5 key matchups Eagles need to win to beat Rams

5 key matchups Eagles need to win to beat Rams

ANAHEIM, Calif. — After dropping last week's game in Seattle, this weekend's matchup against the Rams at the LA Coliseum is huge for the Eagles

And it won't be easy. 

The Eagles are tied for the NFC's best record at 10-2, but the Rams have put together a resurgent season with Jared Goff and new head coach Sean McVay. They are 9-3 heading into this one. 

It won't make the list, but the number of Eagles fans in the stadium is something to watch (see story). Earlier this week, McVay said his team might work on the silent count because of the possibility of plenty of Eagles fans in attendance. 

"Our fans have been outstanding when you really look at it," McVay said on a conference call with Philly reporters earlier this week. "We feel very fortunate to have a great crowd from the LA market. The Saints game, our most recent game at home, was a great turnout. It was a great atmosphere. 

"I think I was more kind of alluding to the fact that you guys travel so well and then hearing the way Philly fans traveled when they played the Chargers earlier on in the year. We definitely don't ever want to be caught off guard. But our fans have been outstanding and we're hopefully looking forward to a heavy LA crowd on Sunday."

Here are five matchups on the field to watch: 

Sammy Watkins vs. Ronald Darby 
Former teammates. Both speed guys. This one should be fun. You'll remember back in the summer when the Bills were making a ton of moves, Watkins and Darby were traded out of town on the same day. 

The two should know each other pretty well. They were teammates for two seasons in Buffalo and would have gone up against each other in practice daily. 

Watkins has had decent production with the Rams. He has 31 catches for 528 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games. Not tremendous, but he's still a threat, especially deep. 

Meanwhile, Darby has been back for three games since recovering from a dislocated ankle. He has played pretty well in that time. 

"He's a good player," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said of Darby. "He didn't play his best game this year (against Seattle). I think that play down the field, the pass interference was a big play, and he knows he can play that play better. But we're excited to have him back, and he's been a big contributor for us."

Todd Gurley vs. Eagles' run D
Gurley is arguably the best and most complete running back the Eagles will face all season. He's a huge part of the Rams' offense and can do it on the ground and as a receiver out of the backfield. 

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

The Eagles have given up 100 yards on the ground in two of their last three games, but in the middle was a six-yard rushing performance from the Bears. Overall, the Eagles still have the best rushing defense in the NFL, giving up 68.1 yards per game. 

Stefen Wisniewski vs. Aaron Donald
Aaron Donald is a nightmare. He's one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL and has the ability to ruin every single play the Eagles run. 

Donald has been a Pro Bowler in the first three of his NFL seasons and has been an All-Pro in his last two seasons. He's that good. 

"He's a game-changer," Wentz said. "He can really mess up some things offensively if you're not aware of where he's at and kind of game plan a little bit for him. At the same time, we have a ton of confidence in the five guys up front. We have a ton of confidence they can get the job done. We'll limit what he can do and how he can affect the game, but he's a heck of a player and you just have to be aware at times."

Wisniewski is coming off a tough game against Seattle but has played pretty well since being inserted into the Eagles' starting lineup. This will be a big test for him. 

Jay Ajayi vs. Rams' run D
If there's one area where the Eagles might be able to exploit the Rams' defense, it's on the ground. 

The Rams have given up 122.8 rushing yards per game this season. The Eagles, as long as they don't get behind early, should try to establish the run against this team, even with the return of Alec Ogletree expected. 

Last week, for the first time since his arrival, Ajayi led the Eagles' running backs in snaps. If the Eagles want him to be a big-time contributor down the stretch, it's time to start featuring him a little more. They need to get him going. 

Jared Goff vs. Jim Schwartz 
There will be a bit of a chess match during Sunday's game. The Rams use an interesting offensive look, where they get to the line and Goff looks to the sideline to get the play. That means the Eagles might try to wait a little bit before they show the Rams what they're doing ... or they show and try to switch quickly. 

It's a bit of a cat-and-mouse game. 

As he normally does, Schwartz didn't want to get into the specifics of his game plan. Why tell the Rams how he plans on stopping them? 

"There are ways," he said, "that we can combat that kind of audible system."

Eagles aim to master late 1st-round picks

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Eagles aim to master late 1st-round picks

The Eagles will be at a disadvantage on April 26, when the first round of the 2018 draft begins in Dallas. Thanks to winning the Super Bowl — remember that? It wasn’t a dream — they have the 32nd and last pick of the first round. 

It’s a disadvantage they hope to have every year. 

“Yeah, that’s the goal,” Eagles VP of player personnel Joe Douglas said on Thursday. “Hopefully we’ll be picking in the late 20s and early 30s [every year].” 

There’s an art to hitting in the second half of the first round and it’s obviously harder to find success there than it is in the top half. The good news for the Eagles is that Douglas learned under Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome, who is one of the best general managers in the NFL. Newsome’s team has often picked late in the first round and he’s often been able to find some great talent in that range. 

Ed Reed was picked at No. 24, Todd Heap at 31, Ben Grubbs at 29. There are more too. 

“Ozzie is patient,” Douglas said. “Ozzie Newsome is a Hall of Famer for the Cleveland Browns and he should be a Hall of Famer for the Baltimore Ravens as a GM. He’s the absolute best. His first two picks (Reed and Terrell Suggs) are first-ballot Hall of Famers. He was able to have great success in the 20s. Those players you specifically named, they were not a move up or move down guys. Those were guys that Ozzie was patient and he let the board come to him. Some of those picks were met with greater fanfare than others.”

They can’t all be hits, of course. In 2013, the Ravens took safety Matt Elam, who played in 41 games for Baltimore in three seasons, but was out of the league by 2017. Many consider him a bust. It happens. But it’s hard to argue with the Ravens’ body of work. 

The Eagles haven’t been nearly as consistent picking in the 20s in recent years. Nelson Agholor was No. 20 in 2015 and finally fulfilled his potential last season. But before then, Marcus Smith was 26 in 2014 and Danny Watkins was 23 in 2011. The last time the Eagles came off a Super Bowl appearance, they picked DT Mike Patterson with the 31st pick in 2005. A decent player, never a star. 

Douglas thought there were a lot of hits late in the first round of last year’s draft, but admitted it “varies year to year.” 

For now, the Eagles own the 32nd pick, but they’re definitely not ruling out a possible trade. On Thursday, de facto GM Howie Roseman said the team is “open for business.” 

There’s also plenty of appeal for other teams who might want a specific position with No. 32 because of a possible fifth-year option in their contracts. A few years ago, the Vikings traded for No. 32 to get Teddy Bridgewater. This week, the groundwork for possible draft day trades will happen, Roseman said. The Eagles will have contact with other teams to gauge their interest in moving up or down around their area of the first round. 

If the Eagles don’t move up or down, they feel comfortable at 32. 

“I guess when you’re picking, any number you’re picking, whether it’s 14 last year or 32, you’ve got to have 32 guys to be excited to take,” Douglas said. “Right now, we have 32 guys we’d be fired up to get. How it plays out, we’ll find out.”

Coming off first Super Bowl win, Eagles aim to crush complacency

USA Today Images

Coming off first Super Bowl win, Eagles aim to crush complacency

The Eagles on Monday released a short video montage of players returning to the NovaCare Complex for the start of the team’s offseason workout program, the first time the team has been back together since winning Super Bowl LII. 

Playing over the video is a snippet from Doug Pederson’s speech to the team, in which he talks about sacrifice and starting over at ground zero. 

The 30-second video then ends with a shot of the Eagles’ new Super Bowl champion banner hanging in the weight room, while Pederson delivers the message, “The new normal starts today.” 

The Eagles have finally won a Super Bowl, so now what? 

Well, now they have to battle complacency on their quest to make a parade down Broad Street an annual occurrence. 

“For me, when I hear the ‘new norm,’ I’m not thinking about the end result, the championships and the parades and all that,” veteran leader Malcolm Jenkins said on Tuesday. “I’m thinking about the work it took to get to where we were. How we started last year in April and grinded and competed throughout. For me, that’s kind of the new norm and the standard and the base that we’re trying to start from this year as we try to defend that title.” 

Unlike many of his teammates, this isn’t the first time Jenkins is coming off a championship. The year after his Saints won the Super Bowl during his rookie season, they were bounced out of the playoffs in the first round. 

Being that this isn’t the first time Jenkins is in this situation, he said he knows some of the “pitfalls” that come with trying to avoid the Super Bowl hangover. Aside from the obvious month less of recovery time, the Eagles also need to shift their mindset from celebration back to work. Jenkins doesn’t think that will be a problem. He thinks teams get their attitude from leaders. He thinks these Eagles want to “create something special.” He thinks they know how to do it. 

One thing that should help is getting back several key players who weren’t able to play in last year’s Super Bowl because of injuries. Their drive will be there. 

“I know for myself and (Jordan) Hicks and (Chris) Maragos, Jason Peters, it didn’t sit well with them either,” Carson Wentz said. “As much as we love our teammates and we were excited to see it, we wanted to be out there. We know that will kick things into gear. I don’t think complacency would have been an issue regardless, but I think that will definitely help.”

Jenkins this week didn’t want to even talk about repeating yet because there’s so long to go before we even know what the team will look like. 

But repeating remains the ultimate goal.  

“We’re extremely hungry for sustained success in this city,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “We’ve tasted it one time and that’s something you never want to give up. We’re hungry to repeat. … I don’t think we’ll ever have that mindset that we’ve arrived as a football team or as a city.”