3 things to watch for when Eagles, Rams duel in Los Angeles

It may be overstating it a bit to proclaim that the Eagles’ 2017 season is riding on the result of their Week 14 game against the Rams.

But their Super Bowl hopes could take an enormous hit if they can’t prevail against the 9-3 surprise NFC West favorites.

After falling last week in Seattle, the Eagles have surrendered their top seeding in the NFC. In order to earn home field advantage back they need to take care of business themselves whilst also getting help from Minnesota, who owns the strength of schedule tie-breaker.

Philly risks falling out of a first round bye as well, which with it would lose home field advantage after the first playoff game. All of this assuming they clinch the NFC East with one more win — which is assumed they will.

With all of that being said, the Birds’ 4:25 kickoff on FOX will be the best match up of the upcoming week of NFL action. Here are three things to watch for:

1 vs. 2

Jared Goff wasn’t exactly a late bloomer, but he didn’t burst through the gates as a rookie the way Carson Wentz did. However, in his second NFL season Goff is showing he was worthy of being the No. 1 pick in 2016. Just as Wentz has endeared himself to Eagles fans after being more than worth the effort Philly expended to trade up for him at No. 2. In the lead up to the draft, the Eagles brass said they would be happy drafting either one. Who made out with the better franchise quarterback? The duo will face off for the first time as pros Sunday.

“You see a lot of the same characteristics in the two quarterbacks,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said. “Obviously size, strength, athleticism. Both have great IQ, football intelligence. And athletic guys in both quarterbacks. I think, too, in both cases, it just comes down to having really good coaching around each quarterback, each young quarterback, and you can see the growth that Jared’s made over the course of the past year. And obviously it’s a direct relationship to the run game and the offensive line staying intact, and playing great defense and special teams.”

Getting Gurley

The Eagles haven’t faced very many elite running backs this season, as recent opponents like the Seahawks, Broncos and Redskins have taken a by-committee approach — and the Cowboys were left scrambling without suspended star Ezekiel Elliott. They did handle Bears running back Jordan Howard excellently, tough much of their success against the run vs. Chicago — and against the rest of the NFL has been due to having leads in ballgames. Todd Gurley could be a tough test, particularly if the Rams are able to keep the score close as many expect they will.

“He’s a big back, but he picks and chooses his holes,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said of the Rams star runner. “He can run downhill, but he also has some Le’Veon Bell in him when it comes to picking his way through. [He’s the] second leading rusher in the NFL, but he’s been very productive in the passing game. I think that’s something that went unnoticed from me until we really started diving into the film. He’s averaging double digits in average per reception. For a running back, that’s pretty impressive. So it’s not just the run game, it’s the pass game also.

Turning it up

The Eagles have two losses this season. In each of those losses they have turned over the ball twice without forcing a turnover of their own. Aside from those two games the Eagles are plus-11 in the turnover differential department, and have generated the third most takeaways in the NFL with 22. Their Week 14 opponents in Los Angeles are right on their heals with 21 takeaways of their own. Put as simply as possible, the turnover battle could be the most important stat in this week’s game.

So how can Philly clean up their sloppiness not only with the football, but also on the penalty side as well? It’s all about practice. Here’s hoping the Eagles have found some renewed focus out west in Angel’s Stadium, their home for the week.

“I just think that the way — probably in the last couple of weeks — what you saw probably previously to the last two weeks, you didn’t see the penalties. You didn’t see the turnovers,” Pederson said. “You didn’t see some of the negative things that have been going on. And to me, that’s a direct correlation to how we practice during the week.”

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