September 29, 2018
The Philadelphia Eagles will look to improve to 3-1 on Sunday when they pay a visit to Nashville for the first time in eight years to face the Tennessee Titans, who are also 2-1 on the season thanks to an upset win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota will be back starting under center for the Titans despite a lingering elbow injury after backup Blaine Gabbert suffered a concussion against the Jaguars, while the Eagles are expected to get a pair of their injured offensive starters, Alshon Jeffery and Jay Ajayi, back on the field supporting Carson Wentz, who made his 2018 debut in Week 3 against the Colts.
As we do every week, let's take a look at five numbers worth watching in the form of our Eagles over/unders.
That's the current total being offered over at Bovada, and while it's low, it doesn't quite seem low enough for these two teams. Why? Well, for one, there are big questions at quarterback for both teams with Mariota still injured and Wentz still catching up to game speed after missing nine months. The Titans like running the ball, and with a less-than-100-percent Mariota, you can expect that trend to continue. The problem there is that the Eagles have the best run defense in the NFL for the second year in a row. And on the Eagles side, their starting running back, Jay Ajayi, is set to return ... and play through a fractured back. Yup.
I predicted a 23-10 win for the Eagles, and that makes me more than comfortable taking the under here.
Finally cleared for contact this week after playing much of last season with a torn rotator cuff, Alshon Jeffery again popped up on the injury reports leading up to the Titans game with an illness that's apparently been going around the Eagles locker room. The wideout is still expected to make his 2018 debut on Sunday, and that's good news for Carson Wentz, who was without three of his top four wideouts for his season debut a week earlier.
It will be interesting to see how involved Jeffery is in this one, especially since he didn't get off to a hot start in his first season with the Eagles. While Wentz has a penchant for passing to his tight ends — something that was well on display in Week 3, perhaps out of sheer necessity — there's reason to believe he'll want to get his top target from a year ago involved early and often. The Titans pass defense is among the top 10 in the NFL, so it won't be easy, but with 120 targets in 16 games last season, including 52 over his final six games (8.7/game) before Wentz went down. Oh, and in those six games, Jeffery caught six touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions.
As we all know, the Eagles defense is (and has been for well over a year now) the best rushing defense in the NFL. On Sunday, they'll face a Titans team that loves to run the ball — and might not have much of a choice given their current QB situation — with Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. If Mariota is really struggling to throw the ball, or if the pass rush is giving him fits, they're going to be forced into running, no matter how good the Eagles defense is at stopping it.
This is simply an issue of volume. I think the Titans are going to hit the over here, and I think it'll be because of the number of times they'll try running. It also doesn't hurt that their quarterback can run a little bit too. But if you look at the yards-per-attempt number for Tennessee at the end of the game, it should prove that the Eagles are still dominant up front, even if they go over.
Wentz threw for 255 yards in his 2018 debut against the Colts, and while that may seem low for guy who led the NFL in touchdown passes before and was an MVP candidate before he was injured, it's actually not. Last season, Wentz averaged 253.5 yards per game and only topped 300 yards four times in his 13 starts. Against a stingy Titans defense, look for that trend to continue. Although that hardly means a a bad day is in store for the Birds' offense. After all, he can play at his average from a year ago — which is pretty damn good, by the way — and still not hit the over.
If the Eagles want to win this one, winning the turnover battle will go a long way to helping that cause. The Birds were one of the best at forcing takeaways a year ago, but they've only managed three through their first three of the season. Last year, they averaged nearly two per game (31 total), and in what looks to be a low-scoring affair, that could be the difference.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin
Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports