The Philadelphia Eagles are back on the road this week taking on the Los Angeles Chargers. Many had the Chargers penned as Super Bowl canddiates this year, but their season so far has been underwhelming. Can Sirianni and the Birds take advantage? If they’re to do so, here are five matchups they’ll need to win.
Eagles running backs vs the Chargers defense
The writing is on the wall for Nick Sirianni, and it’s also been highlighted and coated in fluorescent paint, just to make sure he gets the message.
Run. The. Ball.
He seemed to understand the assignment last week as both Jordan Howard and Boston Scott teamed up to take down the Detroit Lions. The duo combined for 4 touchdowns and 117 yards, negating the loss of Miles Sanders. The Eagles don’t need to run the ball that aggressively again, but if the base of the offense becomes the rushing attack for one more week, it will only serve them well.
The Chargers rank 31st against the run this year, having given up over 1,100 yards and a total of 9 touchdowns. They’ve given up the second-most first downs on the ground of any team in the league and give up a league-worst 5.1 yards per carry.
It doesn’t matter who leads the charge or how it happens, but the Eagles have to run early and run often if they are to spring a surprise this Sunday.
Joey Bosa vs Jordan Mailata
There’s something juicy about the idea of a premier edge rusher facing off against a franchise tackle. Jordan Mailata might not be firing at the same rate he was last season, but it’s not like Joey Bosa is having a career-year either. While he’s still explosive off the edge, he’s struggled when making tackles.
For Mailata, making sure Bosa doesn’t add to his 3.5 sacks or 8 QB hits has to be the priority here. The older Bosa brother surprisingly ranks 17th in pressure and 33rd in pass-rushing efficiency this season, meaning that the Eagles right tackle should have a much easier day at the office than perhaps the name implies.
Regardless, Mailata was paid for matchups like these and it will be exciting to see how he deals with a rusher like Bosa. Star power isn’t something that phases the Aussie, who is rapidly becoming a star in his own right.
Josh Sweat vs Storm Norton
The Chargers have a big problem on the right side of the offensive line. Storm Norton, who was playing in the XFL not long ago, is the current starting tackle due to Bryan Bulaga’s back injury. He should be looking to return soon, but Sweat will likely be lining up over Norton, who he should have a considerable advantage over.
Norton has allowed 32 QB pressures alone, the third most of any NFL tackle. Josh Sweat is coming off of a 2-sack outing against the Lions where Jonathan Gannon finally let him off the leash. He’ll need to do that once again in a bid to slow down Justin Herbert.
Austin Ekeler vs Eagles linebackers
The Eagles aren’t exactly the best run defending team in the league, but there was a sign of improvement against the Lions. Eric Wilson was a healthy scratch before eventually being cut, perhaps as a sign that the current level of play won’t be tolerated. This afforded opportunities to guys like Shaun Bradley and T.J Edwards, who both performed adequately.
The big problem with the backers this season has been that they’ve been lined up so far away from the ball and are instantly having to play off the back foot, chasing down ball-carriers who are racking up easy YAC. That did change last week, but Austin Ekeler will really test both Gannon and his linebackers.
Ekeler amassed 124 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots and has been a lethal dual-threat back all season. It’s a worst case scenario for an Eagles defense that can barely contain backs who simply run north. The good news is that he doesn’t get that many carries, surpassing 11 attempts in only 3-of-7 games thus far. Los Angeles likes to pass the ball and Ekeler likes to catch it.
This will present a unique challenge for the Eagles, but one that Gannon could be prepared for if he keeps to the same script he wrote last week, actually giving his linebackers a chance in the process.
Avonte Maddox vs Keenan Allen
Keenan Allen might be the most dominant slot receiver in football, and Avonte Maddox is having himself a career-year now he’s playing in his natural spot. There isn’t much moe that needs to be said here, other than the fact that this will probably be the first game all season that Maddox and his matchup are thrust into center stage.
Allen receives roughly 25% of the Chargers’ total target share and that number zips to 31% when the team are in the red zone. He’s actually the leagues’ fourth most targeted wideout inside the 20.
Maddox has been playing brilliantly all season long and his agility will be tested by one of the smoothest route-runners in football. Allen will push Maddox to his limits on Sunday and if the Pittsburgh product can do just enough to hang and prevent Allen from carving up the defense, then it’ll go a long way in cementing his status as a player that the Eagles absolutely have to bring back next year.
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