The Rams have not lost back-to-back in the regular season under head coach Sean McVay and will look to continue the trend of nearly two years against the defending world champion Philadelphia Eagles this Sunday in Los Angeles.
The Eagles (6-7) come to L.A. for Sunday Night Football a week after the Rams (11-2) were dominated by the Bears defense in NBC’s primetime slate. On Thursday, defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who went without a sack for the first time since Week 9 against the Bears, says his guys are ready to get back out there.
“[W]e just got to find a way to bounce back, and this is the week that we want to do that,” Donald said. “Everybody’s anxious, everybody’s itching, everybody’s flying around today at practice so I know everybody’s ready.”
The Eagles beat the Rams in the L.A. Coliseum Week 13 of last season in a game that was tight throughout. Philadelphia won 43-35 behind quarterback Carson Wentz, who threw for 291 yards with four touchdowns and one interception in the contest.
“It was just two good football teams playing and the better team won — they won,” running back Todd Gurley said this week reflecting on the loss.
The game proved to be the last game of Wentz’s second season. The quarterback tore the ACL in his left knee and was forced to leave the game early — which was closed out by league veteran and now-Super Bowl Champion and MVP quarterback Nick Foles.
Check out photos of the Rams taking on the Eagles throughout the years.
What was expected to be one of the top matchups in the NFC this season, is shaping up to be another unexpected game at the quarterback position for the Eagles. It was reported midweek that Wentz is expected to miss Sunday’s game with a fractured vertebrae in his back. With nothing official coming out of the Eagles facility until late in the week — Wentz will be officially listed as questionable — the Rams have been prepping for either quarterback come Sunday.
“It doesn’t really alter it much cause both of them are good quarterbacks,” second-year outside linebacker Samson Ebukam said. “I mean, they’re both top passers, just one of them is bigger than the other. We all know what Nick Foles can do, he went to the Super Bowl and won it.”
The defending champs are 5-6 with Wentz at the helm in 2018 after starting the season 1-1 led by the one-time Ram, Foles. The quarterback news broke with Wentz completing 69.6 percent of his passes and coming off a three-touchdown, zero-interception performance against the Cowboys in Week 14.
Head coach Doug Pederson has dealt with a multitude of injuries coming off his club’s first Super Bowl Championship. Several Eagles have missed time to injury, including a number of starters. Running backs Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement, as well as safety Rodney McLeod and cornerback Jalen Mills join nine other Eagles on the injured reserve.
Additionally, the Eagles have gone three weeks without linebacker Jordan Hicks, who has 5.0 sacks this season, due to a calf injury, and defensive end Michael Bennett is yet to practice this week, as he boasts 8.0 sacks this season and deals with a foot injury.
Among the healthy Eagles are offensive weapons, tight end Zach Ertz and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. The Eagles offense is No. 12 in passing yards per game in 2018, and are led by Ertz, who has the most receptions among all tight ends with 98 and has accumulated 1,016 yards receiving in his sixth professional season. Jeffery scored his fifth touchdown of the season last week in Dallas.
“We've come along some in a lot of areas,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said in preparation for the defending champs. “Hopefully, the arrows pointing up as far as our defense is concerned because we need to play more consistent.”
Phillips’ comments come as the Rams defense appears to be trending upwards in terms of defending the pass and generating takeaways. Los Angeles has 10 takeaways since Week 11 against Kansas City, compared to its 15 takeaways leading up to that Monday night game.
While Ebukam said his defense has been taking a “see ball, get ball” approach as of late, cornerback Marcus Peters, who had an interception against the Bears, cited his veteran defensive back teammate as to why the defense as stepped it up.
“I think Aqib [Talib] said it best earlier — he was speaking about me, period — ‘It’s no a sprint it’s a marathon,’ you feel me?” Peters turned the questions to the reporters. “It’s going to take a bit of time to put all of these pieces and make everything fit right together. You’re not just building Legos, you feel me?”
If there’s anything left for the unit to fit together in the final three games of the regular season, it is probably an improved run defense. A few days from rookie running back Josh Adams, who Pederson has looked to as a starter since Week 11 and is averaging five yards a carry, the Rams allow 124.2 yards rushing per game — which dwells among the league’s bottom third. The Rams allowed its second-highest rushing total of the season against the Bears, letting up 194 yards on the ground.
Chicago’s rushing total trailed the Rams’ total yards on offense (214) by just two sets of chains. Gurley took 11 carries for just 28 yards, while quarterback Jared Goff went 20-for-44 with 180 yards, zero touchdowns, and four interceptions.
Gurley, Goff, and the Los Angeles offense have the chance to get back on track against the banged-up Eagles defense and its own interior pass rusher, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. Cox has played a big part in allowing just 106.6 rushing yards per game this season, to go along with his 6.5 sacks and 27 quarterback hits. The Rams only two losses of the season have come against the league’s top two run defenses — the Saints and Bears.
Goff must worry about the Philly secondary and veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins coming off his career-high four pick performance in Chicago. On Wednesday, Goff said things could be a lot worse for his division championship team at 11-2.
“It would take me a long time to get into a lot of the details, but there's a lot of things that we could be better at, that we will be better at and are looking forward to improving on,” Goff said. “Looking forward to getting into a rhythm these last three weeks heading into the playoffs."
Goff’s Rams are headed to the playoffs and still have very much to play for against the Eagles, Cardinals, and Niners. With a win on Sunday and a Bears loss to the Packers in Chicago, the Rams will clinch a first-round bye come playoff time.
Finally, the Rams are back at home in the L.A. Coliseum for Sunday Night Football. After going 3-4 at their own place in 2017, the Rams are undefeated this season playing in the 95-year-old stadium just off the 110 freeway.
"I think the crowds have been outstanding, McVay said on Thursday. “I know our guys feel good about playing in that atmosphere, that environment, so that's certainly been a positive.”
Kickoff at the Coliseum is set for 5:20 p.m PST. Here’s how you can tune in.
If you missed it for Week 15: McVay on Robert Woods: "He's been even better than what I expected." ... Jared Goff Looking to Rebound vs. Eagles This Week ... The Man Behind the Cleats: A Q&A with Kickstradomis ... Quotes & Notes: McVay, Rams on O-line Woes & Previous Meeting with Eagles ... Opposing View: Eagles HC Doug Pederson on Wentz, Foles Ahead of L.A. ...