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What to watch in Eagles-Titans | Early Birds

Five for the Eagles on Sunday, Jordan Matthews tells you where to visit in Nashville, and much more

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz responds to a non-pass interference penalty call with teammate offensive tackle Lane Johnson against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, September 23, 2018 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz responds to a non-pass interference penalty call with teammate offensive tackle Lane Johnson against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, September 23, 2018 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff PhotographerRead moreYONG KIM

Good morning. The Eagles have their last practice at 11:50 a.m. today before Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans. Doug Pederson's news conference is at 10:30 a.m. The Eagles will release their final injury report after practice.  Pay attention to the practice status of Alshon Jeffery and Darren Sproles.

This is a Friday edition of the Early Birds newsletter. If your friends haven't subscribed, it's free to sign up here to receive the newsletter in your inbox. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.

— Zach Berman

Five keys for the Eagles against the Titans

Stop the run

The Eagles know Tennessee wants to run the ball. The Titans' 98 rushing attempts are tied for No. 3 in the NFL. Even with only 3.7 yards per carry, they still stick to their running game. (Marcus Mariota's injury played a factor in this.) The Eagles have the NFL's No. 1 run defense, keeping opponents to 61.7 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry. They were No. 1 in rush defense last year, too. So it's strength vs. strength. The Titans are going to commit to the run with a strong offensive line and the combination of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. The Eagles will trust their run defense to win this matchup. If the Titans don't have a strong rushing output, the Eagles will be in good position to win the game.

Make Tennessee one-dimensional through the air

The Eagles focus on stopping the run and forcing the opponent to become one-dimensional. That's the right recipe this week. The Titans have a quarterback who hasn't started the past two weeks with an elbow injury, they're missing their top tight end (Delanie Walker), and they're in transition at wide receiver. The Eagles would be well served making the Titans try to beat them with a passing game. Corey Davis, who was the 2017 No. 5 overall pick, has had a slow start to the season. The Titans have a good offensive line than can protect Mariota. But this is the worst of the four passing offenses the Eagles have seen this season. The pass defense could have a good day, and it must start up front. Fletcher Cox will win his matchup on the interior. It's worth watching how the Eagles do at safety without Rodney McLeod. Corey Graham will start.

Reduce the turnovers

Carson Wentz turned the ball over twice in his debut. He knows he must do a better job protecting the ball. The Eagles have committed six turnovers in the first three games and have a minus-3 turnover differential. The Titans have four takeaways this season, including three interceptions. The Eagles are on the road against a good team. They cannot lose the turnover battle and expect to win. Wentz should be better in this area, and I expect that he will be. Wentz was sacked five times last week and the offensive line must keep him clean. It would help if the defense gets more takeaways, but the offense must do its part in taking care of the ball.

Get production from wide receivers

The Eagles don't have enough production from their wide receivers this season, a position that has been undermanned. The Titans have two high-priced free agents and a first-round pick at cornerback (Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, and Adoree' Jackson), yet they've allowed three 100-yard receivers in three weeks: Kenny Stills, DeAndre Hopkins, and Will Fuller. Yes, the Eagles can threaten teams with their tight ends. But they can use production from wide receivers. Alshon Jeffery might play – he was absent on Thursday with an illness – but his presence should help the other receivers. Watch out for Nelson Agholor. This could be the game when Agholor breaks for a big play.

Don’t let game turn on special teams

The Eagles special teams hasn't been good enough this season. The Titans have two special teams touchdowns, including one on a kick return and one on a fake punt. In what could be a close game, special teams makes a difference. If Corey Clement returns punts again (Darren Sproles hasn't practiced yet this week), he must catch the ball cleaner than he did last week. The Eagles can't have the same problems with penalties on special teams that they had last week, either. And Jake Elliott needs to be a consistent kicker. Titans kicker Ryan Succop is 7 of 8 on field goals this season.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. Jay Ajayi has a small fracture in his back. He's going to rely on his pain tolerance to play.

  2. An NBC Sports Philadelphia report says Rodney McLeod is out for the season, Les Bowen writes.

  3. Bowen has a good story taking you behind the scenes on what happens when players have tryouts.

  4. Dallas Goedert needs a bigger role in the Eagles offenseJeff McLane writes after studying the film.

  5. Paul Domowitch offers a scouting report on the Eagles-Titans game.

3 Questions With | Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill

Zach Berman: With the way the Titans play, is this a game when the base defense could be more valuable?

Grugier-Hill: Oh yeah, for sure. They definitely like to run the ball a lot. That's going to be the No. 1 thing, stop the run. So it will be a part of it for sure.

ZB: How are you balancing the special teams snaps and the defensive snaps?

KGH: At first, it was definitely an adjustment. Just taxing on my body. Now I'm in the shape where I can just roll and it really feels good now.

ZB: Did you watch or follow Marcus Mariota in high school in Hawaii?

KGH: Yeah, he actually blew us out, like 64-7, my junior year. He was a senior. That's the year they won the state championship. …I wasn't playing football yet. I was on the team, but I wasn't really playing. …He was a big deal. He came out, was the top recruit coming out of Hawaii. And especially when he went to Oregon, with all his success and the Heisman and stuff, he was a big deal back home.

Visitor’s guide  | Nashville with Jordan Matthews

Before road games, I'll catch up with a player familiar with the city the Eagles are visiting to give fans insight on what to do and where to eat. This week, it's Jordan Matthews, who went to Vanderbilt and lives in Nashville during the offseason:

"If you've got a big family, I'd say go to Monell's Family Kitchen. …Basically, you walk in, and if your family can take up a table or not, they'll put you with people you don't know. It might be a little different for the Philly folks. Down south, that's how we do it. Basically, they bring out huge troughs of food and you always have to pass to the left. That's common courtesy down south. They'll bring a big thing of corn pudding, pass to the left, get what you want. Greens, fried chicken. Sweet potatoes. Just good southern cooking. That's a really good one.

"Pancake Pantry for breakfast. Right by campus, Pancake Pantry. I will say this, though: Go super early. The pancakes are still good at 6 a.m., just as they are at 12. You come at 12, you're not going to eat until about 3. So just come early and get the food.

"There's a place called Pharmacy Burger. It's in East Nashville. That's where the hippies kick it. But they cook a good burger. There's a bunch of vegans out there cooking this meat up. It's crazy. It's called Pharmacy Burger. The best part about it is they have a bakery right next to it. I'm a big burger guy, but a lot of people can do meat. The bun is what can make the burger.

"…There's a little taco place, too, right next to it that's pretty good.

"…So hot chicken. If you just want to go try it, go try it. I'm an athlete. I've done it before, we've had hot chicken tacos before. …But I can't be eating that all the time. But if you want to do the tourist thing, go check it out.

"If you want to take somebody out on a date, let's say, you got your girl tickets to the Titans game and you want to show her something nice. Two places you've got to go. For dinner, City House. It's like Italian, but they've got an American feel. They change the menu like every week or so. I'm telling you, you want to try this place out. And then there's this thing called Love Circle. Now when I was training before I went to the combine back in Nashville for the Pro Day, I used to run Love Circle. You run this hill and when you get to the top, you can see all of Nashville. It's called Love Circle, so you can't forget it."

From the mailbag

The Eagles will turn to Corey Graham to replace Rodney McLeod, and that's a good place to turn. McLeod is an underrated player and a big loss. But it's helpful that the Eagles signed Graham before the season because of his experience and dependability. Graham has started 68 games in the NFL. He's in his 12th season. He knows the defense. He's not McLeod, but it's a better place to turn than an unproven player who might not be ready for that responsibility. I'm curious how much the Eagles use their three-safety package, though. Deiondre' Hall is the only other safety on the roster at this point.

Sorry to tell you that Howie Roseman isn't take suggestions from me, Gary. But the Earl Thomas question is an intriguing one. I'd usually say no for a 29-year-old player who wants a big contract, but it's worth a discussion if McLeod is out for the season. The Eagles are in a win-now window and Thomas plays that deep safety role that McLeod plays. However, a trade might require a new deal, and I'm not sure the Eagles are in position to do that — especially considering they're already invested in the safety position. But it's a fun hypothetical to discuss, especially considering the fascination Eagles fans have always had with Thomas.

I don't think that would be the initial plan. From all indications, the Eagles like Rasul Douglas as an outside cornerback. Certainly. they have more depth at cornerback than at safety. So it would make sense for them to cross-train a player. I actually think Jalen Mills could be a good safety. He's played it before, he knows the system, and he's a smart player. Malcolm Jenkins once made that transition. So did Corey Graham. However, Mills is a starting cornerback, so I don't believe that's something the Eagles will explore at this point. But if there's a need, you can never say never.