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Gurley vs. Eagles No. 1 Rush Defense a Marquee Matchup

The Eagles are No. 1 in rush defense, having allowed only 817 yards. They've allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns at four. And they have faced the fewest rushing attempts, at only 232.

So, what gives? Why is Philadelphia's run defense so good in 2017?

"I think they've got great players. It's a great scheme," Rams head coach Sean McVay said this week of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's unit. "You look at the way that those guys up front get off the football, they can run on all three levels, they pursue and they're sound. They're playing a lot of single-high structures, especially on some of those early down and distances. When you've got great players and you're playing a lot of eight-man fronts and things like that, you're going to get hats to the football.

"I think a lot of times what measures a great defense is the way they come off the football, the way they pursue, the way that they stay sound in terms of their gap integrity," McVay continued. "You can see why they're the best run defense in the league and it shows up on the tape."

Check out photos from the Rams practice as they prepare to take on the Philadelphia Eagles.

But, the Eagles will be facing one of the best running backs in the league this weekend in Todd Gurley. He's currently No. 3 in yards rushing at 939 and No. 2 in yards from scrimmage with 1,502. And he's embracing the challenge of going against one of the league's top defenses, particularly when it comes to the run. 

"I love being in a game like this," Gurley said Thursday. "Like I said, you have to beat the best in order to be the best. That's why I play the game — to be one of the best. Be one of the best at my position and to show why I deserve to be in this league and I want to be in this league a long time. I get excited about these games, going out there competing with the best of the best. I'm just looking forward to it."

Gurley mentioned Fletcher Cox as one of the biggest reasons why the Eagles have been so stout against the run in 2017, calling him one of the best defensive linemen in the league.

"He's a great player, great pass rusher, run stopper and their linebackers are great," Gurley said. "They've just been playing good ball this year and been able to go out there and play at a high level."

"He's an elite D-lineman in this league and somebody that you better take notice of on every play and have a plan for — and I think we do have a plan for that," offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur said Friday. "But, again, it's about us going out and executing our plan and it will be a great challenge. You look at that – it's not just Fletcher Cox. They roll about six, seven guys that can really come off the ball."

When it comes to this good-on-good matchup between the two teams, McVay said the approach will likely be a combination of playing to Gurley's strengths and trying to exploit any slight flaw in the Eagles' approach. But there is a caveat to that.

"There's really not much to exploit against this defense, they're pretty good," McVay said. "I think when you look at any game, you always want to first be mindful of, 'Are we putting our players in the right situations that are conducive for their skillsets and their strengths?' But then you also want to make sure that you're running concepts and plays that you feel like are going to be productive against some of the fronts or some of the coverages that you're seeing from the defense, so it's a combination of both."

And there's also a level of responsibility that lies with the playcaller.

"I've got to do a good job of making sure to get Todd going early in the game and make sure that you try to maintain that certain level of balance if we're able to stay efficient on those early downs," McVay said. "I know that on the flipside, that's one of the keys to them is, 'Let's eliminate them on first down, get them into the known passing situations and then we can really start to tee off.'"

Though much of the narrative this week has been about the quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, the Rams run game vs. Eagles run defense will also be a determining matchup in Sunday's game.

"You get excited for games like this, [to] go out there and compete," Gurley said. "You've got to beat the best in order to be the best and that's what both teams are going out there to try to do."

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