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December 06, 2017

Eagles vs. Rams: Five matchups to watch

After the Seahawks handed them their first loss since Week 2 last Sunday, the 10-2 Philadelphia Eagles traveled south from Seattle to Los Angeles, where they will take on another formidable opponent in the Rams.

Here are five matchups to watch.

1) The Eagles' run defense vs. Todd Gurley

Gurley is second in the NFL in rushing, as he has 223 carries for 939 yards and 8 TDs. Here is an updated look at the Eagles' top-ranked run defense and their success against opposing running backs:

 Opposing RBsRushes Yards YPC TD 
 Redskins13 34 2.6 
 Chiefs13 81 6.2 
 Giants17 49 2.9 
 Chargers13 58 4.5 
 Cardinals13 17 1.3 
 Panthers13 0.1 
 Redskins14 54 3.9 
 49ers18 54 3.0 
Broncos 19 35 1.8 
 Cowboys25 102 4.1 
 Bears10 -6 -0.6 
Seahawks 19 70 3.7 
 TOTAL187 561 3.0 

That is a strength-on-strength matchup. To note, Gurley can do more than just beat you on the ground. He has also been productive as a receiver. He has 48 catches for 563 yards and 3 TDs, with a whopping 10 receptions of 20-plus yards.

"He's a big back, but he picks and chooses his holes," said Jim Schwartz. "He can run downhill, but he also has some Le'Veon Bell in him when it comes to picking his way through. [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."

On the negative side, Gurley leads all NFL running backs in fumbles, with five. The Eagles' defense should be mindful of trying to strip the ball away from him.

2) The Eagles' defense vs. Jared Goff (and Sean McVay in his helmet radio)

The Rams use what has been described as an 'ingenious strategy' on offense, in which head coach Sean McVay relays audibles into the headset of Jared Goff prior to the snap, who then makes the checks at the line and executes the play. Coaches have radio connection with the quarterback until there are 15 seconds left on the play clock, at which point the quarterback is on his own.

This is not 'ingenious' or uncommon at all in the NFL.

"A lot of quarterbacks do that," said Schwartz. "In college, it's a little more look to the sideline. Honestly, for him, it's a little more listen to what coach says. Now, that's not unique to what the Rams do. There are a lot of teams that use pre-snap reads and keys to try to change plays at the last minute. You do have a 15-second cutoff, so you can't take it down too far. Pretty much everybody does it. Defenses do the same thing."

Still, while perhaps not uncommon, it is effective, and something that the Eagles have to be mindful of. The Rams get up to the line quickly so that they can maximize their radio time communication. 

"I don't want to go too much at it," said Schwartz, when asked how to defend it. "I don't want to go too much into our operation when it comes to those things. But there are ways that we can combat that kind of audible system."

While Schwartz did not want to give away strategy, clearly the Eagles will try not to give away what defense they are in too early.

"We have to hold our load a little bit," said Brandon Graham.

The Eagles will indeed have to hold their load.

3) The Eagles' secondary vs. the Rams' diversified passing attack

Like the Seahawks last Sunday, the Rams don't have that one star receiver, but they have a group of guys who can all beat you. On the season, the Rams have four players with at least 500 receiving yards.

 Rams ORec Yards YPC TD 
 Robert Woods47 703 15.0 
 Cooper Kupp51 665 13.0 
 Todd Gurley48 563 11.7 
 Sammy Watkins31 528 17.0 

The Eagles' secondary will have their hands full across the board on Sunday.

4) The Eagles' interior offensive line vs. Aaron Donald

The Eagles' interior offensive line has been excellent all season long. They will face their biggest challenge of the season in Aaron Donald on Sunday.

Only in his fourth season, Donald already has 36 career sacks from his DT spot, and was First-team All-Pro in each of the last two seasons. He'll easily earn his third straight All-Pro nod in 2017, as he already has 8 sacks and 3 forced fumbles.

At 6'0, Donald does not have prototypical size for a DT, but he uses the combination of his smaller stature, incredible quickness, active hands, and a polished assortment of pass rush moves to his advantage. In my view, he is the best interior defensive lineman in the NFL.

5) The Eagles' rushing attack vs. the Rams' rush defense

The Rams' biggest weakness is probably their run defense. On the season, here is where the Rams rank in some key run defense stats:

Rams run D Stat NFL rank 
 Rush yards per game122.8 27 
 Rush yards per attempt4.7 30 
 Rush TD allowed12 T-27 
 20+ yard runs12 T-29 
 40+ yard runs allowedT-30 

The Eagles should look to their run game early and often to get their offense back on track after a down game last week.

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