Good morning, Eagles fans! One last practice today at 11:50 a.m. before the Eagles play the Texans in front of what should be a raucous, playoff atmosphere at Lincoln Financial Field. Head coach Doug Pederson will meet with the media at 10:30 a.m. and we will carry that live. Here's what you need to know in today's Morning Roundup presented by Microsoft leading off with what makes Sunday's opposing offense so dangerous.
1. Houston Will Create Problems
The Eagles will face another challenge on Sunday against a young and dynamic Texans team. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is one of the best in the league and has made game-changing plays this season, like last week's late go-ahead touchdown. The defense features two of the best rushers in the league in J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. They are able to get impressive pressure with just a three-man rush. And finally, quarterback Deshaun Watson has led the way with impressive speed on the ground and ability to find his playmakers down the field.
In his Eagle Eye column, Fran Duffy breaks down what makes the Texans – a team that started 0-3 but is now 10-4 – so good and where they have flaws, such as the fact that Watson has taken more sacks in the red zone than any other quarterback in the league:
I know much has been written about the Eagles and their pass protection woes at times this season, but for comparison's sake, Watson has been sacked 52 times (again, most in the league), with 19 sacks coming on third down and 14 in the red zone. Carson Wentz and Nick Foles have been sacked a combined 36 times with 11 sacks on third down and just four in the red zone.
Watson has been a bit erratic at times, but at any point he's able to turn it on and make plays that the Texans envisioned when they traded up to take him in last year's draft with the 12th overall pick.
2. How Bennett Got Back To Form
Michael Bennett was an intriguing free agent pickup for the Eagles this offseason. The 10-year veteran was known as a dominant pass rusher and was coming off three-consecutive Pro Bowl seasons. But Bennett struggled early in the season as he adjusted to the Eagles' defense and had to switch sides rushing.
Since then, Bennett has found a way to fit in with the defense and became his dominant self. Bennett leads the Eagles with eight sacks and is third in the NFL in quarterback hits with 28. Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro writes that it's been an impressive and difficult adjustment that Bennett had to make to turn 2018 into one of his best seasons:
"There was a lot of change for me and I had to do a lot of different things and I think I got better as a player," Bennett said. "I switched from being on the left to being on the right and I still made plays. For me it was a productive season, whether it was quarterback hits, pressures of TFLs (tackles for loss). It's exciting and next year is going to be even better."
3. Facing A Pro Bowl Player
Three Eagles were named to the Pro Bowl Tuesday night: right guard Brandon Brooks, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, and tight end Zach Ertz. They are each having impressive seasons and their numbers show that. But their peers – their teammates that face them in practice each day – can really tell the story of what makes them so good. So, we asked Eagles players about what makes their Pro Bowl teammates so dominant and they offered great insight:
On Fletcher Cox
"He's tough, he leads by example, and he's just a great football player, man. Best comment I can give him is he's a complete player. He's the best player in the building, in my opinion and he's a complete player. He plays the run and the pass equally well and he can wreck people's whole game plan." – Defensive end Chris Long
4. Lane On A Mission
There were several players on the Eagles who could have -- even should have -- made the Pro Bowl but did not. One of them is right tackle Lane Johnson who was an All-Pro last season and made the Pro Bowl. Johnson is frustrated with his snubbing. And he's ready to prove the NFL wrong. Dave Spadaro writes that for the rest of this season, Lane Johnson is a man on a mission:
"I feel there is no Pro Bowl for right tackles. It's all left tackles," Johnson said. "I feel like the only reason I made it last year, and I still wasn't starting, was because we were winning. But, it's not just me. It's other right tackles. That's what bothers me the most, seeing all of these players not getting the recognition they deserve.
"I'm tired of getting doubted. I'm at a point in my career where it's time to go. I'm ready to show my full potential. I think I had a little taste of it last year keeping my feet under me, staying away from injuries and playing good football. This will only fuel me more. It's very disappointing."
5. Injury Report
Linebacker Jordan Hicks, who hasn't played since injuring his calf in a Week 11 game against the Saints, was a full participant in practice yesterday. Tight end Zach Ertz was full as well after being limited with an ankle injury Wednesday. Finally, defensive tackle Tim Jernigan practiced in a limited capacity for the second-straight day. He looks to return from a back injury that's keep him sidelined since Week 13 against Washington. More details are available in yesterday's injury report.
6. Get To Know Fletch
Fletcher Cox was just named to his fourth-straight Pro Bowl. In his seven NFL seasons, more have ended in a Pro Bowl nod than not. He now trails just Reggie White in the number of Pro Bowl selections by an Eagles defensive lineman. In Week 14, Cox also set the franchise record for sacks by an Eagles interior lineman. Simply put, you're watching history when you watch Cox play.
Learn more about Cox in a Q&A that will appear in this Sunday's Gameday Magazine:
The only defensive linemen in team history with more Pro Bowl selections is Reggie White. What does that mean to you?
"Just to even be talked about in the same sentence is very humbling. I just want to keep stacking them, just keep being me. Going out and having fun and enjoying my teammates. I just want to keep doing that, but the main focus is to get a win on Sunday. ... The most important stat to me is the win-loss column."
7. Social Justice Fund Expands
Following $190,000 in grants including a $20,000 grant to MenzFit this week, the Eagles Social Justice Fund announced yesterday and additional $275,000 that will be distributed to local non-profits. The full list of the charities the Eagles will benefit can be found here. The fund aims to provide grants to organizations that work to reduce barriers to equal opportunity, with a specific focus on education, community and police relations, improving the criminal justice system, and other initiatives targeting poverty, racial equality, and workforce development in the Greater Philadelphia area:
"My desire has always been to help create a positive environment for our players to pursue the causes and charities they value," said Jeffrey Lurie, Philadelphia Eagles Chairman and CEO. "The Eagles Social Justice Fund was established to provide support and critical resources for organizations addressing key social issues in our communities. We are inspired by their transformational work and hope that this funding will help enhance and strengthen their impact on those who need it most."