With the Eagles coming off their most improbable win of the season, it’s hard not to be optimistic about their chances against a banged up Houston squad.
The Texans have quietly been one of the best teams in the NFL this year. After starting the season 0-3, they’ve won 10 out of their last 11 and find themselves just one game out of the second seed in the AFC playoff race. So, needless to say, this game is just as important to the Texans as it is to the Eagles.
On paper this isn’t a very favorable matchup for the Birds; they’re going to have their hands full on the defensive side of the ball. Containing Deandre Hopkins has been an almost impossible task for every team that’s faced him. And although he’s banged up coming into this game with an ankle injury, that won’t stop Bill O’Brien from force feeding their most dynamic weapon. Hopkins has seen the 6th most targets of any receiver in football, so expect a heavy dose of Watson to Hopkins this weekend.
It’s no secret that the Eagles secondary has struggled, but they have raised their level of play in recent weeks. They’ve caused six combined turnovers over the last two weeks and they haven’t allowed a team to score over 25 points in three out of their last four games (The only one being the overtime loss to Dallas two weeks ago, they only scored 23 in regulation).
Believe it or not, but the current starters at corner may just be the future at the position for the Eagles. Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, and Cre’Von LeBlanc have played surprisingly well in the absence of Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills and Sidney Jones.
Douglas has steadily improved with every game he’s started in this season and he’s shown out in his last two starts. Against Dallas two week ago he recorded nine total tackles and an interception. Last week he recorded a team high 14 total tackles. I don’t know if his future with the Eagles is going to be at corner, but the team needs to find a way to get Douglas on the field next year when everyone’s fully healthy.
The same goes for Maddox as well, who’s been the Eagles best play making corner while also supplementing the loss of McLeod at safety. He’s caused three turnovers, the most of any cornerback on the roster.
Jim Schwartz will likely try to keep Douglas on Hopkins whenever he can, mostly because of the height advantage Douglas has over Maddox. Hopkins isn’t just a one-trick pony though; his size is only one of his many assets. He has the speed to run past corners on deep routes, he has the footwork to shake a defender when he’s running an intermediate route, and he has the strength to simply out muscle a corner when he’s going up for a jump ball.
If the Eagles don’t want Hopkins to beat them, they’re going to need to double team him for the majority of the game.
Stopping Hopkins should be one of the Eagles top priorities. But the real key to disrupting the Texans offense is getting steady pressure on Deshaun Watson.
Watson is the worst QB in the NFL when under pressure this season. His passer rating is 90.4 points lower when he’s under pressure, going from 122.2 when not under pressure to 31.8 when he is. He’s simply not the same dynamic QB with rushers in his face.
The Eagles proved last week that they can get pressure with just their front-4 and that should be their approach this week as well.
Like I said before, doubling Deandre Hopkins will likely be the only way the Eagles can prevent him from completely taking over the game. If they can generate enough pressure to throw off Watson’s rhythm with just four pass rushers, that’ll allow Jim Schwartz to have as many defenders in coverage as possible. We all know Schwartz isn’t the biggest advocate when it comes to blitzing, so this game plan should be ideal for his defense.
The Texans have a pretty balanced attack on offense, so the Eagles can’t sleep on their running game either, especially if Lamar Miller is able to go. He’s been limited in practice this week with an ankle injury and he’s listed as questionable for Sunday’s matchup.
They’re sixth in rushing yards per game this season with 130.4. Those numbers are somewhat inflated because of Watson’s running ability, but that’s not to say Lamar Miller isn’t a good back and someone the Eagles should key on.
The Eagles rush defense hasn’t been as great as it was last season and they’ve really struggled with containing some of the league’s top backs. They’ve allowed over 100 yards rushing on seven occasions this year; the Panthers, Saints, Redskins, the Giants twice and the Cowboys twice. All of those teams (with the exception of the Saints who have both Kamara and Ingram) have backs that are top ten in rushing yards. Lamar Miller is eighth in rushing yards, so precedent would tell us that if he plays this weekend the Eagles will likely struggle to stop him.
That’s not a foregone conclusion though, as we saw Todd Gurley (2nd in rushing yards) struggle to find a rhythm last week against the Birds defense. Gurley didn’t see the amount of touches that he‘s accustom to, and that’s because the Eagles dictated the pace of the game (and partially because of an injury). It’ll be imperative for the Eagles to do the same this week against the Texans.
If Nick Foles and company can jump out to a quick lead and the defense can get an ample amount of pressure on Deshaun Watson, the Eagles can win this game and inch one step closer to a playoff berth.