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Spadaro: 6 storylines to follow Sunday vs. Titans

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

The overarching storyline for Sunday's game against Tennessee is that the Eagles are playing a tough, physical, and very well-coached football team that has some challenging matchups with which to contend for the 1 PM kickoff. Within that, we've got a whole lot to discuss and look forward to as the Eagles go for win No. 11 at Lincoln Financial Field.

1. After Rushing For 363 Yards, The Eagles Face Tennessee's Rugged Run Defense

Jalen Hurts and the Eagles' offense put on a show on Sunday night against Green Bay with the 363 rushing yards. It was an amazing performance and it made you think: What kind of defense has the ability to stop such a physical, diverse, and explosive rushing attack? Enter Tennessee, which ranks third in the NFL against the run (84.5 yards per game). Tennessee plays aggressive, pounding defense and they bring waves of defenders into the mix. The Titans play defense with passion and discipline, so it surely will be interesting to see how it works with Hurts and Miles Sanders, who is just 100 yards away from the first 1,000-yard season of his NFL career.

"They're good, really good," Sanders said. "The key is that we have to dictate how the game is played and not have them dictate. They take it to offenses and they just wear you down with how physical they are. They get to the football. They attack. We know that we can't let them do that to us."

2. Third Down Is Where It's At For This Game

Philadelphia's offense ranks third in the NFL on third down, converting 47.2 percent of the time. Tennessee's defense is ranked first in the league, allowing a paltry 30.7 percent conversion rate. Something has to give here, right? It's critical that the Eagles keep their negative plays to a minimum so that the offense can operate with as many third-and-manageable situations as possible. Loving that quarterback sneak on short-yardage situations? We all do.

It's going to be interesting to see how it works against the Titans.

On the other side of the equation, Tennessee's offense converts third downs just 37 percent of the time to rank 27th in the league and the Eagles' defense ranks 15th, allowing a tick over 39 percent conversions. As always, this is a critical part of the game.

3. Oh, And In The Red Zone As Well

I wrote about this earlier in the week and I stand by it: The success the Eagles are having offensively in the red zone is just not being talked about enough. It's been huuuuuugggggeeeee. The Eagles convert 72.5 percent of their trips inside opponents' 20-yard lines into touchdowns and that means so much. The Titans rank 8th in red zone defense, with a touchdown percentage of 51.6. Big, big, big.

And Tennessee can directly point to its 0-for-3 performance last Sunday as a reason for its loss to Cincinnati. Prior to a three-game streak during which the Titans have been down in the red zone, Tennessee leads the league in this category. So, the Eagles' defense knows it has to come up with some stops on Sunday.

4. WR A.J. Brown Plays His Former Team

A.J. Brown has said all season that he doesn't engage in on-field trash talking or needless chatter, but he'll be tested on Sunday because the Titans are going to do everything they can do to take him off his game. He insisted this week that Sunday is "another game." For sure, it is, and it is an important one for the Eagles. And from Brown's perspective, you wonder how much this matters: Tennessee is ranked 31st in the league in pass defense, allowing 266.7 yards per game. That's a very high number and with a weather outlook that figures to be pretty good for an early December day, the passing game won't be hindered by the elements.

So, how many chances will Brown have against the team that drafted him in 2019 and for which he made the Pro Bowl in 2020?

5. QB Ryan Tannehill Averages 8.1 Yards Per Passing Attempt

This is a sneaky statistic and one worth considering: Tannehill averages a smidge more yards per passing attempt than does Hurts. What does that mean? It means that if the Titans get their running game going with Derrick Henry, the play-action passing game can be a dangerous piece of the offensive puzzle for the Titans.

"We're aware of it," safety Marcus Epps said. "They make plays down the field in the passing game. They like to push the ball in the play-action game. So we have to be aware of it and it's such a fine line. How much do you commit to stopping the run? Does it put your pass coverage in danger?"

6. The Playoff Picture

Here it is: The Eagles have the goal of winning the top seed in the NFC playoffs and hosting the NFC postseason at Lincoln Financial Field. They are 10-1, with Minnesota (which hosts the New York Jets on Sunday) at 9-2. It's a tight race. The Eagles defeated Minnesota in Week 2, so Philadelphia has the tiebreaker in a head-to-head situation.

We've got six games remaining in the regular season and after Sunday, the Eagles have tough road games at the Giants, Bears, and at Dallas, on Christmas Eve. The regular season concludes in South Philadelphia against the Saints and Giants.

So, the Eagles control their path to the playoffs and they know they can not afford to slip.

"It's always about us," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "We can only control what we can control, and that is how we play each week. We aren't looking at other scores. We're just concerned with winning that week, going 1-0 that week. That's our mentality. That's our dawg mentality. Keep it all right in front of you."

In a lot of ways, that sums up what this game against Tennessee is all about: Keep it all right in front of you and win against a veteran, physical, nasty team that knows how to win on the road.

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