Philadelphia Eagles News

Big Question: What's The Key For Nick Foles?

1. What is the best way to get Nick Foles going against Houston?

Dave Spadaro: The key for Foles on Sunday is to get the football out of his hands quickly and negate the pass rush. I think that's the way Foles is going to approach this. Houston has the dangerous pass rush, which includes a blitzing Tyrann Mathieu from the safety position. Maybe the Eagles will try to get the screen game going with Darren Sproles. Maybe the game plan includes moving the pocket a bit, which Foles had success with in Los Angeles. It's going to be difficult for the Eagles to run the football against the Texans, but the offense can move the sticks and give Foles some high-percentage throws to keep the Texans honest.

Foles spreads the ball around and looks for good matchups and he'll have some options against Houston. The Texans have given up some big plays in the passing game and their cornerbacks can be had. Truly, though, the best way to "get Nick Foles going" on Sunday is to give him excellent protection, provide him with some quick reads and easy throws, and keep the Texans off balance.

Fran Duffy: The best way to get him going is to do what has worked for him in the past. Rely on the quick game to get the ball out fast and use well-defined vertical throws to attack down the field. If the Eagles can get the run game going, which is no easy task against this Houston front seven, that will help immensely. This is a big test.

Chris McPherson: Ron Jaworski posted an interesting stat on Twitter. It's that Foles has completed 81 percent of his passes this season against the blitz for a 107.8 rating. Foles is aware of where the pressure is coming from and his alerts on such plays. The Texans do a great job of mixing up their pressure looks, so that might be more difficult this week. Nonetheless, the coaches did a great job of utilizing the play concepts that Foles is most comfortable with and using them repeatedly throughout the game after seeing how the Rams responded. I won't necessarily say that the Eagles need to ease Foles into the game. Head coach Doug Pederson won't be afraid to call a shot play to inject some adrenaline into the team – and the fans – on Sunday.

2. What's the difference going from Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh to J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney?

Fran Duffy: The Rams' defense is a "one-gap" unit, meaning it is going to attack upfield at the snap of the ball. This is similar to the Eagles' method of attacking up front. They don't blitz all that often and, outside of Suh moving around the formation here and there, you know where those guys will be. Scouting Houston, they love to move Clowney all over the formation. He'll stand up and put his hand in the dirt. Clowney's best pass rush reps come as a blitzer inside as opposed to outside against offensive tackles. The Texans blitz much more, and they're very good at disguising their pressures. In their base 3-4 defense, they also do a bit more "two-gapping" than the Rams, but this is an attacking scheme.

Dave Spadaro: An obvious difference is that Donald and Suh are tackles and Watt is an end and Clowney is an edge pass rusher, but otherwise there are more subtle differences. One of them is that Watt is a player who won't stop coming. His motor is unequaled. He's relentless, so matching up against right tackle Lane Johnson is going to be epic. It's going to be great theatre. Clowney plays from a standup position and he excels in space.

The Eagles spent a lot of their prep time last week putting together a blocking scheme to neutralize, as best they could, the talents of Donald. In this instance, it's likely that Johnson will get a lot of one-on-one time against Watt and the Eagles will make sure to do what they need to do to keep Clowney engaged and silent. But I also think that Houston is going to move both Watt and Clowney around. After speaking with Johnson this week, the expectation is that he will see both Watt and Clowney. That's going to be a handful for Johnson – and also for both Watt and Clowney.

Chris McPherson: I think Fran and Spuds highlighted the key difference with how the Texans move Watt and Clowney up and down the line of scrimmage. Houston also has more pass rush depth when you add Whitney Mercilus and Christian Covington to the mix. Yes, the strength of the Texans' defense is the front, much like Los Angeles' defense. But the Rams have an aggressive, attacking front like the Eagles utilize. There will be more two-gapping from Houston adding to the intrigue.

*3. Can the defense replicate its performance from last week against Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson?  *

Dave Spadaro: It starts at the line of scrimmage, as the Eagles have a significant advantage – on paper – against Houston's offensive line. Fletcher Cox and Co. must dominate up front and take out the Houston power running game – the bread and butter of the Texans' offense – and force Watson into some obvious throwing situations. Houston has allowed an NFL-high 52 quarterback sacks this season with a struggling offensive line working in front of Watson. He'll hold the ball and take sacks rather than turn the football over.

In his second season, Watson has 24 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. He's also got 436 rushing yards, averaging 5.6 yards per run. The Eagles had some problems against mobile quarterbacks like Marcus Mariota and Cam Newton earlier in the season and must account for Watson's ability to break the pocket and take off.

For me, when you say, "replicate its performance," what struck me from last Sunday was the energy with which the Eagles played. They need to bring everything they've got once again on Sunday. Watson, even when he's penned in, can throw it up in the direction of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who usually comes down with the football in his hands.

If the Eagles can replicate the energy they had on Sunday night, they'll be fine on defense.

Fran Duffy: I think they NEED to replicate that performance, and it's certainly possible. Watson has been sacked more than any quarterback in the NFL this year, and part of that is certainly on the offensive line, but a lot of that blame rests on his shoulders as well. If the Eagles can get to Watson early and often, that can help set the tone for the afternoon. The Houston offensive line is not as strong as the Rams' O-line, so the matchups are there for the Eagles to win both outside at tackle and inside at guard. If the Eagles can get home with a four-man rush and keep Watson on his heels, it will go a long way toward an Eagles win.

Chris McPherson: I think one of the early storylines will be how much energy will the defense have after back-to-back road games, and the emotional win last Sunday night in Los Angeles. The Eagles are jelling at the right time. The mood was a positive and confident one in the locker room. The players are thankful that Sunday's game has playoff implications and want to seize the moment. Watson will make mistakes. The defensive line should win up front, but it's one thing to win and get to Jared Goff vs. Watson, who will make you pay with his legs. Jordan Hicks is back in the middle of the defense. Tim Jernigan could be back to provide depth. The secondary has a big challenge with Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas on the outside. What will help matters is Lamar Miller is questionable with an ankle injury. The Eagles don't have a Todd Gurley to worry about out of the backfield. To limit losing defenders on the blitz, I wonder if Jim Schwartz will employ a spy on Watson to keep him contained.

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