5 key Eagles' matchups vs. Raiders

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5 key Eagles' matchups vs. Raiders

There's a perfectly good chance the Eagles won't have much to play for on Monday night against the Raiders. 

If the Vikings lose to the Packers on Saturday night, the Eagles clinch homefield advantage, which would make the last two games pretty meaningless. 

But they've spent all week getting their starters ready to face the Raiders and Nick Foles definitely needs the work. Backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld could also use some reps. His next NFL snap will be his first. 

Forget all that for a second. Doug Pederson and the Eagles have prepared all week to beat the Raiders. Here are the matchups they'll need to win to make that happen: 

Lane Johnson vs. Khalil Mack 
Mack is just the latest on the murderers' row of pass-rushers this season. Johnson has already seen Von Miller, Demarcus Lawrence and Chandler Jones and held them in check. It's a big part of the reason Johnson is heading to his first Pro Bowl. 

While offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Mack has been moving around a little more this season, Mack's most comfortable lining up against right tackles. Mack, along with those other guys we mentioned, is a reason why Johnson didn't move to left tackle after Jason Peters went down. 

This season, Miller has 10 1/2 sacks. It's his third consecutive double-digit sack season. Since the start of 2015, only Jones has more sacks. Another big test Monday night for Johnson.  

Jared Cook vs. Malcolm Jenkins 
If Patrick Robinson (concussion) is able to play Monday night, it'll make a big difference, because then Jenkins can focus on Cook. 

Cook never became a super top-tier tight end like some expected, but he's still dangerous. This year, he has 50 catches for 638 yards and two touchdowns. He has some huge games and then some nothing games. The Eagles have to try to make this a nothing game. 

The Birds are around the top of the middle when it comes to defending tight ends. Thirteen teams have given up fewer yards to tight ends. 

Kelechi Osemele vs. Tim Jernigan 
This one will be fun because Osemele and Jernigan were teammates in Baltimore in 2014 and 2015. Osemele, the Pro Bowl left guard, will definitely be matched up 1-on-1 against Jernigan, which is probably an advantage for the Raiders. But at least Jernigan knows he won't have to deal with any double teams. 

Things might be different for the guy next to him. Fletcher Cox will line up against Gabe Jackson, who isn't anywhere near Osemele. Expect to see the Raiders try to help Jackson throughout the afternoon. 

David Sharpe vs. Vinny Curry 
The Raiders lost two-time Pro Bowler Donald Penn for the rest of the season, so there's a good chance they'll start a rookie in his place at left tackle. Sharpe, a fourth-round pick from Florida, has played in just three games this season. 

Curry hasn't had a flashy season. He has just three sacks. But he's been really solid. So he and Derek Barnett — who also lines up on the left tackle — should be able to get some pass-rush pressure on Derek Carr in this game. 

Marshawn Lynch vs. Eagles' run D
Lynch isn't the same guy who terrorized defenses while he was in Seattle, but he can still do some damage. Lynch is averaging 74.4 yards per game and 4.83 yards per attempt over his last five games. 

But the Eagles are the best rushing defense in the NFL. They have given up just 71.5 yards per game. The next closest team is Minnesota, which has given up 85.3 yards per game. 

Through 14 games, the Eagles have given up 1,001 rushing yards. That's the best in the league since 2014 (Lions, 893) and the best for the franchise since the 1991 team (977). 

Lane Johnson using underdog status to raise money for Philly schools


Lane Johnson using underdog status to raise money for Philly schools

How do you turn being a home underdog into a good thing? Use it as motivation to win a football game.

How do you turn being a home underdog into a great thing? Raise money for Philadelphia schools and win football games. That’s what Lane Johnson is doing.

After the nation doubted the Eagles against the Falcons, Johnson and Chris Long donned dog masks after divisional round win, embracing the role of underdogs. Now, Johnson has his own T-shirt and is raising money. A lot of it, too.

Shirts can be purchased at lj65.shop for just $18 and Johnson tweeted that more than 3,000 have already been sold.

Hopefully, the home dogs continue to eat this weekend against the Vikings.

Game-winning stand just another play for Eagles' defense

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Game-winning stand just another play for Eagles' defense

There were no special instructions. No extraordinary measures taken. Not much was said. Not much needed to be said.

The game was on the line. The season was on the line. For the Eagles' defense, it was just another play. The stakes were just incredibly high.

It was 4th-and-goal for the Falcons at the Eagles' 2-yard-line in the final seconds Saturday.

Give up a touchdown, and the season's over. Stop the Falcons and you're one game closer to the Super Bowl.

"Our guys, we don't do a whole lot," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "Our guys know what to do, and they have downloaded that software enough that it's a little bit automatic for them.

"We also didn't change. We don't surprise the players. What we practiced in our red-zone period is what we played."

The Falcons had already driven from their own 24-yard-line down to the 2-yard-line.

Their quarterback, Matt Ryan, has the fourth-highest passer rating in NFL postseason history, behind Jeff Hostetler and Hall of Famers Kurt Warner and Bart Starr.

That's what the Eagles' defense was up against.

"At that point, you sort of have to trust the players and the players have to trust the scheme," Schwartz said. "I think you saw a combination of both of those. We didn't feel the need to blitz. Played coverage, played good technique."

The clock showed 1:05.

Ryan’s two favorite receivers, Julio Jones and Mohamad Sanu, both lined up on the right side of the formation, Jones outside with Jalen Mills on him and Sanu in the slot with Malcolm Jenkins covering him in a battle of North Jersey natives.

Ryan took the shotgun snap from center Alex Mack at the 7-yard-line and immediately rolled to his right, retreating to the 10 as he neared the sideline.

Nigel Bradham, lined up as the left linebacker, trampled blocking tight end Levine Tollolo, who had his hands full with Brandon Graham, and ran around guard Wes Schweitzer, giving him an angle on Ryan. 

Meanwhile, Vinny Curry, after getting cut blocked to the ground by Falcons running back Tevin Coleman, quickly bounced back up and began pursuing from Ryan’s left. 

Ryan pumped once toward Sanu, who was covered by Jenkins. He quickly looked left but saw only Curry closing in. Thanks to the pressure, he had to quickly backpedal back to the 14-yard-line and finally was forced to unload that lob toward Jones at the right sideline in the end zone.

At that point, it was up to Mills, who had Jones blanketed, and the rest is history.

The ball went through Jones’ hands, his feet came down out of bounds anyway, and after an agonizing moment looking for flags, the play was over.

"A lot gets made of what Jalen did, rightfully so," Schwartz said. "You're talking about a Pro Bowl, All-Pro receiver, 1-on-1. But Malcolm playing the seven route to Sanu and Rodney (McLeod’s) ability to help him leverage that, that was because he's looking for Julio Jones first.

"Julio slips, he's looking for Sanu, nowhere to go and now he has to re-rack that thing and by then, Nigel is closing down on him and everything else.

"If Malcolm doesn't get that route that he covered, if he doesn't get that covered, nobody's talking about Jalen Mills right now."

Mills was physical with Jones but not physical enough to draw a flag. Schwartz said Mills has made huge strides this year with his technique, and on the biggest play of his life, his technique was perfect.

"It's one thing to have confidence, but that's just not the sole requirement for the position," Schwartz said.

"There's a lot of technique that goes along with playing, and I think if you look at that last play, he did a great job of staying square. Meaning his shoulders were perpendicular to the line of scrimmage.

"What the receiver there is trying to do is get you turned so he can come back for the ball. He could never get Jalen turned."

Mills is 23 years old, a second-year pro, a former seventh-round pick, a first-year starter.

To think that he made one of the most historic plays in Eagles postseason history is remarkable.

"I think every player makes a big jump from year one to year two, as far as knowledge of scheme and knowledge of opponents and things like that," Schwartz said.

"(Defensive backs coach Cory) Undlin and Jalen have worked really hard. He's haunted the hallways quite a bit, even on off days this year, just trying to improve his technique. It hasn't been by chance that his technique has gotten better. It's a lot of hard work that's gone into it from a coaching standpoint and from a player's standpoint."

The bottom line is that this defense has played tremendous football all year.

And with the season on the line, everybody simply went out and did their job. Nothing more, nothing less.

"I just think a part of our success is our guys just understand what's asked of them in the schemes," Schwartz said.

"They communicate well. We don't make a lot of mistakes, mental mistakes, and I think that makes it hard to drive the ball on us.

"When you get into those situations where is it's closed quarters and you don't have to defend deep balls, our guys have a good understanding of what opponents are going to do. I was proud of them on that play."