Eagles-Texans: A closer look

Eagles will try to remain unbeaten against Houtson, with Nick Foles stepping into the spotlight

SERIES HISTORY: Fifth regular-season meeting. Eagles lead series, 4-0. The last time the Eagles played the Texans was in Houston in 2014. Mark Sanchez came on in relief of Nick Foles to nail down a 31-21 win. The Texans are one of two teams that the Eagles have never lost to. The other is the New York Jets, who are 0-10 against the Eagles. The Eagles have done well against Houston-based teams. They were also 6-0 against the Houston Oilers before the Oilers left town to become the Tennessee Titans.

NOTES, QUOTES:

Texans wide receiver DeAndre Carter was the Eagles’ feel-good story of training camp and early in the season, a 25-year-old rookie who had been cut six times before finally making an NFL roster, fulfilling a promise he made to his dying brother that he would do. Carter was released on Nov. 6, a week after the Eagles acquired Golden Tate, hoping to add him to the practice squad. Instead, the Texans grabbed him. Carter has made 10 catches on 11 targets in five games for 101 yards while returning nine punts for 82 yards.

“He’s been good,” said Houston head coach Bill O’Brien. “He was a good pickup for us. He’s a tough guy, he’s got good playing strength, he’s really smart, so he’s been able to pick up a lot of things for us offensively. He’s gotten us some decent yardage in the punt return game. Very tough guy, good pro really. Really glad he’s a part of our team.”

After going four straight games without an interception, the Eagles have now had a run of four straight games with an interception, as the team’s rebuilt secondary, necessitated by so many injuries to the starting defensive backs, has become more comfortable.

“Cre'Von (LeBlanc) has sort of solidified that nickel spot for us,” said defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. “Rasul (Douglas) has solidified an outside spot for us and have a little bit more of a role for (safety) Tre Sullivan. Malcolm (Jenkins) is doing his thing. It's a matter of those guys being on the practice field and having a good feel for each other. Anything that you can do sort of helps that.”

BY THE NUMBERS: 31 and 1. That is the Texans’ record when leading at halftime in their last 32 games when they have had a lead after two quarters.

“I think that’s a good stat and I think that’s good that that’s our record, but I think everybody in the NFL tries to do the best they can to make the right adjustments at halftime,” said Houston head coach Bill O’Brien. “So, I don’t know how much of it – I think it’s more about maybe giving a lot of credit to our players, go out there and play good second halves and get off to good starts in the second half. I give credit to the players on that.”

PERSONNEL PLAYER NOTES:

The 160 yards receiving Alshon Jeffery had on Sunday night were his most since joining the Eagles as a free agent in the 2017 offseason. It was also the third highest total of his career. While with the Chicago Bears, he had 249 yards on Dec. 1, 2013, and 218 on Oct. 6, 2013 against the New Orleans Saints.

Zach Ertz became just the fourth tight end in NFL history to record 100-plus receptions in a single season. He has 101 and joins Tony Witten in 2012 (110), Tony Gonzalez in 2004 (102) and Dallas Clark in 2009 (100). Ertz had three catches on Sunday night and has 1,038 yards receiving this season.

Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox sacked Jared Goff for an eight-yard loss on third-and-11 in the second quarter to hold the Rams to a 41-yard field goal. Cox now has 7.5 sacks this season, which are his most in a single season since he had 9.5 in 2015. He is now tied with Brandon Graham (42.5) for the sixth-most in Eagles history.

Corey Graham and Avonte Maddox both had their second interceptions of the season and the Eagles have now recorded picks in each of their last four games.

Jake Elliott’s 53-yard missed field goal with just over minute left against the Rams snapped his streak of 13 straight made kicks which dated back to Week Seven against Carolina.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Nick Foles. The Eagles’ good luck charm and reigning Super Bowl MVP will make his second straight start this week. He completed 24 of 31 passes against the Rams for 270 yards, one interception and an 89.4 passer rating. It was his third highest single-game completion percentage of his career, trailing only his game vs. Chicago (84 percent) on Dec. 22, 2013 and his seven touchdown performance against the Oakland Raiders when he completed 78.57 percent on Nov. 3, 2013.

Foles started the first two games of the season as Carson Wentz recovered from offseason knee surgery, going 1-1 in those starts. Now, with Wentz out, but not expected to go on Injured Reserve, Foles is the starter again.

“I think every time he's had the opportunity to play he's been really effective, and we always are trying to build on things,” said offensive coordinator Mike Groh. “We have a lot of confidence in Nick and what he does well, and just keep going there. We're focused on the Texans and trying to put another good plan together and play efficient football and have another balanced attack. Nick has proven himself over the course of time as an excellent quarterback in this league, and we're lucky to have him.”

GAME PLAN:

The Eagles are 7-0 when they run the ball 27 or more times in a game. That commitment to the ground attack hasn’t always been there, and it may not be there this week if the Texans live up to their billing as being the fourth-best defense in stopping the run. If the Eagles are forced to throw all day, it could be hazardous to the health of quarterback Nick Foles.

The Texans’ pass rush is fierce, led by Pro Bowlers J.J. Watt (tied for second in the league with 14.5 sacks) and Jadeveon Clowney (8 sacks).

On defense, the Eagles need to keep Deshaun Watson in the pocket and sack him when they can. The front four, led by Fletcher Cox, who was named to his fourth straight Pro Bowl and played “his best game of the season,” according to head coach Doug Pederson, did a good job of making Rams quarterback Jared Goff uncomfortable last week in the Eagles’ upset win over L.A.

Watson has been sacked a league-high 52 times. Cox has 7.5 sacks this season, just behind the team leader in that department, Michael Bennett, who has eight. Cox and Bennett are second and third in the NFL in quarterback hits with 29 and 28, respectively. That adds up to 57, which is more than any duo in the league.

QUOTES TO NOTE:

“Obviously two of the best edge rushers in the game but not only that, they are complete players,” said offensive coordinator Mike Groh about Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt. “You have to account for them all the time and know where they are and have a really good plan at pass protection like I know we will. I know our guys will be up for the challenge.”

“We know that a loss is going to take away the season kind of where we want to go,” said right tackle Lane Johnson. “We’ve created a sense of urgency and that’s where it’s at. We know what’s at stake and the team we want to become. We showed flashes of it last week (in the win over the Rams). If we can get more of the same, that would be good.”

“That was a good win, a big win for us,” said defensive tackle Treyvon Hester about beating the Rams. “We kept alive our season and we’re still in the running. It was a good game for Eagle Nation.”

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Nick Foles vs. Whitney Mercilus. Maybe the Eagles QB and Texans LB don’t exactly “matchup” but it was Mercilus who changed the arc of Foles’ career in 2014 when Mercilus leveled Foles in their game on Nov. 2, 2014, in Houston, ending Foles season with a fractured clavicle. Foles was coming off his 27 touchdown-two interception year and had the team at 6-2 when Mercilus delivered the crushing blow. Foles bounced around from St. Louis to Kansas City after that hit and didn’t start another game for the Eagles until Dec. 17, 2017 then led them to the Super Bowl title.

Eagles secondary vs. receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The Eagles have had trouble with big-play receivers this season, giving up more than 100 yards receiving to DeSean Jackson, Adam Thielen, and Corey Davis to name a few. Then there was the 217-yard outburst by Dallas’ Amari Cooper. The rebuilt secondary played well against the Rams’ plethora of weapons, so that could give them some confidence. But Hopkins is third in the league in reception yardage with 1,321 yards to go along with 11 touchdowns. That’s a handful for any secondary.

“I think probably the biggest thing that stands out for me is he's so strong with contested catches,” said defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. “He must have incredibly strong hands and he has a knack for getting the ball. He has some rebounder-type skills in him. Charles Barkley would lead the NBA in rebounds when he’s 6-3 … not only does he high-point the ball and strong enough to squeeze it, he’s also strong enough to come down with the ball in his hand.”

PREDICTION: EAGLES 23, TEXANS 20

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