A team with deep playoff aspirations visits Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday, bringing one of the rising young quarterbacks, a high-powered set of skill-position players offensively, and a defense that features two of the most versatile players in the NFL. In other words, the Eagles know they are playing a strong team in the 4-3 Los Angeles Chargers. Here is a look at some of the matchups to pay attention to in this Week 9 contest.
1. Eagles running game vs. Chargers run defense
Fresh off a 236-yard performance in Detroit, the Eagles' running game goes against a Los Angeles defense that has had its troubles against the run. The Chargers rank 32nd in the NFL against the run, allowing 159.6 yards per game and 5.12 yards per carry. Los Angeles, however, has one of its best run-stoppers, defensive lineman Justin Jones, back in the lineup and there was improvement last week against New England, so both teams are feeling like the running game – respectively on offense for the Eagles and on defense for the Chargers – is trending in the right direction.
The Eagles split the carries in Detroit between Boston Scott and Jordan Howard, who combined for 124 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries, until later in the game when Kenny Gainwell took the bulk of the work. It's a nice three-man rotation that provides versatility for the Eagles, as well as receiving threats out of the backfield. The Eagles are healthy up front, with right guard Jack Driscoll in the starting lineup after leaving last week's game with a thumb injury.
2. Defensive approach vs. QB Justin Herbert
Philadelphia has all kinds of respect for Justin Herbert, the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year last season. He's a strong-armed quarterback who has toughness, smarts, and athletic ability. He has thrown 16 touchdown passes and six interceptions this season. How do the Eagles attack him? Defenses of late have dropped defenders in coverage against Herbert, forcing him to throw into tight windows. Herbert has had great success against the blitz, another reason defenses have backed off in the way they approach Herbert.
What will Jonathan Gannon dial up to take Herbert off his game? It's going to be a fascinating chess match to watch on Sunday.
3. CBs Darius Slay, Steven Nelson vs. WRs Keenan Allen, Mike Williams
This is a great battle to watch. Keenan Allen is one of the game's great route runners who has been among the league's best receivers for many seasons, and Mike Williams is a 6-foot-4, 218-pounder who uses his body and his length to create separation. We will see how the Eagles play it with their coverages, but they are certainly well aware of the dangers from the Chargers' receiving corps. Allen and Williams are a formidable duo, one of the best in the NFL.
4. LT Jordan Mailata vs. DE Joey Bosa
Los Angeles will move Joey Bosa up and down the line of scrimmage to create the best matchup, so both Jordan Mailata and Lane Johnson could see a lot of one of the game's most relentless and talented pass rushers. Bosa reached double digits in sacks in three of his first four seasons until injuries limited him to 12 games in 2020. Bosa has 3.5 quarterback sacks and eight quarterback hits in 2021. He doesn't stop on any play, so the Eagles must play him to the whistle.
5. QB Jalen Hurts vs. S Derwin James
One of the NFL's best safeties, Derwin James is helping take the position to a new level with his versatility and production. After missing 2020 because of a knee injury, James is back to doing things that other safeties just don't do. Head Coach Brandon Staley has said that James plays five positions – both free and strong safety, "star," "money," and "X." There will be times when Jalen Hurts looks at the Chargers' defense and sees James at the line of scrimmage, or lined up over a tight end, or in the box as a quasi-linebacker. He's a game-wrecker and James is a player who will command Hurts' recognition on every play.
6. Eagles LBs vs. RB Austin Ekeler
As much as the Chargers like to push the ball to their talented wide receivers along with tight end Jared Cook (23 receptions, two touchdowns), they also like to make sure running back Austin Ekeler gets his touches. Ekeler has rushed for 420 yards, averaging 5 yards per carry and 12 carries per game. He also has 33 receptions for 302 yards and Ekeler has scored a total of eight touchdowns. As the Eagles did last week against Detroit's D'Andre Swift, the goal is to swarm to the football. Philadelphia's defense executed that perfectly in Detroit. A repeat performance is the goal. Ekeler can make defenders miss and he can run through them. He's tough, he's versatile, and he is a valuable weapon whom the Chargers love to give touches.