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September 27, 2017

Eagles vs. Chargers: Five matchups to watch

Eagles NFL

The Philadelphia Eagles will head into San Diego Los Angeles this Sunday to take on the 0-3 Chargers, a dangerous team that is much better than their record would indicate. Interestingly, the line opened as a "pick 'em," but has since moved to the Chargers being favored by 1.

Here are five matchups to watch:

1) The Eagles' offensive tackles vs. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram

In the locker room after the Eagles' euphoric win over the Giants last Sunday, RT Lane Johnson was already talking about the Chargers' edge rushers, unprompted.

"We have a big challenge next week," he said, "with Bosa and Ingram." 

On Tuesday, Frank Reich took it a step further.

"Their two edge pass rushers as a duo may be as good as we face all year," said Reich. "They're really good."

In 2016, Bosa was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, when he collected 12.5 sacks after missing nearly the entirety of training camp and the preseason, as well as the first four regular-season games. Ingram chipped in 8 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. In 2017, Ingram is playing at a very high level, as he already has 5.5 sacks, while Bosa has 2.

The Eagles have given up 11 sacks through three games, which is tied for the third highest number in the NFL. Part of that is because Carson Wentz has held onto the football longer than most quarterbacks, and a lot of that damage has been done against the Eagles' interior offensive line. Still, Jason Peters and Lane Johnson have major challenges in this game.

2) The Chargers' receivers vs. the Eagles' depleted secondary

Last Sunday vs. the Giants, Jim Schwartz opted to have Jalen Mills follow Odell Beckham wherever he went. While Mills allowed two TDs, one of which no corner in the league could stop, Mills did not allow a pass play of more than 14 yards.

"I had a guy upstairs say that [he] was the most targeted player that they had recorded or something like that," said Jim Schwartz. "I was proud of Jalen for a couple different reasons. One, he did a very good job of limiting the big plays. I think most of those [receptions] were short. I mean, he was targeted 20-some times and I think they averaged about 5 yards per attempt. He was tackling well. 

"And then I think the biggest part of it is that -- first of all, he shadowed one of the best receivers in the NFL. Number two, he gave up two short touchdown passes -- but they were touchdown passes -- and he never once came to the sideline asking for help. He never once showed any panic and when we needed a big stop -- two big stops in particular -- but we needed a stop when we let them in field goal range and we couldn't give up a touchdown right there, [which would have] made it more difficult on [our] offense, he came up with that third-down play, and I think that short memory is a good sign for a corner. 

"I've said this for a long time about Jalen: I love his competitiveness. That took every bit of his competitiveness to be able to survive that game. That was a very difficult game to play the way we were doing it because we were trying to limit their ability to make big plays. I thought Jalen did a good job of that, and tackled, and it was an important part of our win."

The Chargers' receivers are set up similarly to the Giants. Their clear-cut best receiver is Keenan Allen, a moderately sized receiver at 6'2, 211. Their No. 2 receiver on the outside is Tyrell Williams, a bigger receiver at 6'4, 205 pounds. In the slot, the Chargers have speedster Travis Benjamin.

It might make sense for the Eagles to have Mills follow Allen while allowing bigger corner Rasul Douglas match up with Williams like he did with Brandon Marshall, and Patrick Robinson drawing Benjamin.

3) The Eagles' rushing attack vs. the Chargers' rush defense

Last Sunday, the Eagles' offense finally got on track on the ground against the Giants, when they rushed for 193 yards and 2 TDs on 39 carries:

 PlayerCarries Yards YPC TD 
 Wendell Smallwood12 71 5.9 
 LeGarrette Blount12 67 5.6 
 Corey Clement22 3.7 
 Carson Wentz22 3.7 
 Darren Sproles11 3.7 
 TOTAL39 193 4.9 

Part of the Eagles' success on the ground could be that the Giants just aren't very good against the run so far this year. In fact, they're ranked dead last in rush D, allowing 153.3 rushing yards per game.

The second worst rush D in the NFL so far this year is the Chargers, who have allowed 146.7 rushing yards per game:

 OpponentRush Yards YPC TD 
 Broncos36 140 3.9 
 Dolphins32 111 3.5 
 Chiefs25 189 7.6 
 TOTAL93 440 4.7 

Interestingly, the Chargers' opponents have run the ball against them more than they have passed, even though the Chargers have played in three close games:

 OpponentRushes Passes 

Establishing the run against a team with high-quality pass rushers on the edge makes sense, and I would imagine the Eagles will likely try to continue to take some pressure off of Carson Wentz by following the game plans of the Chargers' first three opponents.

4) The Chargers' rushing attack vs. the Eagles' rush defense

While the Eagles were able to get their ground game going Week 3, the Chargers have not yet found theirs. They are 27th in the league in rushing, with 70.7 rushing yards per game, on 3.4 yards per rush attempt.

The Eagles, meanwhile, with the exception of a long run by Kareem Hunt Week 2 against the Chiefs, have bottled up opposing rushing attacks. On the season, they have allowed just 75.0 rushing yards per game, with is sixth in the NFL.

If the Eagles can make the Chargers one-dimensional by shutting down the run, they can get after Philip Rivers with their pass rush.

5) Zach Ertz vs. the Chargers' linebackers and safeties

His near-disastrous fumble last Sunday against the Giants aside, Zach Ertz's 2017 season is off to a good start, as he has 21 catches on 28 targets for 245 yards (11.7 YPC) and a TD.

Ertz could be a handful for the Chargers' inside linebackers (Jatavis Brown, Hayes Pullard, Kyle Emanuel, and Korey Toomer), as well as their safeties (Tre Boston and Jahleel Addae). You can attack the Chargers defense in the middle of the field, and I would imagine that the Eagles will look to heavily feature Ertz in the game plan.

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