Turning the page to the San Dieg … er, Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, the Eagles face some interesting challenges: They travel for the third time in four weeks, this time all the way to Southern California, where they haven't played since 2009 (an aggravating 31-23 loss to the San Diego Chargers), they're coming off an emotional in-division win, and they have some injury concerns to deal with.
That said, bring it on. By the way, the Eagles haven't played in Los Angeles since 1990, beating the Rams, 27-21. This time the Eagles are playing at the StubHub Center, with a capacity of 27,000 fans. Eagles fans will dominate this venue. Sunday will have a home-game feel for the E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES (you're going to hear a lot of that during the game)!
Anyway, this is another test to find out more about an Eagles team that, as expected, has played three very close games, winning two. All three games went down to the fourth quarter – the Eagles had a 19-17 lead early in the fourth at Washington, the teams were tied 13-13 in Kansas City in the fourth quarter, and Philadelphia and quarterback Carson Wentz actually came from behind in the fourth quarter to beat the Giants.
"The mark of a team that makes the playoffs versus one that doesn't make the playoffs is how you handle the fourth quarter," tight end Zach Ertz said. "Last year we didn't win these kinds of games. This year, so far, we're doing what we need to do, with the exception of Kansas City. It's going to make a difference.
"I think it's a sign of maturity. We learned from last year. That's just kind of how this season is going to go. We are going to be in a lot of tight games."
- It's still early, but a statistic worth noting is the offense's touchdown efficiency in the red zone. The Eagles have scored touchdowns on 66.7 percent of their trips inside opposing 20-yard lines, including a 3-for-3 outing against New York. They scored on their only trip inside Washington's 20 and were 2-of-5 in Kansas City. This is a statistic that means so much. Keep an eye on it. The Eagles rank 10th in the league in that category. Last season, by the way, the Eagles converted 49.1 percent of their trips into the red zone.
* The deep ball is a topic of conversation as the Eagles continue to throw it downfield and work on the timing and execution with Wentz and his receivers. I liked offensive coordinator Frank Reich's take on the effectiveness of the deep passing game against the Giants: "When I look back to this last game, we threw it deep three times and were successful two out of the three," Reich said. "That's the way we look at it because we got a 40-yard pass interference call and a 30-yard pass interference call and one incompletion. So we're going to keep throwing it and have a lot of confidence in Carson throwing it and then our guys running it."
* More on the offense: The third-down conversion numbers continue to be strong as the Eagles rank fourth in the NFL with a 48.84 percent conversion rate. The Eagles are in too many third-and-long situations, so they've got to be better on first and second downs. Wentz's scrambles have helped – as has his terrific ability on quarterback sneaks – but Reich thinks it ultimately comes down to an improvement in talent and performance from last season. "We have better players this year, and Carson is playing better. We have more playmakers, and they're - Carson, I've told you, we've mentioned this before, that (Quarterbacks) Coach (John) DeFilippo always tells Carson, 'Hey, just get one for us a game on your feet, just get one key third down for us a game.' He did it again this last week, key third down, scrambled I think on that last drive for a key first down that resulted in a touchdown later. ... We still need to stay out of those because it'll catch up to you over time if you don't."
* Through three games, the Eagles' cornerbacks have done a solid job, even with the loss of Ronald Darby. Jalen Mills has clearly taken a step forward from his rookie season and continues to play with his trademark tenacity and added anticipation and confidence. Patrick Robinson has really been a plus, sliding into the nickel role and competing there. Rasul Douglas had his first interception last Sunday and has come a long way in a short period of time. Coach Cory Undlin deserves a lot of credit for bringing this group along, and he and safeties coach Tim Hauck have worked well together with a group that has sustained early-season adversity. No real update on Darby as he continues to work his way back from that Week 1 ankle injury.
deserves a lot of credit for making an impact in this defense. It wasn't long ago that many wondered how Kendricks would fit into this scheme. Well, he's played in 49 percent of the snaps through three games and has 11 total tackles, one tackle for loss, one quarterback sack, and three passes defensed, including the tipped pass on Sunday that Robinson intercepted. Jim Schwartz has found ways to use Kendricks and Kendricks has responded.
The Eagles have some tough playmakers to contend with on Sunday in Los Angeles: Melvin Gordon is a real-deal running back who has had a problem staying healthy in his three NFL seasons. Keenan Allen is healthy after missing most of the last two seasons, first with a kidney injury and then a torn ACL. Antonio Gates, of course, is a prototype tight end who someday will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And quarterback Philip Rivers is competitive, fiery, and a gunslinger coming off one of the worst games of his career when he threw three interceptions in a loss to Kansas City.
Great test for the Eagles up front on offense going against top-tier pass rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, and tackles Brandon Mebane and Corey Liuget. It's an aggressive, physical, and very fast group. Los Angeles has Gus Bradley as its defensive coordinator and the Chargers run a 3-4 front, trying to emulate what the Seahawks did under Bradley.
Kenjon Barner is here to return punts in place of Darren Sproles. The Eagles could have promoted Byron Marshall from the practice squad, but he doesn't return punts. Barner has two punt returns in the regular season in his career, which is not a huge sample size, but he lit it up in preseason a couple of years ago and is reliable and solid. He will go north-south, not with the explosiveness of Sproles, but enough to threaten the coverage.
Injury updates? Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (calf), middle linebacker Jordan Hicks (ankle), and safety Rodney McLeod (hamstring) are three starters to monitor this week along with safety Corey Graham (hamstring) and cornerback Jaylen Watkins (hamstring). The Chargers are going to attack as did the Giants - quick slants, crossing routes, get the football out of Rivers' hand quickly.