Lawlor: Game Preview vs. Texans

Stop me if you've heard this before, but the Eagles are playing the game of the year. This is the third week in a row that the Eagles are in this situation. That's what happens when you are up and down all season long. The playoffs don't start in January. They start in December, with every game being a pressure-packed affair.

The Eagles have now won three of the last four games so there is reason for optimism. Nick Foles will once again start at quarterback. We know he can win big games if the players around him do their part. The rest of the team seems to be peaking so things are coming together at the right time.

The Texans are as hot as any team in the league. They started 0-3 and have gone 10-1 since then. That is incredibly impressive.

Houston is built on star power. Deshaun Watson is one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. DeAndre Hopkins might be the best wide receiver in the league. Lamar Miller has developed into a big-time running back. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney are elite pass rushers. That is some serious high-end talent.

It is hard to get a feel for just how good the Texans are. They've played in a lot of close games. They are winning the close games, but this team isn't overwhelming anyone. The Texans are 14th in the league in yards gained and yards allowed.

You would think they might be great at situational football, but that's not the case. They are 20th in the league in third-down efficiency on offense and defense. They are down near the bottom of the league in red zone efficiency on both sides of the ball.

One of the big keys to the Texans' success is turnovers. Houston has gone four games in a row and seven of the last eight without turning the ball over. That is a coach's fantasy. Even better, the defense has at least one takeaway in every game since the end of September. They don't give it away, but they do take it away. That formula will help you go 10-1.

Watson is the player who makes me nervous. Jim Schwartz can call the perfect defense on a given play. The players can execute it just right. Watson can pull some Houdini act, escape from pressure, and then deliver a big play.

Watson reminds me of Russell Wilson. Both guys are incredibly hard to tackle. They both get sacked a lot, but it feels like they should be sacked even more. Both guys are outstanding at buying time for their receivers to get open and then finding the right guy to create a huge gain. That puts tremendous pressure on the defense.

Watson is not just some running back playing the quarterback position. He can be an excellent pocket passer as well. There are times when he makes some amazing throws. He did that at Clemson and he's done it in the NFL. He's inconsistent. That's what keeps their offense from being a juggernaut.

One of the reasons that Watson is so dangerous is that he has a great receiver in Hopkins. Watson knows that all he has to do is put the ball near Hopkins and his guy will make the catch. Hopkins has great hands and ball skills.

I'm sure Schwartz will use double teams on him, but those don't always work. Hopkins doesn't have to get open to be "open." Watson will still throw him the ball when he's covered. Hopkins might be the best contested-ball receiver that I've ever seen. He is strong, physical, and aggressive. He doesn't wait for the ball. He goes and gets it.

Houston's run game is a handful. They are fourth in the league in attempts and sixth in yards. They run the ball a lot. Miller is the big-play weapon. The Eagles have seven runs of 20 or more yards this year. Miller has six on his own. The Eagles don't have any runs of 40 or more yards. Miller has two.

Miller is a north-south runner with good burst and excellent speed. He can turn any run into a big play. Linebackers and defensive backs need to be in the right gaps and they must tackle well to limit his gains.

Complicating matters, Watson is a dangerous runner on his own. He averages 5.6 yards per carry and has run for 436 yards this season. Houston will use the read-option to put even more pressure on the defense.

Schwartz had a terrific game plan for the Rams and his players executed it brilliantly. The Eagles will get linebacker Jordan Hicks back this week and might also get Tim Jernigan as well. That would be a huge boost for the defense. You need as many talented athletes as possible to deal with the Texans' offense.

I'm not as worried about Foles and the Eagles' offense going up against Houston's pass rush and creative blitz schemes. Foles faced creative defenses in the playoffs last year and lit up the Vikings and Patriots. He was able to see what they were doing and beat them.

A lot of that was due to protection. The offensive line is playing its best football of the year. Watt and Clowney move around a lot so this won't be a matter of one blocker needing to shut someone down. The whole line will need to shine. Clowney spends as much time on the inside as he does outside. Everyone is going to have their hands full.

Pederson and the offensive staff dialed back the game plan last week, focusing on basics rather than having a ton of creative formations, shifts, and plays. The Eagles used a lot of two-tight end sets and had success with that. It will be interesting to see if they repeat that or try to find something new to throw at Houston.

The Texans have the fourth-best run defense in the league, while their pass defense has given up a ton of yards. I'm sure that's not lost on Pederson and the Eagles will throw the ball plenty, but I think he will still run the ball a fair amount.

Foles hit Alshon Jeffery for three receptions of 25 or more yards last week. The Eagles need more of those chunk plays. If the Texans focus on Jeffery, then get the ball to the tight ends or Nelson Agholor or Golden Tate. The Eagles have weapons. It is just a matter of Foles finding the right target and making a good throw.

With the season on the line, some players need to step up and make the key plays that will help the Eagles win and move even closer to the playoffs. Last week it was Jeffery making huge plays. Wendell Smallwood and Avonte Maddox had big games. Stefen Wisniewski came through in a significant way. Who wants to be the hero this time around?

This is a game the Eagles can win. They need to play good, clean football, which they did for the most part in Los Angeles last week. At the same time, this won't be easy. The Texans are red hot and loaded with stars.

The Eagles weren't intimidated by facing the 11-2 Rams on the road, so you know the Eagles won't be intimidated by facing the 10-4 Texans at Lincoln Financial Field. This could be the final home game of the year, so I expect the Eagles to lay everything on the line and find a way to win.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Eagles Message Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. You can also find his work at IgglesBlitz.com where he is the site's editor.

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