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Leader of the NFC West vs. leader of the NFC East. No. 1 overall vs. No. 2 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. Highest-scoring offense vs. highest-scoring offense.
These are just a few of the many subplots surrounding the Rams’ Week 14 contest, as the team returns home to host the Eagles on Sunday.
Philadelphia (10-2) comes into L.A. looking to bounce back from a tough loss to the Seahawks last weekend, while the Rams (9-3) are looking to keep their momentum going after a big win over the Cardinals.
The matchup is poised to be one of the best in the NFC this season and carries plenty of meaning for both teams as they make a postseason push.
“This is what you love about the NFL,” head coach Sean McVay said. “These games are fun. But it doesn’t make it any more pressure. It just makes it more exciting because of what our guys have done and what they have done to make the game a little bit more intriguing.”
“I love being in a game like this,” running back Todd Gurley added. “You have to beat the best in order to be the best.”
But besides bringing together two of the top teams in the NFC, the contest will also hold a lot of meaning because of quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. Goff went No. 1 overall to the Rams and Wentz No. 2
overall to the Eagles in the 2016 NFL Draft, and both are blossoming in their second professional seasons.
“It’ll be fun,” Goff said of the matchup. “I think it’ll be good to see him, good to talk to him and good to compete on the same field. But ultimately, I’m competing against their defense and he’s competing against ours and that’s kind of the way it goes.”
Wentz — a potential 2017 NFL MVP candidate — has thrown for 3,005 yards, 29 touchdowns and just six interceptions. In his second year as a starter, the North Dakota State product has become a force to be reckoned with on field, recognized for his ability to scramble out of the pocket and extend plays downfield.
“He’s a playmaker,” defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. “You think you’ve sacked him — he can get away from you and throw a bomb downfield and make a big play for them. [We’re] going against [a] good, talented, young quarterback.”
But Wentz isn’t doing it alone.
He is flanked by a cohesive offensive line and a series of skilled playmakers in the passing game, including tight end Zach Ertz and wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery. Those three have each caught seven touchdowns this season.
Plus, the Eagles are coming in ranked No. 2 in rushing offense — averaging 143.3 yards per game.
Even without running back Darren Sproles, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear, the club has managed to establish a three-pronged rushing attack with LaGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi, and Corey Clement.
“The thing that I think makes us tough to defend is just we can kind of just plug and play at the different positions,” Wentz said of his offense. “Receiver, tight end, running back and guys make plays. We just have a lot of versatility and a lot of depth at these positions.”
However, the Rams could be without their starting middle linebacker Alec Ogletree who is questionable for Sunday’s contest with an elbow injury. On Friday, McVay said he “feels good” about the Georgia product’s availability and expressed confidence in Bryce Hager, should Ogletree be unable to play.
“They’ve gotten a lot of good work that they wouldn’t have gotten in a typical week with both of those guys, with Mark Barron and Alec being available, so it’ll serve us well,” McVay said. “You’d like to be able to have Alec, but if not we have a lot of confidence in those guys to step up in their absence.”
But it’s not just the Eagles offense that will pose a great challenge for the Rams on Sunday. Philadelphia also boasts the league’s No. 3 defense that is allowing just 292.3 yards per game and has recorded 22 takeaways this season.
“They’ve done a great job,” McVay said. “They do a great job in all the situations – third-down, red zone.”
Their front seven includes one of the best interior linemen in the league — two-time Pro Bowler Fletcher Cox — who is leading an Eagles unit that is allowing a league low of 68.1 rushing yards per game.
“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.”
As such, the Rams will need to be on point with their technique both on the ground and in the air, especially if their most productive wide receiver Robert Woods — who is questionable for Sunday — is unable to compete.
In last week’s contest against the Cardinals, Goff effectively distributed the football to eight different pass catchers — throwing touchdowns to wide receiver Sammy Watkins and tight end Gerald Everett. That distribution will be important on Sunday, when the receiving corps is matched up with a secondary known for both speed and intensity.
Led by safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, as well as cornerback Jalen Mills, the group will be eager to prove they can bounce back after giving up several large plays in Seattle.
“I had Jim Schwartz as my defensive coordinator in Buffalo, so I know those guys are going to be running around, playing full speed and [being] physical,” Watkins said. “They are going to come out, show what they’re running and then play hard and fast. So for us, we’re just going to have to match their intensity, go out there and have fun together. Just play fast.”
With both offenses averaging a league-best 30.1 points per game, all eyes will be on Goff and Wentz come Sunday. But with two of the top-ranked defenses out on field as well, Week 14 should be an exciting, evenly matched contest.
Kickoff for Sunday’s game is set for 1:25 p.m. PT. For more information on how to watch, click here.