Sunday's showdown with the Rams will be the biggest game of the year for the Eagles. They can clinch the NFC East title and really help their chances of securing a first-round bye. They have an opportunity to show they can beat one of the best teams in the league. The Eagles have the potential to bounce back from a tough loss in Seattle. There is a lot on the line.
It feels good to have the Eagles playing in a game like this. You have to go back to December of 2014 to find anything similar, but Mark Sanchez was the quarterback then and that team had some holes. Thankfully, this team is in much better shape. The last really compelling December game was in 2013 when the Eagles played the Cowboys in the regular-season finale. The winner took home the NFC East crown and the loser missed the playoffs. That was fun, with the Eagles winning a tough game.
Beating the Rams will be a major challenge. This team is good on offense, defense, and special teams. They have an outstanding young quarterback in Jared Goff and a very good coaching staff. The Eagles have their work cut out for them.
The biggest thing is to cut down on all of the mistakes from last week. There were too many penalties, turnovers, missed opportunities, and missed tackles. You aren't going to win December games playing like that. Doug Pederson and the Eagles' coaching staff pointed out the mistakes to the players this week and you can bet they focused on getting them corrected.
I expect the Eagles to run the ball in this game. The Rams have a good defense, but they are 27th in run defense and allow almost 5 yards per carry to opposing runners. The Eagles didn't run the ball much last week because they had to play from behind the whole game. I expect Pederson to run the ball a lot this time out. The Eagles will feed the ball to Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, and Corey Clement. Maybe this will be the week that Ajayi gets a lot of touches.
The last time the Eagles lost a game was Week 2 to the Chiefs. The Eagles ran the ball 39 times for 193 yards and a pair of touchdowns the following week against the Giants. There is something about the run game that helps an offense to settle down and get going. Being able to physically beat up on the man right across from you gets players fired up and builds their confidence.
Carson Wentz and the receivers will need to do their part through the air. Wentz had an off day in Seattle and must play better for the Eagles to win this week. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo has previously said that one of the best things about Wentz is that he's not a "repeat offender," meaning he learns from mistakes and doesn't duplicate them.
The Eagles' offensive line is in for a tough day. The Rams have 38 sacks so far this year and they can really pressure the quarterback. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is a truly special player and can be a game-wrecker. Stefen Wisniewski, Jason Kelce, and Brandon Brooks have their work cut out for them. They must keep Donald under control.
Donald isn't a one-man gang. The Rams have four different players other than Donald who have four or more sacks this year. End Robert Quinn can be a force off the edge. Halapoulivaati Vaitai will need to do a good job on him.
The Eagles' defense will also have a lot of pressure on them. Todd Gurley has run for 939 yards and eight touchdowns already this year. He is playing great football right now. The Eagles still have the top run defense in the league and I bet they'll be focused on shutting Gurley down.
You can't sell out to stop the run or the Rams will throw the ball over your head for big play after big play. They have three receivers averaging 15 or more yards per catch. They throw the ball downfield. They want big plays.
Gurley is also an important part of the passing game. He has 48 catches and averages 11.7 yards per reception. That is crazy for a running back. Those guys normally catch little dump-off passes and get short yardage. Gurley can catch short passes and make big plays out of them. He can also catch the ball down the field. The Eagles must know where No. 30 is lining up all game long.
The key to the offense is Goff, the top overall pick from 2016. He struggled as a rookie, but has emerged as a star quarterback this year. Goff is a terrific downfield passer and that means defensive backs will have a lot of pressure on them.
The good news is that Goff is a limited scrambler. I'm sure Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, and Vinny Curry were dizzy after watching tape of themselves chasing Wilson all over the field.
Don't forget about special teams. Greg Zuerlein is one of the best kickers in the NFL. Johnny Hekker is an elite punter. Pharoh Cooper is a terrific return man. The Rams can make big plays in the kicking game. Dave Fipp must have his special teams units ready to play.
I'm interested to see how the Eagles respond to last week's game. Seattle was a tough environment. The Eagles lost and only scored 10 points. The defense was continually frustrated by Wilson's improvisational skills.
The Eagles have been a confident, energetic team all year. That was missing last week. Will the loss stick with the team or can the players get back to their usual form?
Pederson has been masterful this year with knowing how to keep his team focused and motivated. He's shown a great feel for knowing what to do and say to have the Eagles in the right frame of mind. It will be interesting to see if he's been able to push the right buttons this week.
Big games mean a lot of pressure, but you don't want the players being tight. They must be relaxed, but focused at the same time.
The Eagles have a chance to start a new winning streak on Sunday. Beating the Rams won't be easy, but that's what makes it a big game. If the Eagles can avoid mistakes and make plays, they can get back to having some fun on the field.