This weekend brings a game that has been a subject of excitement since the schedules were announced. The Carson Wentz vs Jared Goff war will ignite the interest of fans across the NFL and both teams boast #1 seed worthy records and ruthless defenses. The other aspect they share lies in the backfield. The Eagles and Rams have both had incredible success running the ball this year, however they have gone about it two very different ways.
For the Rams, it’s 2015 NFL Offensive rookie of the year, Todd Gurley. After a down-year in 2016, Gurley has propelled into the spotlight once again with the help of Sean Mcvay. The Georgia product has 939 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground already this season to go with 563 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air. His versatility has been a pleasant surprise to many after his downhill dominance in 2015, but it’s something that the Eagles can’t afford to overlook.
“He’s a big back, but he picks and chooses his holes.” Schwartz said of the third-year running back looking to dismantle his defense this week. “He can run downhill, but he also has some [Steelers RB] Le’Veon Bell in him when it comes to picking his way through. [He’s the] second leading rusher in the NFL, but he’s been very productive in the passing game. I think that’s something that went unnoticed from me until we really started diving into the film. He’s averaging double digits in average per reception. For a running back, that’s pretty impressive. So it’s not just the run game, it’s the pass game also.”
Gurley is coming off of a game where he bullied the Cardinals defense in every facet of play, racking up 84 receiving yards and 74 rushing. The Eagles run defense will be a tough test for Gurley and the Rams. Holding Jordan Howard and the top-5 Bears rushing attack to just S I X yards is a feat that symbolizes how dangerous the unit can be. But the Seahawks found a way to make things happen.
Seattle rushed for 101 yards against the Eagles in their primetime win, taking advantage of the fact that the Birds were so honed in on containing Russell Wilson. Just two weeks before that, the Eagles surrendered 100 rushing yards to the Dallas Cowboys. In fact, it was the first time that they’ve surrendered that much yardage since their week 2 loss to Kansas City.
Is the run defense faltering? That would be a stretch. But Jim Schwartz is well aware of the recent stumbles.
“Some missed tackles on running backs.” The defensive coordinator pointed to during his presser on Tuesday evening. “I’d probably look back and say that’s probably the common thread when it came to that. After everything else, every position is different, it’s hard to put a common thing [on it]. But for us to play good defense, we have to tackle well. When we do, we limit big plays. We don’t give up 20-yard plays and more. And that’s been a key part of our formula so far.”
The Eagles will need to be at their best on Sunday. Doug Pederson pointed toward some practice problems as the team ventured into the West Coast winds having an impact on their loss to Seattle. The team cannot afford to be making mistakes or losing assignments against an offense that runs so many similar looks, yet executes each one so differently.
Gurley’s 74 yards on 19 carries against the Cardinals is impressive, but in actual fact, 56 of them came after contact. The running back also broke five tackles during that time. If there’s one thing that the Eagles have exceeded expectations in this season, it’s tackling…until this point.
Mychal Kendricks has seen a complete resurgence in terms of coverage ability and while the defensive ends have perfected the “stop, drop and roll” method to extinguish a running back fire, even the cornerbacks have seen an improvement. Schwartz has deployed his cornerbacks from the off-position most of the, year giving them time to dissect the route, break on the ball and wrap up receivers. Tackling, if anything has been nothing but a strength this year…until recently.
The loss of Jordan Hicks has stung the Eagles and with Joe Walker missing last game, they were down to Najee Goode at the middle linebacker spot. If the Eagles have any hope of stuffing the run against a team that run so many bootlegs and play-action passes, they have get back to fundamentals and focus on stopping the ball-carrier when he’s in one-on-one situations.
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports