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."

Carson Wentz returns to 11-on-11s, and there's even better news too

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Carson Wentz returns to 11-on-11s, and there's even better news too

The good news is that Carson Wentz is participating in full-team 11-on-11 drills Sunday.

The better news is that Doug Pederson says it’s permanent.

“Every day, he’ll get a little something,” Pederson said.

Pederson said a week ago that he anticipated Wentz resuming full-team drills on his surgically repaired knee this week, and he said before practice that the plan was still in place, even though the Eagles practiced outdoors on rain-soaked fields Sunday.

It was their first practice since their preseason game Thursday night in Foxboro, Massachusetts, and it was closed to the media.

Pederson said it was a big step for Wentz to return to full-team drills. He said Wentz and Nick Foles would split reps Sunday with the first offense.

Does this mean he’s going to play against the Falcons in the opener?

It’s certainly a big step.

“It’s big,” Pederson said. “It’s big to begin to evaluate him and see where he’s at and get him back in there with the guys. 

“It’s still a slow process, but at the same time, it’s still exciting for us to get him back out there.”
Wentz, who tore his left ACL in Los Angeles on Dec. 10, participated in 11-on-11 drills July 26-28, but after the third day, Pederson shut him down, limiting him to only individual and 7-on-7 drills the last three weeks.

Pederson said it wasn’t a setback but that he had seen enough from Wentz.

But now, with opening day just 2 1/2 weeks away, Wentz is back doing full-team drills, and Pederson said everything he sees from Wentz is encouraging.

“His arm is live, he’s moving around well,” Pederson said.

He said Wentz will still be limited to how much full-team work he gets but will get some in every practice.

“He’s not going to get the full complement of reps,” Pederson said. “We’ll sprinkle him in in each drill.”

Pederson was asked what he learned by watching Wentz these last few weeks. 

“Quite a bit, actually,” he said. “His overall health, the strength of his knee, where he’s at physically. His arm is live, he hasn’t had all the reps … like Nick has had, like Nate (Sudfeld) has had, so he’s fresh. All the things where he wanted him to be at this stage.”

Wentz won’t play against the Browns on Thursday night, and Pederson said he doesn’t plan on playing him in the preseason finale, even if he’s fully cleared.

“Probably not,” he said. “We’re not there yet. We’re just going to take it day-by-day right now. … I haven’t thought beyond getting him out there today. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Wentz wasn’t made available to the media before or after practice Sunday. He’s scheduled to talk Monday.

Pederson said he knows Wentz was frustrated not being involved in team drills these past few weeks, but Pederson made it clear to the 25-year-old third-year pro that he wasn’t going to deviate from the plan.

“The biggest thing is communicating with him,” Pederson said. “Just saying, ‘Hey, here’s the plan, and this is the way it is and this is what we’re sticking to.’  

“If I were in his shoes, I’d probably want to be out there, too. But this is obviously for his health and benefit and his progress and the longevity of his career, so the biggest thing for me was just being honest and communicating with him up front.”

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Eagles Injury Update: Nick Foles was right about his right shoulder injury

NBC Sports Philadelphia

Eagles Injury Update: Nick Foles was right about his right shoulder injury

Just a few days after Nick Foles was wincing in pain on the field at Gillette Stadium, he’s all good. 

It was just a minor shoulder strain. Foles will practice today. 

“He’s fine,” Pederson said. “Yeah, he’s good.”

Foles suffered the injury early in the second quarter. He was taken out of the game but was very optimistic late Thursday night. He was right about his injury. Tests showed it was minor, indeed. 

That’s obviously great news for the Eagles, who kept Foles as an expensive insurance policy for Carson Wentz. The Eagles still hope Wentz will be ready for Week 1, but if he’s not, they have a Super Bowl MVP to fall back on. 

As Wentz returns to 11-on-11 action today, he and Foles will split first-team reps “50-50,” according to Pederson.  

This afternoon, Pederson also updated a few other injuries: 

• Don’t expect to see Darren Sproles or Jason Peters at all this preseason. Pederson said he doesn’t need to see them in a game. Sproles and Peters are both over 30 and coming off ACL tears. 

“Overall, they’re great,” Pederson said. “Right on track. Both of them are healthy and doing a nice job. I don’t necessarily need to see these guys. These two guys have played a ton of games.”

Pederson said they see enough from those two players during practices, which can be tougher on them than an actual game. Pederson thinks they’re ready to play. 

• Tight end Richard Rodgers, who suffered a knee injury against the Patriots, is considered to be “week to week.” That means we might not see him for a while. If Rodgers isn’t healthy by the start of the regular season, the Eagles will have a decision to make. Maybe they keep a fourth TE for a little bit. 

• Corey Clement and Nelson Agholor are considered “day to day,” Pederson said. Both have lower-body injuries and didn’t play in Thursday’s game. If they don’t practice this week, expect them to miss this coming Thursday’s game in Cleveland. 

• Jalen Mills, who didn’t play Thursday after leaving Tuesday’s practice early, will practice today. He’ll be limited to individual periods and won’t get in for 11-on-11s. 

• While Pederson said Donnel Pumphrey is “doing good,” he probably won’t practice this week. That means he probably won’t play in another preseason game. Hard to make the team on the sideline.

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