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December 06, 2017

Eagles defense hasn't seen an offense like the Rams in quite some time

Following this Sunday's game in Los Angeles, the Philadelphia Eagles won't face another team as talented as the Rams until the playoffs. And they likely haven't faced one prior to Sunday's game either, especially on the offensive side of the ball. 

Currently tied with the Eagles for the NFL lead in points scored, the Rams present a somewhat unique challenge for Jim Schwartz's defense, as they can beat you in a number of ways. They're similar to the Birds in that regard and, just like the Eagles have Carson Wentz, the Rams have the guy taken one spot ahead of him in the 2016 NFL Draft, Jared Goff.

While both are offensively balanced, the rapid, unexpected rise of these two teams starts with their second-year quarterbacks.

"He's still young," Schwartz said of Goff on Tuesday. "They're using him a lot the same way that Washington uses Kirk Cousins. A lot of the same kind of plays, a lot of deep balls down the field. He's got confidence in throwing the deep ball. He's got some scramble ability, nothing like we faced last week, but he's moved around a little bit. Run some boots and play-action stuff. He's had a good command of the offense.

"They don't take a lot of negative plays. I think they've had two games they've been held down in scoring, and everything else they've lit up the scoreboard."

Indeed they have.

Just compare the Rams' offensive rankings to some of the Eagles other opponents this season: 

1 @ WAS 15th
2 @ KC 6th6th
3 vs. NYG 31st28th
4 @ LAC 17th9th
5 vs. ARZ 24th20th
6 @ CAR 16tht-18th
7 vs. WAS 15th12th
8 vs. SF 29th21st
9 vs. DEN 27th23rd
10 BYE ------ --- ---
11 @ DAL 10tht-18th
12 vs. CHI 30th32nd
13 @ SEA 9th10th
14 @ LAR t-1st4th

As you can see, the Eagles had a stretch where they faced some of the worst offenses in the NFL and haven't faced a team that ranks in the top half of the league in each of these four categories since they lost to the Chiefs back in Week 2. 

Even last week against the Seahawks, who presented their own unique challenges in the form of Russell Wilson's legs, the Birds defense didn't have the same kind of firepower to worry about. Sure, Wilson is incredibly dangerous when he tucks the ball and takes off (as we saw), but beyond its quarterback, Seattle has absolutely no running game of which to speak. 

He goes where his reads tell him to go and he doesn't just lock in on one guy. I think that's pretty impressive for a young quarterback.

The Rams, on the other hand, might not have a quarterback with Wilson-esqu mobility, but they do have a 24-year-old running back in Todd Gurley that ranks second in the league with 939 rushing yards. And while his eight touchdowns and 4.2 yards per carry are impressive, that's not the only thing that worries Schwartz.

"He's a big back, but he picks and chooses his holes. He can run downhill, but he also has some Le'Veon Bell in him when it comes to picking his way through," Schwartz said. "[He’s the] second-leading rusher in the NFL, but he's been very productive in the passing game. I think that's something that went unnoticed from me until we really started diving into the film. He's averaging double digits in average per reception. 

"For a running back, that's pretty impressive. So it's not just the run game, it's the pass game also."

Gurley, who is on pace to finish with over 2,000 yards from scrimmage this season, is a big part of that Rams passing game. He's currently second on the team in receptions and third in receiving yards and touchdowns. 

In some cases, a running back being one of your most productive receivers could mean you lack talented wide receivers. That, however, is not the case for the Rams. If anything, it highlights the job Goff has done spreading the ball around and keeping opposing defenses guessing.

"He does a good job moving the ball around to different guys," Schwartz said. "They do have a marquis rusher who is right up there in the NFL in terms of rushing yards. But he gets the ball to a lot of different guys in that passing game. He goes where his reads tell him to go and he doesn't just lock in on one guy. I think that's pretty impressive for a young quarterback."

The Birds will catch a break this week as dangerous deep threat Robert Woods (703 yards, 4 TDs) remains sidelined with a shoulder injury. But they'll still have to worry about Sammy Watkins, who leads the Rams with six touchdown catches and is averaging 17 yards per catch.

Although those two receivers have combined for 10 of Goff's 20 passing touchdowns – 13 of 20 if you add in Gurley – neither is the young quarterback's favorite target. That title belongs to rookie Cooper Kupp, who leads his team in targets (78), receptions (51) and receiving yards (665). 

"He's a good slot receiver. He's another guy that's averaging double-digit yardage per reception, and a lot of slot receivers hang around that eight-, nine-yard average. He's making some big plays for these guys. He's a good blocker. He doesn't look like a rookie out there."

With all those weapons, the Rams will present the most difficult test to date for this Eagles defense. 

If they hope to return to their spot atop the NFC, a strong performance from Schwartz's unit might be necessary, especially if Wentz and the offense struggle to score like they did against Seattle.  And against a Rams defense that ranks seventh in the league in points allowed, that's certainly not out of the question. 

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