ronald darby

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."

Ronald Darby still doesn't understand pivotal pass interference call

AP Images

Ronald Darby still doesn't understand pivotal pass interference call

SEATTLE — It was one of the biggest plays of the game, and Ronald Darby still doesn’t get what he did wrong.

Darby, playing in his fourth game in an Eagles uniform, was called for a 19-yard pass interference penalty while covering Doug Baldwin late in the first quarter of the Eagles-Seahawks game.

At that point, the Eagles were trailing by three points, but the DPI gave the Seahawks a first down on the Eagles' 16-yard-line and after another Eagles penalty Russell Wilson gave the Seahawks a 10-0 lead with a TD pass to Jimmy Graham.

The Seahawks aren’t in the business of giving back double-digit leads at home, so that penalty was really a pivotal point in the game.

“I asked [the ref], ‘What did I do wrong,’” a frustrated Darby said after the game. “I’m breaking on a seven (route) and the guy is running upfield and runs into me. What else do you want me to do, step out of his way? 

“He said, ‘You made contact. You jabbed him while the ball was in the air.’ OK, ref. You just have to move on.”

The Eagles were penalized seven times for 64 yards in the Seahawks’ 24-10 win at Century Link Field. Four of the penalties were committed by the Eagles’ secondary.

“End of the day, you can’t play a team and the refs,” Darby said. “That’s hard to do.”

Darby’s penalty was his first as an Eagle. In all, the Eagles have committed 92 penalties for 742 yards in 12 games. Among the defensive backs, Jalen Mills (five) and Rasul Douglas (four) have been the most penalized. Patrick Robinson has been called twice and Malcolm Jenkins, Corey Graham and Dexter McDougle once apiece.

Darby said he’s not going to change the way he plays the game, no matter how many penalties he gets called for.

“I’m not going to go no less physical,” he said. “I only know one style. I only know one way to go and that’s hard. 

“The refs got their job, they make mistakes sometimes, sometimes they miss stuff. I’m going to keep playing like I play. One way to play and that’s to compete. That’s how it is.”

Howie Roseman proving to be greatest sequel since The Godfather Part II

USA Today Images

Howie Roseman proving to be greatest sequel since The Godfather Part II

Tim Jernigan, Alshon Jeffery, LeGarrette Blount, Patrick Robinson, Ronald Darby, Jay Ajayi, Chris Long and Jake Elliott.

A look at that list of names reveals players who have been integral pieces in contributing to the Eagles' 9-1 start. The other common denominators each share are they are all in their first season in midnight green and all were acquired through free agency or trades.

It's a pretty impressive list when you consider how each individual has impacted the Birds' season through 10 games. And the man ultimately responsible for all of these moves is The Godfather, Howie Roseman.

It's generally fool's gold when a team relies too heavily on trades and free agency. You only need to go as far back as 2011 to the Eagles' "Dream Team" to make this point. This isn't 2011, though. The 2017 club has plenty of homegrown talent, be it Carson Wentz, Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox or Brandon Graham. But there is no denying what kind of contribution the other newcomers have given the Birds.

The Eagles had some glaring areas of need entering the season. Most notable were wide receiver, cornerback and running back. And while they drafted guys who have contributed at those spots, like Mack Hollins, Rasul Douglas, and Corey Clement (who they snagged as an undrafted free agent), the players brought here through signings and deals have reaped greater rewards this season.

That's not even mentioning the future investments like Sidney Jones, who could pay major dividends at corner in years to come.

Blount and newly acquired Ajayi have formed two-thirds of the Eagles' second-ranked rushing attack. Ajayi could be the gift that keeps giving, as he gains more knowledge of the playbook and reps. The 30-year-old Blount should be fresh down the stretch with the running back by committee approach the Birds employ.

And while Jeffery has not put up monster numbers, he's a big target that appears to be gaining more of a rapport with Wentz as the season has progressed, having been targeted 26 times the last three games while hauling in four touchdowns in that span.

All are essential pieces of this offense.

On the other side of the ball, Jernigan may not have been an obvious need, but has he ever had an impact? He and Cox represent the best duo in the NFL on the inside. He's been rewarded with a rich, new extension and he's a major reason the Eagles are the best team in the league against the run and have had so much success pressuring the passer.

The signing of Robinson went under the radar, for good reason. He played for three teams in the previous three seasons and looked as if he might be on his last legs entering his eighth season. Instead, he's been a find, manning the slot and providing coverage and tackling skills the Eagles' corners desperately needed.

Long has seamlessly incorporated himself into the Birds' defensive end rotation.

While his future with the club is still not a given for the rest of the season, Elliott has won the Eagles games with some big kicks in clutch time.

Combine the offseason moves with his drafts the past two years since regaining his organizational hand, and Roseman revisited is looking like the greatest sequel since The Godfather.