PREVIEW: LA Rams, looking to rebound from punchless loss, host Wentz-less Eagles
The NFC West champions have a few problems of their own for perhaps the first time this season.
With three losses in their past five games, the Eagles (6-7) are facing an uphill challenge just to earn the opportunity to defend their Super Bowl title in the playoffs. Their offense can’t get rolling, the defense can’t defend the pass, and quarterback Carson Wentz‘s fractured vertebra sits atop a bulging list of injury problems.
Wentz has been ruled out of the game.
But the Eagles’ gritty performance in a 43-35 win at the Coliseum last season is still fresh in most football minds in Los Angeles. The Rams (11-2) would never take the champs lightly heading into the teams’ Sunday night showdown.
“I still look at them like a Super Bowl-caliber team,” Rams receiver Robert Woods said. “Still the defending champs. We get a chance to play them in prime time. We get to play at home. We get to play well and redeem ourselves from last week.”
The Rams can’t spend any time thinking about the Eagles’ woes, either. Los Angeles is coming off a dispiriting 15-6 loss in chilly Chicago during which it failed to score a touchdown for the first time in coach Sean McVay’s tenure.
McVay has never lost consecutive games, and no team has beaten the Rams twice during his two seasons — but Philadelphia has a chance to do both. The coach has no trouble getting his players’ attention this week with the combination of their second loss and a visit from the champs.
Wentz did not practice Wednesday or Thursday and on Saturday was declared out for the Rams game. Wentz’s second NFL season ended at the Coliseum a year ago when he tore a ligament in his left knee, but Nick Foles relieved him and led the Eagles to that win over his former franchise, clinching the NFC East in the process.
Along with his Super Bowl MVP award, Foles always has motivation against the Rams: He started 11 games for the team in St. Louis in 2015, but he asked to leave after the Rams drafted Jared Goff in the ensuing spring.
“Doesn’t affect much, because Carson is a great football player, but they also were able to win a Super Bowl with Nick playing really high-level football,” McVay said.
More things to watch when Mike Trout’s favorite team visits him in Southern California:
A huge contingent of Eagles fans undoubtedly will turn out at the Coliseum, but the Rams are finally building a home-field advantage that everyone felt during their 54-51 win over the Chiefs last month. The Rams are 6-0 at the Coliseum this season after going 4-11 in their temporary arena during the first two years.
HARD TO SUB
One of the overlooked challenges for defenses that have to face the Rams and their high-powered offense is the difficulty in trying to rotate defensive players into the game because Los Angeles uses the same personnel group — three receivers, one tight end, one running back — almost the entire game.
“The Rams don’t substitute very often,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “Even in short yardage and goal line, they’re in the same personnel group. It does make it a little bit more difficult to sub. We’re going to have to be surgical with our substitutions, particularly on third down.”
The Eagles struggled against the Saints, who also use an up-tempo offense. New Orleans beat Philadelphia 48-7 last month.
“We didn’t react very well to it against the Saints. That had to do with a lot of the big plays we gave up in that game,” Schwartz said. “But we have a little bit more experience with it now. We have to do better.”
Todd Gurley’s 28 yards rushing in Chicago were his fewest since his rookie season in 2015, and Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott edged in front of him in the NFL rushing race . McVay blamed himself for not getting the ball into the hands of his franchise running back more often, and he seems determined to rectify that oversight.
Rather than testing Fletcher Cox and the Eagles’ statistically stout run defense, the Rams may be tempted to throw excessively against the Eagles’ injury-riddled secondary, which likely means more targets for Gurley in the passing game.
SPREADING IT AROUND
Since receiver Golden Tate arrived in Philadelphia, coaches have struggled to incorporate him into the offense. Tate only had one catch last week and played just 20 snaps.
“As a team, we hold each other accountable. We got respect for each other, we love each other as a family.”
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) December 15, 2018
But the Eagles traded a third-round pick for Tate, so he was expected to be a major part of the game plan each week.
“It’s just trying to find the right balance and get those guys in the right position so that they can make the plays we need to help us win,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said.