Houston, you have a problem.
The Houston Texans come to town Sunday vying for the No. 2 seed in the AFC, but the Philadelphia Eagles are playing for something too and can keep their playoff hopes alive with a win.
EAGLES PASSING GAME VS. TEXANS PASS DEFENSE
PHI- 97.8 PASSER RATING (11/32), 256 YPG (12/32)
HOU- 92.7 PASSER RATING ALLOWED (13/32), 258 YPG ALLOWED (26/32)
Nick Foles was 24-of-31 for 270 yards with an interception in Philadelphia’s 30-23 upset win over the Los Angeles Rams. For a second straight week the offensive line didn’t allow a sack. Foles was getting the ball out within 2.19 seconds, the fastest of any quarterback in Week 15. For context, Carson Wentz was delivering passes on an average of 2.49 seconds, 16th out of qualified passers with at least 100 attempts. Foles had a mark of 2.79 seconds over his first two games.
So what do these numbers tell us? It’s simple, the offensive line is really starting to come along. It was a unit that was leading the NFL in quarterback hits allowed and struggled mightily to start the year. Foles and Wentz had to sidestep pressure in the backfield on a consistent bases when the line was underachieving, but that hasn’t been a problem lately. Getting more protection also allows for deeper routes to materialize, part of the reason why Alshon Jeffery exploded for 160 yards on eight receptions.
2 huge catches from Alshon Jeffery helped set up Josh Adams for his 6-yard TD plunge pic.twitter.com/hXj9LybHS4
— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) December 17, 2018
If there’s one area where Wentz could take lessons from Foles, it’s on how to toss those 50-50 jump balls up to Jeffery. Wentz has the tendency to throw a flatter ball, where as Foles allows Jeffery to get outstretched and use his leaping ability and strong hands to pluck footballs out of the air.
The Eagles have simplified their offense in recent weeks in an effort to get more production. Doug Pederson discussed what he’s done for that to occur.
“We self-scout every week different things. We try to look at it from the eyes of a D-coordinator or a defensive staff and say, “Okay, what are the glaring tendencies by formation or personnel,” whatever it is. So we take a look that.
And then sometimes as coaches we have a couple days, say a Monday, Tuesday to plan and look at a bunch of film. We can get — I don’t want to say creative, but you can get a little creative with play design. A lot of moving parts with motions and shifts and lining up guys in different positions. Try to take advantage of certain things. I think over a period of time, if you’re constantly changing your offense each week or tweaking it each week, there is not a lot of consistency there. That falls on us as coaches.
So I think what we’ve done — and it just kind of came to a point after the Dallas game where we said, listen, let’s try to limit some of that stuff. We can still be effective with personnel and formations without a bunch of moving parts, and then go back and run our core plays.
So I think that’s been a combination that’s worked for us.”
The Eagles’ offensive line double-teamed Aaron Donald consistently last week, forcing others to beat them, but the Texans have an excellent duo in J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. Whitney Mercilus has shown in the past that he can be a feared pass rusher, but he has just 3 1/2 sacks on the year. So the Birds won’t be able to get away with the things they were able to against LA, we’ll see how the line holds up because if it does, this Texans secondary can get picked apart.
Pederson was asked what’s different about Houston’s front seven than the Rams’.
“They’re very, very similar structurally. Typically, the Rams play a five-man D-line, five-man front. Houston will do the same thing.
I think the biggest — well, really very similar. They have [Rams DT Ndamukong] Suh and [Rams DT Aaron] Donald, and now you have [Texans DE] J.J [Watt] and [Texans DE Jadeveon] Clowney. It’s a tough group. I think the strength of the defense is obviously up front with those guys, but I think structurally this is a pressure team. They’re going to put pressure on your quarterback. That’s kind of what they have been doing.”
By the way, Pederson also re-iterated that Wentz is the quarterback of the future.
“Well, I think number one, I can stand here and say that Carson is our quarterback. He’s our quarterback in the future. That’s why we drafted him. It’s also why we have Nick here as a backup, as a veteran player to — I don’t want to say bail us out, but to come in and execute the offense. I think we just continue to reconfirm that with Carson and let him know that. Continue to say, “Hey, listen you’re going to be here for a long time, have a long career.
We just have to commit to that and communicate that to him and let that kind of sink in”
EAGLES RUNNING GAME VS. TEXANS RUN DEFENSE
PHI- 4.0 YPC (29/32), 97.9 YPG (28/32)
HOU- 3.6 YPC ALLOWED (1/32), 88.3 YPG ALLOWED (4/32)
The Eagles are 7-0 when the run the ball 25-plus times, compared to an 0-7 mark when they don’t.
Josh Adams didn’t find the same success he had found in prior weeks, gaining just 28 yards in 15 carries. Wendell Smallwood, however, ran for 48 yards and a pair of scores on 10 totes against LA. It was tough to find traction inside against the likes of Donald and Ndamukong Suh, but where Smallwood found success was along the edges, which is a big reason why the Rams rank dead last in yards per carry allowed (5.1).
The question this week is whether Pederson will continue to stick with the run because the Texans haven’t allowed more than 82 yards to an opposing back since Saquon Barkley in Week 3.
Pederson explained what the difference are between the Rams’ run defense and Houston’s.
“They also have two big tackles inside, that are two-gap guys, anchor guys, that are tough to move. They have some team speed at linebacker and they’re young there, so they’ve just made plays there. It’s a stout group. It’s a set of circumstances that our O-line, tight ends, and [running] backs, have a challenge in front of them.”
TEXANS PASSING GAME VS. EAGLES PASS DEFENSE
PHI- 94.5 PASSER RATING ALLOWED (17/32), 281 YPG ALLOWED (31/32)
HOU- 102.9 PASSER RATING (6/32), 233 YPG (18/32)
The daunting task of covering DeAndre Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas suddenly doesn’t look as daunting as it did a few weeks ago.
The Eagles can thank Avonte Maddox for his emergence. Philly was trotting out practice squad guys and a hobbled Sidney Jones to play on the outside before Maddox returned to the lineup on Sunday. Maddox was targeted six times against LA, surrendering just one reception for eight yards, which happened on the final drive of the game. He also had a key interception.
What a find by Joe Douglas to pluck Avonte Maddox in the 4th round, he’s been an x-factor all year! pic.twitter.com/MoiPfGvmTY
— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) December 17, 2018
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz gloated about Maddox during his presser Tuesday, describing him as a multi-dimensional player.
“Avonte, he’s a multi-dimensional player. He started for us at safety, he started for us at nickel and now he started for us at corner and he has that flexibility to be able to do that, I think probably a little bit more.
I don’t know if we win that game without Avonte, though, not just making the interception but played really good in the pass game. That tackle he made in the two-minute drive at the end, that’s as big-time play — the plays that you’ll see from him, if you’re watching highlights of the game or the last play of the game, his interception, but that tackle had every bit as much to do with us winning that game and it’s really encouraging to see. We’ve talked a lot about Avonte, but he played a major part in getting that win.”
When asked what his best position was, Schwartz jokingly answered “all.”
“All. Linebacker. Probably can rush pretty good. He’s short. He might be able to duck under some guys [joking]. Yeah, I mean, we use him where we need him. Every week’s been different. I have no idea how many different secondary lineups we’ve used. I’m sure it’s been a lot, just where we are and he’s been Johnny on the spot. We’ve missed him when he wasn’t in there. He has great speed. Plays with a lot of energy, those kind of things and as long as he’s one of the 11 on the field, we’ll find a spot for him somewhere.”
This week’s going to be a much more difficult challenge than Josh Reynolds for Maddox. Hopkins is arguably a top three wideout in the game.
“I think probably the biggest thing that stands out for me is he’s so strong with contested catches. He must have incredibly strong hands and he has a knack for getting the ball. He has some rebounder-type skills in him. Charles Barkley would lead the NBA in rebounds when he’s 6-3. Those guys that just have a knack for high point and a knack for knowing — But I think that sort of stands out the most. That play he made to win the game or to give them the lead — not to win the game but to give them the lead, I mean, you can’t cover a guy much better than that. And not only does he high point the ball and he’s strong enough to squeeze it, he’s also strong enough to come down with that ball in his hand. He’s a threat to run after the catch. He’s one of the best receivers in the NFL.”
The Texans have yielded an NFL-high 52 sacks, so another way to neutralize the production of Thomas and Hopkins is by getting after Deshaun Watson with the pass rush. Fletcher Cox and Michael Bennett continue to wreak major havocs on quarterbacks in their recent tear.
Fletcher Cox deeeeeeeeeep penetration!! pic.twitter.com/WUmBfG08sB
— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) December 17, 2018
TEXANS RUNNING GAME VS. EAGLES RUN DEFENSE
PHI- 4.9 YPC ALLOWED (29/32), 104.9 YPG ALLOWED (11/32)
HOU- 4.3 YPC (15/32), 130.4 YPG (6/32)
Lamar Miller “has a chance to play” against the Eagles on Sunday with his ankle injury, according to Texans head coach Bill O’Brien. Miller suffered the injury during the opening possession of Houston’s Week 15 game against the New York Jets.
Texans head coach Bill O’Brien told reporters Friday that running back Lamar Miller (ankle) has a chance to play. Miller is officially listed as questionable.
Miller is second in the NFL in rushing yards since 2014 (4,849), trailing only Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy (5,098). He has 917 yards and four touchdowns on the ground this season.
PREDICTION: Containing Hopkins and Thomas is going to be key and with the emergence of Maddox last week, that all of a sudden looks a bit less daunting. But it’s not going to be Maddox and Douglas who keep Hopkins and Thomas in check, they’re going to get major help from Cox, Bennett and the rest of a defensive line going against a suspect offensive line. The Eagles’ season lives another week.