California is the land of dreams. Young musicians go there hoping to become part of the next great band. Actors flock there in search of the big break that will help them become the next Bradley Cooper or Megan Fox. Filmmakers go there looking to break into Hollywood.
The Eagles went to California with dreams of their own. They wanted a win and to improve their shot of making the playoffs. They also wanted a chance to show the world this team still had something left. There aren't any signature wins this year, so it is fair that people have questioned the Eagles. Playing the Rams gave the Eagles a chance to win a big game and send a message to the rest of the league.
Those dreams were answered. The Eagles beat the Rams, 30-23. Beyond that, they played their best game of the year and looked like a good football team. This won't go down as an all-time Eagles performance, but we finally saw this team show real signs of life.
Forget about Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox was easily the best defensive player on the field. Heck, he was the best player period. Nick Foles, the Eagles' backup quarterback, outplayed Jared Goff, the Rams' franchise quarterback. The Eagles dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. A banged-up Eagles defense held the high-flying Rams to just 23 points, their lowest total of the season at home.
As Doug Pederson said after the game, this really was a total team win.
Foles will get a lot of attention because he's a quarterback and that's the most scrutinized position in all of sports. Foles played well and helped the offense put up 30 points, their second-highest total of the season.
The biggest thing that Foles did was get the ball downfield to Alshon Jeffery. The Eagles have struggled with the vertical passing game all year long. That changed on Sunday night when Foles hit Jeffery for gains of 50, 36, and 26 yards. Those chunk plays can make all the difference in the world for an offense.
Sustaining drives is hard. The Eagles had two drives of 10 plays or more. Both led to field goals. Two of the three touchdown drives involved chunk plays to Jeffery. Big plays matter.
The key to Foles' success was putting air under the ball and giving his big receiver a chance to make a play. Jeffery has a tremendous catch radius. Put the ball up high and he can go get it.
Foles didn't have any touchdown passes. Once the Eagles got near the goal line, they leaned on their run game. Wendell Smallwood ran for two scores and Josh Adams added a touchdown of his own. Give the runners credit, but blocking was the real key.
The Eagles' offensive line won at the line of scrimmage. They didn't give up any sacks. They helped the team run for 111 yards. Give left guard Stefen Wisniewski special credit for the job he did on Donald. The Rams' star was largely held in check.
The Rams don't have an elite defense, so it wasn't all that surprising to see the Eagles have success on offense. The big question was how the defense would fare against an explosive Rams offense. Stopping the Rams is hard with a healthy team, but the Eagles' defense has backups all over the place.
Luckily Jim Schwartz and his players focused on who was playing rather than who wasn't. Schwartz put together a brilliant game plan that took away big plays from the Rams. The Eagles forced them to throw short and sustain drives.
That plan can only work if two things happen. You need the defensive line to get regular pressure and you need the guys on the back end to tackle well. The Eagles did both.
Goff was only sacked once, but he was pressured on a regular basis. Cox was physically dominant. He beat blockers and got pressure on some plays. There were other times when he simply drove the blockers right back into Goff.
Cox wasn't alone. Michael Bennett was disruptive throughout the game. Brandon Graham did his part. I thought Haloti Ngata played his best game as an Eagle. The guys up front got the job done.
The back seven did a great job of flying to the ball and gang-tackling. The whole defense played with a lot of energy and emotion. They flew around the field and really popped receivers when they had the chance.
The return of Avonte Maddox made a big difference. I wasn't sure where Schwartz would play him -- corner, slot, or safety. Schwartz put him at left cornerback and that turned out to be the right move.
Goff threw to Maddox's side several times, but with little success. The final desperate pass of the game came Maddox's way, but ended up incomplete. Maddox was in good position and Goff didn't have a spot to throw to.
Maddox finished the game with three solo tackles, an interception, and a pass breakup. He and Rasul Douglas stayed on the outside and gave the Eagles stability, something the secondary has lacked for most of the year.
Special teams also did its part in the win. Jake Elliott hit three of his field goals and all three of his extra points. Cameron Johnston averaged 52 yards per punt and pinned the Rams deep on a couple of them. The coverage units were outstanding. D.J. Alexander made his biggest play of the year when he recovered a muffed punt in the fourth quarter.
It wasn't a perfect showing. The Eagles got up 30-13 but couldn't build on that lead. Foles threw a costly interception in scoring territory and Elliott missed a 52-yard field goal. Still, the Eagles held on for the win.
The Eagles left California feeling good about themselves. They beat one of the best teams in the league. There wasn't any luck. The Eagles took down the Rams on Sunday night. They showed they are still a team to be reckoned with when they play good football.
We don't know how things are going to turn out, but the final two weeks just got a heck of a lot more interesting. The Eagles gave us all hope that they could still make something out of the 2018 season.