Just last week, I wrote about how the Eagles defense would be the x-factor the remainder of the season. I think that especially holds true after their performance against the Bears last Sunday.
The Eagles are in a good position right now to make a run into the playoffs, but nothing is guaranteed. If this team seriously wants to make the playoffs and compete for a championship, we're going to need to see some improvement out of the defense. The good news is they will have a shot at redemption on Thursday night against the Texans.
For the Texans, it all starts with running back Arian Foster. Through 12 weeks, Foster is the NFL’s leading rusher with 1,147 yards. He also has more receiving yards than any other running back in the NFL this season with 453, and is second among running backs in receptions.
The Eagles allowed a running back to rush for over 100 yards on them for the first time this season as Matt Forte ran for 117. This isn’t a pleasing statistic going into a week when you will be facing the NFL’s top rusher.
A large factor in Forte’s big day was poor tackling, especially on a play where he broke off a 61-yard run. Tackling hasn’t been that big of an issue for the Eagles this season, but they can’t afford to tackle the way they did last week in Chicago.
Stewart Bradley has had a down year after missing the 2009 season. He doesn’t look like the player he was building himself up to be in 2008. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the knee injury, but Eagles fans expected big things out of him this season. We’ve seen a few flashes of brilliance out of Bradley, but he’s failing to consistently play at a high level. The defense will need a solid game out of Bradley in order to shut down Foster.
Outside of the run game, the Texans have a lethal combination in Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. Johnson is sixth in the NFL with 869 yards and fourth in the NFL with 65 receptions.
Despite his recent scuffle with Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan, Johnson will start this Thursday against the Eagles, and is the Texans biggest receiving threat. In fact, Johnson has over twice as many receptions as the Texans' next leading receiver, Kevin Walter.
The Eagles haven’t been torched by any big name receivers this year. Instead, they’ve had meltdowns in a few games that have led to devastation, namely the Titans and Bears games.
Most recently against the Bears, we really felt the absence of Asante Samuel. He has been shutting down receivers all season and currently leads the NFL in interceptions. As of now, his status for the game is uncertain.
If the Eagles are without Samuel on Thursday, they will be forced to throw a lot of double coverage at Johnson. Joselio Hanson proved to be a large downgrade as he filled in for Samuel and rookie Trevard Lindley wasn’t very impressive in nickel situations.
The Eagles don’t play matchups with their corners; they play sides. If Samuel isn’t playing, look for the Texans to send Johnson to the side of Hanson throughout the majority of the game.
Dimitri Patterson has stepped in and played well in place of Ellis Hobbs and is clearly a better corner than Hanson. Patterson will see Johnson a lot if Samuel returns to the line-up. However, the Texans will look to put Johnson on the Eagles weakest corner.
Up front, it’s going to be very important for the defensive line to get in the face of Schaub. He’s not having his best year, but he’s still a very talented quarterback. If the line gives him time to throw, he can do some serious damage.
The line will need to get serious pressure to make him force throws. The Eagles failed to create a turnover last week, something they’ve been doing consistently well all season. A turnover could have been a turning factor against the Bears, but the defense failed to get one. That will need to change this week.
Heading into Thursday, Foster and Johnson are the big impact players the Eagles will need to keep an eye on, and the defense will surely have their hands full. However, if the Eagles want to prove they are a contender, the defense will have to prove they can stop players like this.