

3. Aaron Donald is the foreboding figure the Eagles have been talking about all week. The Rams defensive tackle will be the first true “find that guy before every play and make sure he’s accounted for” player the team has had to prepare for. Donald was insanely disruptive against Dallas, racking up six quarterback hurries. Under new Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, Donald will be a little harder to find pre-snap. He took snaps at each defensive-line spot in the opener, primarily as a defensive tackle but sometimes bumping out to the edge. It will be interesting to see which Eagles lineman Donald favors this Sunday.

4. Lane Johnson will be back in the fold this weekend. Can the right tackle single-handedly save the Eagles' offensive line from the dubious outlook left by last weekend? The 30-year-old’s return will certainly steady things, especially some of the miscommunication that happened on the line. He’ll presumably be working alongside Nate Herbig, a player he hasn’t had game reps with yet. There’s a chance Herbig loses his spot, but unless Matt Pryor is the replacement (unlikely), the continuity still won’t be there.

5. Cooper Kupp will have a familiar matchup Sunday. The Rams' slot receiver, one of the best in the league, is facing off against former teammate and current Eagle Nickell Robey-Coleman. The two spent the last three years working against one another in practice, and Robey-Coleman is excited about the potential matchup. Kupp had 94 catches for 1,161 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Robey-Coleman’s first game was uneventful in a good way against Washington. The Eagles would be quite happy if Robey-Coleman had another boring day at the office while sticking to Kupp.

6. Speaking of cornerbacks, does Darius Slay follow someone this week? What about Jalen Ramsey? Robert Woods is the prime candidate for Slay’s attention, but there’s a chance this game offers the Eagles a chance to rely less heavily on Slay’s traveling ability. The Eagles don’t exactly have a proven No. 1 receiving threat, so it’s possible Ramsey stays on one side of the field instead of shadowing someone.

7. How will the balance between Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz shake out this week? In the opener, Goedert surpassed 100 receiving yards for the first time in his career. He had eight catches and a touchdown, and Ertz had three catches for 18 yards, a touchdown, and a costly drop at the end of the game. Ertz’s down game was preceded earlier in the week by his voicing frustration with contract extension talks with the Eagles' front office. Just before the game, an NFL Network report said Ertz and Eagles GM Howie Roseman got into a heated argument last weekend. The Eagles offense is at its best when both Ertz and Goedert are thriving. Look for the team to get both guys involved early and often.

8. Jalen Reagor’s 55-yard catch last Sunday gave Eagles fans a glimpse of what could be, but can he be more productive in the sequel? When Reagor was drafted, it was easy to project him as a gadgety player for whom the team would need to create touches. Certainly the truncated offseason is part of the slow play, but he was targeted just four times Sunday and had just the one touch on offense along with two punt returns. It looks like the rookie is still ironing out some of the finer details of route running in the NFL and chemistry with Wentz is still forming, but the Eagles will likely try to expand his role as the season goes on.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. All indications are that Nate Herbig will be the Eagles' starting right guard for the second time in his career. He can’t afford to slip up against the best interior pass rusher in the NFL, as Les Bowen writes.

  2. Herbig’s linemate will almost definitely be Lane Johnson, who is ready to return after getting ankle surgery last month to fix a lingering problem once and for all. Bowen has that story, too.

  3. The Eagles might not have come out as expected last Sunday, but David Murphy explains why it’s not time to count them out.

  4. The Eagles went into the week slight favorites over the Rams in the betting world, but the line has moved, as Ed Barkowitz details.

  5. The beat writing crew, including myself, previewed the Eagles-Rams game in the latest Birds Eye View podcast. Listen to it here.

From the mailbag

Is Carson Wentz the Brett Favre of our generation? — from MA Sanscartier (@MASanscartier) on Twitter.

Interesting question, MA. The short answer is: No. Favre was a three-time MVP and a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Wentz was on top of the league in 2017, but plenty of quarterbacks have flashed that level of potential only to never reach that level again. Favre had the sustained greatness so many think Wentz would be capable of if things were more stable here.

Still, it’s fun to wonder what Favre would look like in this league, and I understand the instinct to compare Wentz with the Packers great. They were both strong-armed quarterbacks who thrived in unscripted situations. I have no idea how Favre would have handled the risk-averse nature of quarterbacking now. In his 19 years as a starter, Favre averaged a little more than 17 interceptions a season. Only three quarterbacks surpassed that number last season.

Wentz, despite last Sunday, doesn’t have the track record of being an interceptions guy. His weakness has always been pocket awareness and ball security, whereas Favre’s was trusting his arm strength too much in tight windows. You could argue Wentz takes more sacks because he, too, has a great deal of trust in his playmaking ability, but the interceptions haven’t been too much of an issue. He’s had just seven picks in each of the last three seasons.

Could I interest you in two other comparisons? Statistically, Wentz resembles Carson Palmer from 2005-09. Style-wise, he resembles Ben Roethlisberger. Neither guy was an MVP, but they were both undeniably franchise quarterbacks capable of making Pro Bowls when things were going well.

Reaching the six Pro Bowls and two titles Roethlisberger has to his name would probably be an optimistic forecast for Wentz, but it’s not crazy to think he could do that. It’s also worth noting Roethlisberger’s best years came well after his fifth season, as he made four straight Pro Bowls from 2014-17. Comparing their first five years, Roethlisberger was more durable and more productive. I’d say Roethlisberger’s career would be one of the best-case scenarios for Wentz’s future with the Eagles, but it’s an attainable one.