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November 03, 2021

Eagles vs. Chargers: Five matchups to watch

Eagles NFL
110321AustinEkeler Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports

Austin Ekeler is little, but very good.

In Week 9, The Philadelphia Eagles will host the Los Angeles Chargers. The Eagles are coming off a 44-6 blowout of the woeful Detroit Lions, while the Chargers, once 4-1, have dropped two straight to the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots.

Here are our five matchups to watch. 

1) The Eagles' rushing offense vs. the Chargers' rushing defense

The Chargers' run defense stinks.

Chargers run D Stat Rank 
Rushing yards allowed per game 159.4 32nd 
Rushing yards allowed per attempt  5.1 32nd 
Rushing first downs allowed per game 9.1 32nd 
Rushes of 20+ yards allowed 32nd 

I guess that chart is a fancy way of saying that they're dead last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game, rushing yards per attempt, rushing first downs allowed, and rushes of 20+ yards allowed. Part of the reason why is because Brandon Staley's defense is similar to Jonathan Gannon's, in that it's designed to negate big plays down the field, while often inviting the run.

Back in early October, Staley talked about the importance of the run game in today's NFL in a video that was shared widely on Twitter:

It's funny to me that the guy who gave that speech has literally the worst run defense in the NFL, but whatever. A look at their rushing yards allowed, by opponent:

 OpponentRushing yards allowed YPC allowed 
Washington 126 4.7 
Cowboys 198 6.4 
Chiefs 186 6.2 
Raiders 48 2.7 
Browns 230 6.6 
Ravens 187 4.9 
Patriots 141 3.6 
TOTAL 1116 5.1 

That above video occurred in between the Raiders and Browns games. Since Staley's run game speech, the Chargers are allowing 186 rushing yards per game.

Last Sunday against the Lions, the Eagles' game plan allowed the offensive line to be physically dominant for the first time all season, and they pushed the Lions around for four quarters, totaling 236 rushing yards. 

If the Chargers are going to invite the run, which the Eagles happen to do well, they should gladly RSVP by pounding it all day. Again, football doesn't always have to be super complicated. You run it well. They struggle stopping the run. So run it. 🧠

2) Joey Bosa vs. Jordan Mailata

As a team, the Chargers only have 14 sacks on the season. Only five teams have fewer. However, they have a legitimate star player in Bosa, who has 51 sacks and seven forced fumbles in 71 career games. He is by far the Chargers' most dangerous pass rusher.

Mailata was a recipient of a deserved $64 million contract extension earlier this season, and while he has become a good starting LT in the NFL, he remains a work in progress. 

If the Chargers were loaded across the board on their defensive line with quality edge rushers, then you might ask Mailata to shut down Bosa without help. However, because the rest of the Chargers' D-line hasn't proven that they can affect the quarterback, it would be wise to help out Mailata against the one pass rusher who poses a serious threat.

3) The Eagles' coaching staff vs. Justin Herbert and the Chargers' receivers

Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen was the Chargers' offensive coordinator in 2020, and he had a hand in grooming young star quarterback Justin Herbert. Steichen was asked how the Eagles' defensive staff is using him as a resource for Chargers intel this week.

"They've asked me a few questions about Justin and the rest of those guys," Steichen said. "They're a good football team. They've got a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and Jared Cook, the tight end, and Austin Ekeler. So, there's a lot of weapons with those guys. I've been giving my insight on those guys' ability and, obviously, Justin Herbert as well."

What is Jonathan Gannon looking for in those conversations?

"Stuff like, ‘Hey, this is what Herbert does really well and this is what we were trying to improve with him. This is the looks that he likes. This is how he wants to play.’ Stuff like that," Gannon said. "Just with any quarterback, what is he comfortable doing, and what can we try to do to make him uncomfortable? That would be the biggest thing for the quarterback."

So what does Herbert do well?

"Justin Herbert, he’s a heck of a football player, bottom line," Steichen said. "He’s big, he’s got a huge arm, he can stand in the pocket. That's one of the biggest things I learned from being around him, is from a rookie last year, he's able to stand in there when the blitz is coming and he can take hits, stand there deliver the throws. He's smart, he’s intelligent. He gets the ball out of his hands.

"You'll see on tape, a lot of times he’s hitting his back foot and boom, he’s getting the ball to the check down quickly. He has accelerated vision. Can do it all. Heck of a football player."

Thanks, Shane.

Like many of the Eagles' other opponents so far this season, the Chargers boast a very good WR duo in Allen and Williams.

Chargers WRs Rec Yards YPC TD 
 Mike Williams35 517 14.8 
 Keenan Allen45 496 11.0 

However, they are not deep at receiver. After Williams and Allen, the next most productive receiver is Jalen Guyton (10 catches for 139 yards, 0 TDs).

Allen is one of the best route runners in the NFL, while Williams is a tall, downfield threat who wins 50-50 balls. I think the Eagles need to challenge Allen and Williams man-to-man, with Darius Slay following Allen, and Steve Nelson following Williams, similarly to the way Slay followed D.J. Moore and Nelson followed Robby Anderson when the Eagles faced the Panthers. Make someone else beat you.

4) Austin Ekeler vs. T.J. Edwards and the Eagles' linebackers

And then there's Ekeler, who is on pace for 1,753 yards from scrimmage in 2021. He has carried 84 times for 420 yards (5.0 YPC) and five TDs this season, and caught 33 passes for 302 yards (9.2 YPR) and 3 TDs. In case you haven't caught many Chargers games over the last few years, he's good.

Ekeler is small, but he runs hard in between the tackles, he has the speed to get outside, and his receiving ability is rather obvious.

Against the Lions, T.J. Edwards was the Eagles' LB1, with Davion Taylor getting a lot of snaps as well. Gannon was asked if that was a Lions-centric personnel decision.

"A little bit," Gannon said. "It's always going to be who is out there playing is – we always kind of break it up into kind of three things. ‘All right, what do our guys do well? What are we trying to defend? And how is the game going?

"We made a little bit of a change with Davion and T.J. in there playing, and excited about all those guys in the linebacker room."

Ekeler could be a tough challenge in the passing game for a player like Edwards, who isn't blessed with great athleticism, however, he is clearly the Eagles' best linebacker and shouldn't be taken out of the lineup because it may not be a perfect matchup for him.

5) Where can the Eagles go a'feastin'?

As you're aware if you read our five matchups posts each week, we point out the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing offensive line. This week it's on the right side of the Chargers' line:

 Rashawn SlaterMatt Feiler Corey Linsley Michael Schofield Storm Norton 

Slater is a rookie first-round pick who has played really well out of the gate, while Feiler and Linsley were worthwhile offseason free agent investments who have both panned out so far.

Schofield has been around a while and has starter 71 career games, but he's your classic JAG. Norton has been a problem at RT all season long for the Chargers after filling in for Bryan Bulaga, who got hurt against Washington Week 1. A week ago, Norton got worked all day by Patriots edge rusher Matthew Judon:

The Eagles are coming off their best defensive line performance of the season against the Lions, but they have not been consistent. This Chargers offensive line is much better, but they can be had on their right side. The Eagles could use another big game out of Josh Sweat, working against Norton.

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