The Eagles (0-1) are hosting the Rams (1-0) at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday afternoon.
Here are five key matchups to watch:
Nate Herbig vs. Aaron Donald
Let’s get this one out of the way first. Because the Eagles have a second-year undrafted player facing a first-ballot Hall of Famer in his prime. Yeah, this is a pretty obvious mismatch.
Now, the Rams this season are moving Donald up and down the line but there’s no question that getting him against Herbig (or whoever plays at right guard) is the most favorable matchup and has the best chance to completely ruin the Eagles’ offensive gameplan.
“Obviously Aaron Donald is a great player, tremendous player,” Doug Pederson said. “There are not many offensive lines out there that really kind of slow this guy down. I mean, he just goes from snap to whistle. He's a hundred miles an hour and that's tough.
“For us, it's about understanding where he lines up and he does move -- it's a different scheme. It's not the same Wade Phillips scheme. It's a different scheme so they move him around the D-Line just a little bit more, so it's imperative that we understand where he's at. Communication is of the utmost, obviously, and it starts with [C Jason] Kelce and echos along the offensive line. So we just have to be aware of where he's at.”
Sure, knowing where Donald is lining up is important but that doesn’t really help block him.
And it’s hard to overstate just how good Donald is. This is his seventh NFL season and he’s been a Pro Bowler all six years and an All-Pro in the last five. He has 73 sacks in his career. He’s the best defensive player in the NFL and it’s not close.
Meanwhile, the Eagles’ weakest position on their OL is probably at right guard, where Herbig is the starter for now. If Lane Johnson plays, perhaps the Eagles slide Jack Driscoll in at RG in his place. Or, heck, maybe Jamon Brown learns the offense really quickly.
The one thing we know is that Brandon Brooks isn’t walking through that door. No matter who plays at right guard, the Eagles are going to be at a disadvantage.
Cooper Kupp vs. Nickell Robey-Coleman
This is one of the most fun matchups of the weekend because it’s two former teammates going at it. This matchup also happens to feature one of the best slot receivers vs. one of the best nickel corners in the NFL.
“Cooper is a great receiver because he knows how to separate from defensive backs, and his short-area quickness is second to none,” Robey-Coleman said. “And he’s so smart, and him and the quarterback have such a great relationship, they’re kind of on key with each other.”
Last season, Kupp had a breakout season, catching 94 passes for 1,161 yards and 10 touchdowns. And he was in the slot for nearly 66 percent of his snaps in 2019. While Robert Woods gets some time in there, NRC will be dealing with Kupp for most of Sunday.
Rams run game vs. Eagles linebackers
If you watched that Rams-Cowboys game last week, you definitely noticed how much the Rams ran the ball. They had 40 attempts for 153 yards (3.8) and two touchdowns. Big Malcolm Brown (5-11, 222) got 18 carries and rookie Cam Akers got 14. They didn’t have huge numbers but the Rams kept pounding the rock.
It’s important to note that the Rams didn’t start running with some big lead against the Cowboys. That was their game plan the whole time.
“They're committed to the run, I think they always have been going back with Todd Gurley. They just leaned on him,” Eagles DC Jim Schwartz said. “They have a different cast of characters now, but it really hasn't changed their philosophy.
“If you don't stop the run, they're going to keep on running it. They controlled that game on Sunday with about 150 yards rushing, all those attempts. I think a lot of that is in our hands. They're going to stay committed, but how committed they are is really going to depend on how well we're doing against it. If we're doing a good job on that, and also in conjunction with that not giving up big plays down the field.
“It's easy to sell out on the run, but at what expense? Do you give up big plays down the field as a result? That's not a good formula either, so we have to balance both of those. If we're doing a good job stopping the run, I think that can sort of change their opinion of it a little bit."
Last week, the Eagles did a good job against the run vs. Washington. They gave up just 80 yards on 36 attempts (2.2). But that’s nothing new. Since Schwartz became the DC in 2016, the Eagles have the best rushing defense in the NFL, giving up 92.2 yards per game.
Inexperienced Rams iOL vs. Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson
The Rams have pretty good offensive tackles in Andrew Whitworth (left) and Rob Havenstein (right), but they’re a little more susceptible to interior pass rush. That’s a good sign for the Eagles because they’re banged up at defensive end and have Cox and Jackson at defensive tackle.
Here’s a look at the Rams’ interior offensive line:
LG: Joseph Noteboom: Third-round pick out of TCU in 2018. Last week made his seventh career NFL start. Gave up a sack, a QB hit and 2 pressures.
C: Austin Blythe: In his fifth year, Blythe was a 7th-rounder back in 2016. Last year, PFF ranked him as the 42nd-best center in the league. For reference, Jason Kelce was first. Blythe gave up 34 hurries last season, second-most among all centers.
RG: Austin Corbett: A second-rounder in 2018, Corbett was traded to the Rams during last season for a fifth-round pick. He made his ninth career start against the Cowboys. Corbett had a decent game last week but struggled in his first two NFL seasons.
Carson Wentz vs. Rams secondary
Last week, it looked like Wentz was on his way to having one of the best games of his career. Then it turned out being one of his worst.
Wentz was picked off twice, fumbled once and generally just held on to the ball way too long last week. He needs to be much better this week and going forward.
“We talked about we came out swinging and we started fast, but we had – obviously the turnovers really hurt us,” Wentz said. “I got to do a better job protecting the ball. We had a lot of negative plays on first down and that put us in really tough situations. We had way too many third and, really, extra longs. Negative plays really affected us and that was everyone across the board.
“It wasn't a lot of physical mistakes as much as just communication and some breakdowns that we got to get situated and, like I said earlier, I got to take better care of the ball, get rid of the ball and I'm looking forward to bouncing back, personally, and I know this offense is as well.”
It will be no easy task facing the Rams’ secondary in Week 2. The Rams’ secondary is a top 10 unit in the NFL, led by Jalen Ramsey. It also features John Johnson, Jordan Fuller and Tory Hill. It’s a good unit that held Dak Prescott in check last week.