LOS ANGELES – What do you expect in this game between an Eagles team that is one of only two unbeaten squads in the NFL and that has scored 25 or more points in each of the first four games and that has rolled to 415-plus offensive yards in each of the last three weeks, and a Rams team that is 2-2, looking like playoff contenders, and that on Sunday features the season debut of wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who in the 2021 Super Bowl season tore up the league to the tune of 145 catches, 1,947 yards, and 16 touchdowns?
A lot of offense? Maybe. It's certainly a chess match for both defenses as the Eagles look to go 5-0 in their first visit to SoFi Stadium, which, we know will have a distinct flavor of Eagles Green on Sunday afternoon. Here are some storylines to watch in the Eagles' first West Coast trip of the 2023 season …
1. Kupp and Nacua power dangerous Rams passing game
The return of wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who hasn't played since Week 10 of last season and who spent the first four weeks of the 2023 campaign on Injured Reserve with a hamstring injury, adds a powerful element to a dynamic passing game. Kupp is one of the game' most prolific wide receivers and he's going to be a challenge for the Eagles' pass defense, which now includes newly signed cornerback Bradley Roby, who was elevated from the practice squad. Through four games, Los Angeles had used rookie Puka Nacua as the primary pass catcher – his 39 receptions and 501 receiving yards on 52 targets lead the NFL. So, the question for Sean Desai's defense is this: How do the Eagles account for those two receivers, along with tight end Tyler Higbee, who has 16 receptions for 169 yards in the Rams' 2-2 start? The Eagles once again won't have safety Sydney Brown, but safety Justin Evans returns after missing Sunday's game.
2. A new starter along the Eagles offensive line
It is a credit to the players and the coaching staff that anytime a starter goes out along the Eagles' offensive line, the next man up steps in and plays well. The test for Sunday is at right guard with Sua Opeta stepping in for Cam Jurgens, who was placed on the Injured Reserve list on Saturday, with Aaron Donald across the line of scrimmage. Opeta is an experienced player in the offense, he has all the traits needed for success and he showed on Sunday against Washington just how well he plays when given the opportunity. Building depth along the line of scrimmage is extremely important and Opeta has been working hard at his game for five seasons. He will be ready. What it means for the way the Eagles attack the Rams' defense will be seen, but the Eagles know that Opeta is expected to play at a high level and the offensive line won't skip a beat.
Director of Photography Kiel Leggere gives you a look at this week's practices as the Birds get ready to face the Rams in Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon.
3. A.J. Brown is legitimately tearing it up
Here are the numbers for wide receiver A.J. Brown in wins over Tampa Bay and Washington: 18 receptions, 301 yards, and two touchdowns. We'll see what that means for this game, but you can bet that the Rams have noticed. Brown is on fire and if Jalen Hurts has chances to keep feeding him, he's certainly going to do that. That's part of the beauty of the Eagles' offense: There are so many weapons that the go-to player can be any one of a number of guys. It could be that Brown sees the football a lot in this one, but it's certainly possible that DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert are featured. And, hey, the Eagles could run the football at a high rate. It all depends on where and how the Eagles want to attack.
4. The focus on Eagles' young defensive tackles
Fletcher Cox has only missed a handful of games in his Eagles career, so his absence in Los Angeles will be felt. That, plus the defense playing without Marlon Tuipulotu (he has played well in the 36 snaps he's had), means the Eagles will rely on their young trio of defensive tackles – Milton Williams, Jordan Davis, and Jalen Carter, who leads the league with a 20.2 percent pressure rate, according to Pro Football Focus.
It also means that Kentavius Street, who has 23 snaps in four games, could see more action. The Eagles have the benefit of great depth at defensive tackle, and it's going to show here. The game plan, of course, is to win up front and pressure quarterback Matthew Stafford, one of the best in the game. Stafford will hang in and take some hits, and it's important that the Eagles make him uncomfortable and collapse the pocket. Clearly, stopping the run is huge in this game and it would certainly help the back end of the defense to put Stafford in some off-schedule situations. The young defensive tackles have impressed in four games and now they're going to be asked to take even more responsibility here.
5. Winning in the red zone
It usually comes down to turnovers and performance in the red zone, right? It's no different here. Los Angeles ranks ninth in red zone offense and with the addition of Kupp, the Rams are going to be even more dangerous, so the Eagles have their work cut out for them in the red zone. The Eagles' offense, of course, is looking for more efficiency in the red zone against a Rams defense that ranks 26th in the league, allowing a 70 percent touchdown efficiency inside the 20-yard line. In a game that features two offenses that have the capability to score a lot of points, scoring touchdowns instead of field goals could make the difference. And, yes, turnovers are still so critical. Philadelphia is at a +4 in turnover ratio and has takeaways in every game and that has been a huge key in the 4-0 start. Los Angeles is at -3 with just two takeaways.
6. Eagles fans: What kind of factor will they be?
Yes, this is going to be another road “home” game for the Eagles. SoFi Stadium will be awash in Eagles colors and it's going to be fun. If the Eagles can get out to an early lead, it's going to feel like Philadelphia West and the energy will be similar to Tampa, where the Eagles posted a two-touchdown win a couple of weeks ago. Will the fans force Stafford to use a silent count? Can the fans be so Eagles-energetic that the Rams are impacted? It has been a factor in the past when the Eagles won here in 2017 and 2018 and the Eagles fans are out here in full force once again.