Opposition Research: Breaking Down The Eagles

After last week's Chiefs debacle, the Chargers will host their 3rd straight home game when the Eagles come to town. Despite being 0-3, the Chargers are slightly favored to win the game, currently listed as 2 point favorites in Vegas. The Eagles enter the game 2-1 and with high hopes for the season after last week's thrilling victory over the Giants that ended with a 61-yard field goal by rookie kicker Jake Elliott.

Despite the disparity in win-loss records between the teams, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Chargers chances of winning. The Eagles were a popular pick to breakout this year with second year quarterback Carson Wentz, but haven't looked overly impressive despite their winning record. Wentz has still been inconsistent and they come to Los Angeles as one of the most banged up teams in the league. Today, I'll be taking a look at what the Eagles present on both sides of the ball:

DEFENSE:

It looks like the Eagles will get linebacker Jordan Hicks and safety Rodney McLeod back, but are still devastated by injuries, especially on defense. Star defensive lineman Fletcher Cox will not play after suffering a calf injury during week 3. They will also be without #1 corner Ronald Darby, his replacement in the starting lineup Jaylen Watkins, and defensive back Corey Graham.

All these injuries coupled with the fact that Philadelphia's secondary was already shaky before them means Philip River's should be poised for a big bounce back game after his disastrous outing last week. I would expect Anthony Lynn's game-plan to involve challenging Philadelphia vertically and Tyrell Williams should easily top last week's 15 yards and catch a few deep balls. The Eagles secondary needs to be picked on, so it will be up to Lynn to exploit it and push the ball down the field. On paper its a match made in heaven as Rivers is a gunslinger and loves to chuck it.

The offenses that Philadelphia have played so far have been picking on second year corner Jalen Mills. Mills was targeted 15 times by Kirk Cousins in week one and 21 times by Eli Manning last week. The 21 targets at a defensive player is the most ever since Pro Football Focus began tracking the stat in 2006. Despite the insane volume that has come his way and the fact that opposing offensive coordinators clearly think he's the weak link, he's mostly held his own. He earned praise from Philly defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and is avoiding many of the costly mistakes he made in his rookie season that caused opponents to target him.

While Mills is drawing most of the attention, it might be even wiser to target the Eagles' safeties in coverage. Malcolm Jenkins, once one of the league's better safeties, has seen his play decline sharply this season, and can be beaten over the top. Injuries have forced Jenkins to play corner and even go one on one outside, and if that's the case this weekend, the Chargers should be prepared to target him relentlessly.

Here's a play where Jenkins is forced to line up outside, seen here guarding Travis Kelce at the top of your screen. Kelce torches him off the line of scrimmage with a simple stutter step, and all Alex Smith has to do is float the ball in there. McLeod is late helping out and lets Kelce get over him also, trailing helplessly. If that's a faster wide receiver and not a tight end it's a pretty easy touchdown, and it underscores just how torch-able this Eagles secondary is.


Rivers has to be licking his chops for this matchup and Anthony Lynn trying to slow the game down into a low scoring affair like he did against the Dolphins, is just about the only thing that might stop him from having a huge day.

OFFENSE:

The Eagles offense has a completely new look from last season. They traded away last year's #1 receiving option Jordan Matthews and signed Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffrey in free agency. They use Smith as a vertical threat to stretch the field and Jeffrey is the big receiver who can win contested balls with his 6'3 frame. Jeffrey profiles as very similar to Dolphins receiver Devante Parker who the Chargers faced in week 2. Parker's quarterback Jay Cutler, who spent 5 years with Jeffrey in Chicago, has even compared the two. Trevor Williams, thrust into the starting lineup due to Jason Verrett's injury, mostly held his own against the much bigger Parker and did a good job breaking up several passes, so how he holds up against the similarly sized Jeffrey will be interesting to watch. The Eagles also signed LeGarrette Blount this offseason to be their early down grinder.

The Eagles lost key offensive weapon Darren Sproles for the season last week after tearing his ACL. How the their backfield proceeds without him will be one of the more interesting things to watch on Sunday. After being in the doghouse and registering just one touch in week 2, Blount returned to a prominent role against the Giants and received 12 carries, gaining 67 yards. Even with the pretty efficient day, Blount still doesn't seem like a very good fit with the Eagles. He struggled in the preseason and in week one and seems miscast in the Eagles heavily shotgun style of running. Blount looks out of place running out of the shotgun and his bruising between the tackles running is much better suited for a team running lots of plays under center.

Wendall Smallwood is likely to be the biggest beneficiary of Sproles' absence and seems poised to take over the passing down work. UDFA rookie Corey Clement also figures to mix in and the Chargers should see a fairly even timeshare from the three. Stopping the run has been the big issue for the Chargers defense this year so it will be interesting to see how they respond to Blount's physical running after repeatedly failing to bring Ajayi down at first contact in week two.

Wentz has flashed brilliance at times and at other times shown his propensity for making bad decisions in crucial situations. Wentz started off hot last year as a rookie but faded down the stretch. He came into this season with lofty expectations and has so far been just so-so. He played a decent game against the Redskins in week 1, making some big throws and showing nice elusiveness, but also missed some throws and got a pass tipped by a defensive lineman that was intercepted and returned for a pick 6. He looked OK again against the Chiefs, but his yardage in that game is a bit misleading. 60 of his yards came on a fluke play that bounced off the back of an Eagles defender who was going out of bounds and caught by Zach Ertz who then had nothing but open field in front of him. He wasn't asked to do much against the Giants last week, and threw for just 176 yards.

Speaking of Ertz, stopping him will likely be the key to stopping the Philly offense. Ertz has the most targets (28) and yards (245) of any tight end in the league. Wentz loves peppering him with short passes over the middle so it will be up to the Chargers linebackers to slow him down. The Chargers have done a pretty good job covering tight ends so far, limiting Travis Kelce to just one catch last week.

Overall, the Eagles offense is a pretty decent matchup, considering their run game is out of sync and that's the one thing the Chargers have struggled against. If they can slow down Ertz and Williams can play well on the outside then Joey Bosa and co. should have a very good chance of making Wentz's day miserable.

CONCLUSION: Everything seems to be favorable to the Chargers here. Philly has a secondary that just last week allowed *Eli Manning* to throw for 366 yards. On top of that, their arguably best defender, Cox, hurt himself in that game and won't be playing. It's a perfect storm for Rivers and the offense and this game has an 'if not now then when?' type of feeling around it.

If the Chargers can push the tempo, exploit the Eagles defensive backs and take advantage of all of Philly's injuries, they should be in good position to earn their first victory of the season. Check back after the game for a look at what happened.

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