Christmas is a time of peace, love, and joy.
That better not be the case on Christmas night when the Raiders visit Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles need to be rude hosts. They need to beat up the Raiders on offense, defense, and special teams. This isn't a week to be a finesse squad. The Eagles need to be tough and physical.
With this game being on Monday night, it is going to be cold. That kind of weather suits the running game and stout defense. I think that's exactly how the Eagles need to play.
Nick Foles dropped back to throw 39 times against the Giants. The running backs carried the ball 25 times. That formula worked fine as the team piled up 341 yards and 34 points. This is a game where the Eagles should run the ball and impose their will. The Raiders have struggled on offense the last two weeks. Their defense has given up 291 rushing yards in those losses. There is no need to make this complicated.
There are some benefits to going to more of a run-heavy attack. The Raiders have a pair of outstanding pass rushers in Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. Both are undersized players who you are better off running at than trying to pass block.
That's not to say they are unable to play the run. Mack is one of the most disruptive defenders in the league. He's tough to deal with no matter what. Still, you'd rather have your big tackles pounding on him than letting Mack use his explosiveness off the edge.
Running the ball a lot also puts the game into the hands of the offensive line. The Eagles' O-line is playing well right now. Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks just got voted to the Pro Bowl. Jason Kelce should have been named a starter but will be an alternate. The line has been especially impressive at pulling and blocking on the move. The phrase "elephants on parade" comes to mind when seeing the big guys run around and mash on defenders. Kelce is especially fun to watch.
Jay Ajayi is running really well and is due for a huge game. This just might be the week to feed him the ball and see what he can do. LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement are key parts of the rotation. Blount pounds the ball between the tackles. Clement is the better outside runner and receiver.
One of the benefits of running the ball at this time of the year is that it can be demoralizing for the opponent. There is nothing worse than having a team run the ball on you in a tough, methodical fashion. The Raiders are virtually out of the playoff hunt. They are going to be 3,000 miles from home. If you can pound on them, it might take away their will to compete.
Foles and the passing game will certainly have to make plays. The Raiders struggle in pass defense. Opposing quarterbacks have a rating of more than 102 against them. That's good for 31st in the NFL. The Raiders have only picked off four passes all year. That's an amazing stat. As a point of comparison, the Eagles have 17 interceptions.
The Eagles' defense needs to bounce back after last week's disappointing performance. The Raiders will make an interesting test because they can throw the ball pretty well when everyone is healthy. That won't be the case on Monday night so it is hard to know exactly what to expect.
Left tackle Donald Penn got hurt last week and he's done for the year. The Raiders might shuffle their line or simply play a backup at that spot. Either way, they won't have their best five blockers on the field.
There is also Amari Cooper's situation. He missed last week with an ankle injury. Cooper is expected to play against the Eagles. The big question is how effective he'll be. A receiver who struggles to make sharp cuts isn't going to be as much of a threat.
The Raiders could feed the ball to Marshawn Lynch and focus on their run game, but that plays into the Eagles' strength. The guys in green (or black this Monday night) still have the No. 1 run defense in the league.
After seeing what the Giants did last week, my guess is that the Raiders will throw a lot of short passes and see if they can move the ball that way. Derek Carr has excelled at small ball in the past. Things haven't been as good this year, but he is still a talented quarterback.
You know the Eagles' secondary is tired of hearing about last week and would love the chance to put that game behind them. The Raiders won't make that easy. Even with Cooper at less than 100 percent, they have some talented pass catchers in Michael Crabtree and Jared Cook.
It will be interesting to see how the Eagles respond. They have covered well most of the year. Last week was a bad game. If the secondary plays better, it will put a lot of minds at ease. If the Eagles struggle again, there will be some worried folks.
This would be an ideal time for the pass rush to have a huge game. Carr has only been sacked 17 times this year so don't count on that. Still, Penn's absence at left tackle will make it harder to protect the quarterback.
There is one major X-factor in this game. Any time you play on Christmas night, you never know how that will affect players and coaches. John Madden used to believe that road teams had the advantage. Those players had to reschedule things with their families entirely.
Eagles players will be celebrating Christmas with their families that morning and then reporting to the NovaCare Complex that afternoon. Will that lead to any distractions?
This is a huge game for the Eagles. They can lock up home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs if they win. They need to go play a smart, clean, physical game and take care of business. A win on Monday night would be a nice gift to wrap up everyone's Christmas holiday.