Watt and Texans the Latest Tough Test for Eagles
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The Houston Texans are closing in on an AFC South title and potentially a first-round bye in the playoffs so there will be plenty to play for when Bill O'Brien's team arrives in South Philadelphia.
The former Penn State coach, O'Brien was on the hot seat early in the season as the Texans lost three consecutive games to start before finally finding their sea legs and running off 10 of 11.
Much of those early troubles could be traced to Deshaun Watson's return from ACL surgery, something the Eagles know all about with Carson Wentz.
Watson, though, is getting healthier and healthier while Wentz is out of the lineup again, this time with a stress injury in his back, prompting the move to Nick Foles late for a second consecutive season.
While that's the talk of the NFL with more than a few extra media members at the NovaCare Complex on Wednesday, O'Brien isn't getting caught up in any QB questions when it comes to the Eagles.
"I think it’s all about the Philadelphia Eagles," O'Brien said. "It’s all about trying to have a good week, good practice week and going up to Philly to play a very difficult game. A very difficult game against a team that just beat the Rams on the road. It’s all about the Eagles.”
But, surely there is a difference in shifting from Wentz to Foles right?
"I think they’re a very strong team," O'Brien said. "I think that obviously, Carson Wentz is a great player. Then, they have an excellent situation where Carson’s not able to play and now they’re able to put the Super Bowl MVP in there. That says it all. They’ve done a – Howie Roseman’s done a great job, Doug Pederson’s done a great job. Nick’s a starter in this league. He’s an excellent player.”
The toughest part of the Texans for Foles figures to be J.J. Watt, the versatile three-time Defensive Player of the Year who has rebounded from an injury-plagued season to again take his place among the league's elite with 14 1/2 sacks.
"He’s a tremendous defensive player," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "I totally respect him as a player and what he’s accomplished in this league. His first step – first step quickness – and then his little swim move that he can do, his arm-over move, is as quick as anything as we’ve seen all season. He’s a load. He lines up anywhere along that D-line – inside and outside, left and right. We’ve got to account for him."
The respect seems to be mutual with Watt pointing to Foles' Super Bowl success,
"He’s a good player, he’s smart, he knows what he’s doing. He’s a good quarterback," Watt said when asked about Foles. "When you win the Super Bowl, you’re pretty damn good. He does great things. He can move around a little bit, he knows the system, he knows the guys, he knows what he’s doing, knows how to find the open guy and get it to him."
Lou Holtz-ing the opposition is sort of the way it's done in the NFL and O'Brien and his defensive coordinator, Romeo Crennel, are aware of the differences between Foles and Wentz, the most major of which is Wentz preferring more autonomy in the offense whole Foles is content to let the game plan do the work.
In short that likely means more run-pass options for the Eagles and one-read throws rather than extending plays and off-schedule offense.
“There are always differences in players," O'Brien admitted. "I’m not going to get in here and compare – I would tell you there’s a lot of similarities. They’re both very accurate, very tough, very smart, understand their offense, do a great job of running the offense the way that Doug wants them to run it."
The Texans will have life after the Eagles win or lose but O'Brien is taking the same one-game approach as Philadelphia will be on Sunday in an attempt to get his team in the best position possible come the postseason.
"You’ve put yourself in a position and now it’s all about the Philadelphia Eagles," the coach explained. "That’s the big deal. If you start thinking about this, that, all these scenarios that you guys do a great job of covering and put out there, then you’re going to be way ahead of yourself because you should be thinking about, ‘OK, how am I going to get open against this corner for Philly? How am I going to block Fletcher Cox? How are we going to cover Zach Ertz? When we have to punt to (Darren) Sproles, how are we going to tackle him?’ Everybody’s focus should be the Philadelphia Eagles.”
973espn.com Prediction: Eagles 24, Texans 23
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen