Going into Sunday’s game, the big question was, "How can the Eagles beat the Rams?" Well, I looked at how the Chicago Bears were able to smother Jared Goff and that offense last week. The big takeaway from that game was that the Bears' defensive line completely owned that Los Angeles offensive line. To me, for the Eagles to win, they would need a repeat effort from their group up front. That’s exactly what they got on Sunday night, and it started with defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
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Cox was dominant against the Rams. Whether it was against the run or the pass, whether it was with quickness or with power or with technique, No. 91 found ways to wreak havoc in the backfield and make the Rams pay. He got to Goff multiple times, and even when it wasn’t a sack, he let him know he was back there breathing down his neck. Cox was stout against the run and was a big part of the struggles Todd Gurley faced in the run game as well.
Michael Bennett was also a big part of the win as well, as the veteran continued his string of impressive play. Bennett was matched up often with Rams right guard Austin Blythe, and Bennett crushed him. Cox and Bennett weren’t the only defensive linemen to stand out, because fellow veteran Haloti Ngata showed up in this game as well.
Ngata had, arguably, his best game with the Eagles on Sunday night. The former first-round pick got after Goff in the passing game, was stout in the run game, and chased plays down to the perimeter.
Getting after Goff was important, but nothing was more imperative for an Eagles win in this game than stuffing Todd Gurley and this outside zone run game. The Eagles had to find a way to keep Gurley contained like the Bears did a week ago. What is Sean McVay trying to do on those run schemes? First, the Rams want to stretch you at as a defense on the front side, forcing you to play sideline to sideline. Second, they want to cut off defenders on the back side of the run. These two actions create creases and alleys for Gurley. So the Eagles, conversely, had to stop that from happening. That meant setting strong edges on the play side, not allowing any movement east-west and forcing the running back to stop his feet or cut back before he’d like to. That also meant the backside defenders could not be cut off and had to be pursuing. Simply put, the Eagles did all the above for most of the night.
Whether it was the starters (Cox, Barnett, Brandon Graham, Chris Long, and Ngata there) or the backups (Treyvon Hester, Bruce Hector, Daeshon Hall, etc.), the Eagles' defense came ready to play against the run. Gurley did score twice and had a couple of nice runs, but he was bottled up for most of the night.
The other big storyline from the defensive side of the ball was Avonte Maddox's return to the starting lineup. The rookie had a steady impact earlier in the season as a starting free safety and nickel corner, but an injury against New Orleans sidelined him for the last few weeks. Maddox came back this week, and it was at a new position.
Maddox got the start at left corner for the ailing Sidney Jones, and he performed well. The rookie was competitive, instinctive, and showed off the athleticism that made him a fourth-round pick. Maddox got a big interception early in the game, then made two crucial plays on the final drive to help seal the victory. I’m excited to see how Maddox is used down the stretch once Jones is fully healthy again.
A couple of defenders came up with a big turnover on special teams, as Tre Sullivan helped force a fumble on a muffed punt and D.J. Alexander jumped on it for a recovery in plus territory. Before we give love to those guys, however, we have to start with Shelton Gibson.
Credit Sullivan and Alexander on the big play, but don’t forget to give some love to Gibson for the effort he showed earlier in the game, leading to a double-team on the fumbled return in the second half.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices, and opponents.