November 27, 2019
The Philadelphia Eagles will probably need to run the table the rest of the way if they are going to win the NFC East, and it starts this Sunday against a putrid Miami Dolphins team.
Here are our five matchups to watch.
In an amazing turn of events, the Eagles' receivers might actually have a matchup advantage over their opponent this week! Crazy, right? Well, it's true. Here's what the Dolphins' starters looked like in their secondary Week 1:
|Xavien Howard||Eric Rowe||Minkah Fitzpatrick||Reshad Jones||Bobby McCain|
*We'll call Fitzpatrick a "DB" because he was more than just a slot in the Dolphins' D
Here's what has happened to each of those players this season:
• CB1 Xavien Howard: On IR with a knee injury.
• CB2 Eric Rowe: Congrats to Rowe, the only Week 1 starting defensive back who is still playing. He has since had to move to safety.
• DB Minkah Fitzpatrick: Traded to the Steelers.
• S1 Reshad Jones: On IR with a shoulder injury.
• S2 Bobby McCain: On IR with a shoulder injury.
Also, 2017 third-round CB Cordrea Tankersley, who started 11 games as a rookie, tore an ACL in November of 2018 and he's still on the PUP list as a result of that injury.
Also also, CB Aqib Talib was already on IR when the Dolphins acquired him in a trade from the Rams. He'll be eligible to return Week 15.
So what are the Dolphins left with? Week 12, they trotted out the following secondary:
|Ken Crawley||Nik Needham||Jomal Wiltz||Eric Rowe||Steven Parker|
• CB Ken Crawley: Added off of waivers from the Saints four weeks ago.
• CB Nik Needham: Undrafted free agent rookie who got cut at 53-man cutdowns, was added to the practice squad, and called up to the active roster after Week 6.
• CB Jomal Wiltz: Career practice squad guy who signed a futures contract with the Dolphins in February, made the team, and is now a starter.
• S Eric Rowe: Moved to safety from corner out of necessity.
• S Steven Parker: Added off of waivers from the Rams in September.
Essentially, it's a group of street free agents, practice squad guys, and one experienced veteran playing out of position (sort of), who have almost no experience playing together in real NFL games.
The Eagles could see the return of Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor this week. If they can't throw on this group, they can't throw on anyone.
Eagles running backs have carried the ball 18 times in each of the two games that Jordan Howard has been out with a "stinger" injury. That is a curiously low number considering the Eagles' rushing attack has been the most effective piece of the offense this season, and in those games specifically, the Eagles were unable to field competent receivers.
Even if Howard can't go on Sunday against the Dolphins, the Eagles should work toward finding a more equal balance of pass and run, seeing as the Dolphins have struggled stopping the run all season long. Their run defense stats:
|Dolphins run defense||Stat||NFL Rank|
|Rushing yards per game allowed||148.2||31|
|Rushing yards per carry allowed||4.7||26|
|Rushing TDs allowed||11||24|
|Rushes of 20+ yards allowed||9||25|
|Rushing first downs allowed||87||31|
|Percentage of rushes resulting in a first down||24.9%||25|
Of course, some of the above numbers are the result of the Dolphins facing big deficits, but that doesn't completely explain the yards per carry allowed.
With Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks returning to the field, Doug Pederson should allow the offensive line to win this game offensively.
In addition to being unable to stop the run, the Dolphins can't run it. They cut Mark Walton for allegedly hitting his pregnant girlfriend, and they traded Kenyan Drake. Here's where they rank offensively in the same categories we noted above:
|Dolphins run defense||Stat||NFL Rank|
|Rushing yards per game||63.2||32|
|Rushing yards per carry||3.1||32|
|Rushes of 20+ yards||0||32|
|Rushing first downs||40||30|
|Percentage of rushes resulting in a first down||18.0%||30|
The Eagles do a good job of stopping the run as is, and that shouldn't change this week.
Fitzpatrick had a huge game against the Eagles Week 2 last season when he still played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and that performance left an impression on Jim Schwartz.
"He still does have some mobility," Schwartz said. "I was just watching up there and watching some other teams spy him, and I was looking and it's like, ‘Man, that's Fitzpatrick. He's 36 years old.’ He still has good mobility. He has a rifle for an arm. He has one of the best fastballs in the NFL and he can fit the ball into some tight windows.
"They haven't really been a consistent team rushing the football this year so a lot of it has fallen to him, but they won two out of the last four. I think that says a lot about him, too, as a quarterback. It didn't look good for them early in the season, but he found a way to win two out of the last four and we're going to have to play good on defense to come out with a win."
Parker, who is by far the Dolphins' best receiver, also had a big game against the Eagles, albeit during the preseason. He's a 6'3 receiver with 4.45 speed who can go up and get it. Here's what he did to Ronald Darby in the 2017 preseason game:
The Dolphins' second-most productive wide receiver this year was Preston Williams, who is now on IR. Above all else, the Eagles have to make sure they don't get beaten deep by Parker. The deep ball is how Fitzpatrick beat them Week 2 last season, and it's the best chance the Dolphins have of scoring on Sunday.
There was a time when Carson Wentz played football with joy. With stress mounting on him to be Superman every week, he has pressed, to his detriment. If the Eagles can get out to a lead early in this game and put this awful team away, perhaps Wentz can begin to get back to playing the game like the fun player he has been at times during his young NFL career.
This is a game in which the Eagles should smash their opponent, and if they do, it could be a confidence builder for Wentz and the rest of the offense.
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