3 things to watch for when Eagles, Texans duel at the Linc

Nigel Bradham Philadelphia Eagles NFL
Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Philadelphia Eagles (7-7) are looking to keep their faint playoff hopes alive on Sunday (1:00 p.m. ET, CBS) at Lincoln Financial Field when they take on the Houston Texans (10-4).

The defending Super Bowl champs are coming off of a seven-point upset victory over the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday on national television. No one thought that the Eagles had a chance to win but thanks to great play from all three groups, they got it done.

Nevertheless, they face another tough test going up against one of the hottest teams in football. The Texans, who currently hold the second seed in the AFC playoffs, have won 10 of their last 11 games.

If the Eagles can pull out another miracle victory on Sunday and get a loss from the Minnesota Vikings, it sets themselves up for a potential Week 17 play-in game against the Washington Professional Football Team for the last wildcard spot.

Here are three things to watch for in this must-win game for the Eagles:

1. Ride the Nick Foles wave

After having an okay first two games to begin the regular season, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles had an exceptional performance last Sunday against the Rams.

The reigning Super Bowl MVP was decisive on his reads and got multiple players involved in the passing game. The biggest beneficiary of this was veteran wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who had eight receptions on eight targets for 160 receiving yards.

For the Eagles to pick up their third-straight home win, they will need to execute the same type of game plan against a Texans’ defense that is allowing 258.3 passing yards per game (26th in the NFL).

While Houston might not have the same type of secondary that the Rams have. They do have a tough front seven, which features J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.

Therefore, it will be up to the Eagles’ offensive line to protect Foles from their dangerous pass rush and allow him to find his multitude of weapons.

2. Defense has to continue to create turnovers

Last Sunday, the Eagles defense as a whole had one of their best performances this season. The battered and bruised unit rose to the occasion on primetime and shut down the Rams’ offense for about three quarters. Philly’s defense constantly pressured Rams quarterback Jared Goff, forcing him to throw two interceptions.

It was the fourth consecutive game that the defense had a takeaway. Therefore, Jim Schwartz’s game-plan should be easy when it comes to Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

The Eagles defense needs to sack Watson a couple times, who has already been sacked a ridiculous 52 times this season and make Lamar Miller a non-factor in the running game. If Philly does both of those things, including limit big plays to All-Pro wild receiver DeAndre Hopkins, then they got a chance.

3. Keep the offense balanced

Outside of Nick Foles’ solid play through the air, the Eagles’ offensive coaching staff did a great job of mixing in the run.

Heading into last week’s game, there was a thought that Philly would struggle to run the ball against Los Angeles’ stout defensive line. While they did not rip off huge game breaking runs, the trio of Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood, and Darren Sproles did an excellent job of moving the chains.

Smallwood had one of his best games last week, leading the Eagles in rushing with 48 yards on 10 carries and two touchdowns. The former WVU product showcased physicality and tough running in between the tackles.

As a team, the Eagles had 106 rushing yards on 28 carries, which is great especially when your quarterback is only throwing the ball 31 times.

On Sunday, they will be going up against a Texans’ defense that is only up 88.3 yards per game on the ground. While it seems like a tough task to pick up yards, do not count out the Eagles’ running backs, who are playing with a chip on their shoulders.

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