The Eagles ran for 193 yards and beat the Giants 27-24 last Sunday. The Eagles didn't win just because they ran the ball. You'll hear people rattle off stats that some team has a record of 16-2 when they run the ball 25 times or more. That sounds great, but there is no context. If all you had to do was run a certain amount of times, teams would follow that script without hesitation. That kind of stat is misleading because it doesn't tell the whole story. How many of those carries came in the fourth quarter when the team was trying to protect the lead and work the clock?
The Eagles don't win last week without Carson Wentz hitting Alshon Jeffery late in the game for a gain of 19 yards. That set up Jake Elliott's amazing field goal. There were two huge pass interference penalties in the game. Each one helped the Eagles score a touchdown.
Maybe the biggest benefit of the running game was the offensive line playing its best game of the year. The big guys up front love to fire off the ball and go mash on defenders. They want to run the ball on every play. That lets them attack, which is more fun than pass blocking. Jason Kelce played his best game of the year. Brandon Brooks had a strong showing. The offensive tackles played well, as they usually do. Both Chance Warmack and Stefen Wisniewski did good things at left guard. It will be interesting to see if the team prefers Warmack's power or Wisniewski's athleticism this week.
The Eagles will need another strong performance from the guys up front as they travel to Los Angeles to take on the Chargers. This is not a team you want to have coming after your quarterback. Defensive end Melvin Ingram has 5.5 sacks and has been a force this year. Joey Bosa was great as a rookie last year and is playing well this season. That's a deadly duo coming off the edges. How do you slow them down?
Run the ball.
The Chargers are 31st in the league in run defense. As crazy as this may sound, the Eagles are eighth in the league in rushing. Doug Pederson should feed the ball to LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood, and Corey Clement. Pound on those pass rushers to try to slow them down. Mix in some play-action passes to try and get some chunk plays. Could this finally be the week that Wentz will connect with his receivers on some deep balls?
If you look at the stats, the Chargers' pass defense looks impressive. They are fifth in the league in yards allowed. There are some problems if you look deeper. They have faced the fewest passing attempts. Combine that with the run defense and you understand that teams don't feel the need to throw much against them. If you're having success on the ground, why throw it? Opposing quarterbacks have a rating of 104.7, which tells you teams may not throw much against them, but they have success when they do.
The Chargers are 0-3, but this is a tough team. They missed a tying field goal at the end of the season opener. They missed a last-second field goal that could have won the game in Week 2. They lost to the Chiefs, 24-10. It was a seven-point game until a Kareem Hunt touchdown in the final two minutes. Every game has been tight. The problem is that they are just making too many mistakes to win the tight games. They might be winless, but this isn't a bad team. One of these weeks they are going to break through and win a close one.
Philip Rivers remains a smart, tough, veteran quarterback. He is a gifted pocket passer. One of the things I respect most about him is his toughness. Rivers isn't going to give up until there are zeroes on the clock. The Chargers can be down two or three scores and Rivers is going to keep slinging the ball around, trying to make plays.
The Eagles faced a passing game that got the ball out very quickly last week. Rivers traditionally has been a guy who likes to get the ball downfield. It will be interesting to see if the Chargers steal a page from the Giants' playbook and focus on quick throws or if Rivers still makes a lot of intermediate passes. The Eagles' pass rushers have to be hoping Rivers will hold the ball a bit. They had little to no chance last week.
Fletcher Cox is out and that is going to hurt the defense. Beau Allen will start in his place. Allen is a solid player, but isn't as good a disruptor or pass rusher as Cox. The coaches will probably move Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham inside on some passing situations. Both have the ability to rush up the middle and that's how you get pressure against an immobile pocket passer like Rivers. Tim Jernigan will get the spotlight up front. He's having a good year for the Eagles and this will be his chance to shine.
Jordan Hicks and Rodney McLeod will return to the starting lineup, making the Eagles' defense much stronger up the middle. The defense was vulnerable there at times last week, most notably on Sterling Shepard's long catch-and-run.
The Eagles' corners have to be feeling good. Jalen Mills was targeted over and over last week but held up well. Patrick Robinson broke up three passes and Rasul Douglas had an impressive interception. The Chargers have some good receivers, but nobody like Odell Beckham Jr. Travis Benjamin is the deep threat (18 yards per catch), while Keenan Allen is the workhorse (team-leading 19 receptions).
Rivers can pick the Eagles apart if he gets time. He did that when he faced the Eagles in 2013, throwing for 419 yards. He threw 47 passes and was only sacked once. Rivers is older now and the Eagles' defense is much better. It will be interesting to see how things go this week. Curry and Graham are going to do everything they can to get Rivers down.
One of the challenges Pederson had this week was handling his team's emotions. Beating the Giants with a last-second field goal in the home opener was great, but games like that can be trouble if they linger. The Eagles must be focused on the Chargers.
The Chargers are 0-3 and that makes them a desperate team. The Eagles had to deal with a winless Giants team last week and you saw how tough that was. If the Eagles are still thinking about Jake Elliott's kick, they will have problems on Sunday.
If Pederson was able to get his team to put that win behind them and to lock onto beating the Chargers, this could be a good business trip for the guys in midnight green.