It always starts with stopping the running game. The Eagles set up their defensive game plan every week and begin with a focus on the opposition's rushing attack. So the Eagles are in a bit of a strange place this week as they prepare for Sunday's game against Tennessee because the Titans have relied so much on a pounding, grinding ground game to fuel an offense that has struggled to put up points.
The Eagles know they need to stop the run, yes. They also know that even if they have success doing so, the Titans aren't going to back down sticking to what they do best.
"We try to make teams one-dimensional by stopping the run," middle linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "With the mentality the Titans bring and that offense has, I think it's going to be a great clash. It's what everybody wants to see – the leading rushing-attempt team (actually second) versus the best defensive run-stopping team (the Eagles lead the NFL allowing only 61.7 ground yards per game). We embrace it. It's who we are. It's our mindset. Stop the run. Make them one-dimensional and let our defensive line go have some fun.
"They've got really good running backs. They've got a great offensive line that's physical. Obviously, they've got a quarterback who adds an extra element to their offense, so they pose a lot of different looks and they pose a lot of different formations and personnel. We've got to be ready for whatever. And the moment you take your guard down is when they hit you for a big one."
The Eagles want to limit the big one, whether that comes from quarterback Marcus Mariota throwing one down the field – which he has not done this season, in part because of a nerve injury in his elbow that limits the feeling he has in his right hand – or Mariota bootlegging and keeping the ball as he gets on the edge.
"He can do a little bit of everything," defensive end Chris Long said. "Your angles have to be really good. When he boots you, you always have to be aware of the zone read. When you play another team you're thinking about your keys but you're not thinking about zone reads. Every play you have to think about is there is a zone read possibility? Could they run a pistol here or a speed option? All that stuff is in your head before the snap and hopefully that doesn't slow you down."
Discipline is the key for the defense this week. Discipline and patience. If there are players trying to play "hero football," they're going to pay the price by giving up containment and watching Mariota pick up 40 yards with his legs or have him throw over the top when a linebacker or safety bites on a play-action fake.
Sunday is all about team defense, something the Eagles do very well.
"We pride ourselves on stopping the run and then putting pressure on the quarterback," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "We have to just go out there and play our game, be physical, and stay after it. Don't try to do too much. Trust the guy next to you."
Tennessee has its best offensive lineman, right tackle Jack Conklin, back on the field after tearing his ACL in the playoffs last year. Conklin started the first 32 games of his career and was a star as a rookie. He's an excellent lineman who will battle.
"They're good up front and they play physical football. They like to run the ball. That's what they do," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "It's going to be one of those games. Gotta win it in the trenches. That's the kind of game we like to play."
Tennessee uses Derrick Henry as the smash-mouth running back and Dion Lewis as the change-of-pace back who also makes big plays in the passing game. The Eagles' defense, playing without injured safety Rodney McLeod, wants to stuff the run and force Mariota to drop back and win with his arm. The goal doesn't change – if the Eagles can take away the running game and turn the defensive line loose, they have the advantage with this defense.
First and second downs are where the success must come. Third-and-long plays into the Eagles' hands.
"They don't make it easy," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "They're going to run it and keep running it. You have to be ready for that kind of day. We have to be ready to bang and be physical on Sunday."