Jim Schwartz Faces Tough Test with Powerful Rams
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The strength of what playoff hope remains for the Philadelphia Eagles lies in the weakness of the competition.
If the Eagles run the table the rest of the way it's far more likely than not they will sneak into the playoffs as the sixth seed in the NFC.
The good news is that it's not exactly terribly heavy lifting to get hot at the right time and win three consecutive games even for a team whose high-water mark so far this season in two straight.
The major problem lies with the first hurdle of the final three, the powerful Los Angeles Rams, and potentially facing that hurdle without starting quarterback Carson Wentz.
At 11-2 the Rams own the NFL's third-ranked scoring offense at 32.7 points per game and that's coming off their worst performance of the season when they were essentially shut down by the powerful Chicago Bears defense in the cold of the Windy City.
Sunday's affair is in the comfortable confines of Southern California, however, and Philadelphia will not be bringing the same defensive personnel that the Bears boast.
On paper this a less than ideal matchup for Jim Schwartz's defense, which is coming off a coming off a devastating overtime loss in Dallas in which it was on the field for 99 plays and allowed an eye-popping 576 yards of total offense. While the Cowboys have been much better offensively since the acquisition of Amari Cooper they can't bring to the table what Sean McVay does with the Rams offense.
“They just challenge you in every different level,” Schwartz acknowledged on Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex. “If you don’t play the run very well, you’re not going to beat them. If you don’t play the deep balls very well, you’re not going to beat them. If you don’t play the screen well, you’re not going to beat them. If you don’t handle tempo well, a lot of different tempos, you’re not going to beat them. If you miscommunicate you’re going to look bad. All those things go hand in hand.”
Jared Goff, taken No. 1 overall the same year the Eagles snared Carson Wentz one pick later, has thrown for 3,934 yards and 27 touchdowns with a 101.2 passer rating while Todd Gurley is in the conversation for Offensive Player of the Year with 1,707 all-purpose yards and 17 touchdowns and both Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks are 1,000-yard receivers.
When observers think explosive offense in this league they tend to think about spread philosophies but Los Angeles will use protection and play-action more than any other team in the league.
"Not many teams you see wide receivers stay in the protection and protect; the Rams do," Schwartz said.
The Eagles, meanwhile, will arrive at the Coliseum without four projected starters on IR -- cornerbacks Jalen Mills (foot) and Ronald Darby (knee), safety Rodney McLeod (knee), and defensive end Derek Barnett (shoulder) -- and could be without two more -- mike linebacker Jordan Hicks (calf) and defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (back).
That's the landscape Schwartz faces against McVay, a coach with the reputation of a wunderkind, who likes to use tempo and his versatile playmakers to keep opposing defenses from going to their subpackages.
“The tempo is a bit of a challenge; interchangeable players,” Schwartz said. “Then one of the biggest things is they can run the ball really well. Gurley, there is a lot of different ways they can use him and the run sets up those deep passes and they put a lot of pressure on people on the field.”
The pressure has been alleviated a bit by the absence of slot receiver Cooper Kupp, who is lost for the season with a torn ACL. Since putting up a 54-spot on national television against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Rams have managed were slowed down a bit in Detroit and absolutely handcuffed in a season-worst 6-point performance in Chicago.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen