Eagles-Chargers scouting report

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Eagles’ running back Wendell Smallwood will likely take on more responsibility as Darren Sproles will miss the rest of the season.

When the Eagles have the ball

The key for the Eagles offense could be the running game. After finally showing a commitment to the run last week, the Eagles can turn to it again against the NFL’s 31st-ranked rushing defense. The Chargers allow 146.7 rushing yards per game this season. The Eagles backfield is missing Darren Sproles, who is out for the season with knee and forearm injuries. Look for Wendell Smallwood to take over Sproles’ third-down responsibilities and continue to be a big part of the running game. LeGarrette Blount played well last week with 67 yards, and he will combine with Smallwood as the Eagles’ top two running backs. Corey Clement will also get carries. The offensive line is likely to include Stefen Wisniewski at left guard after Wisniewski rotated with Chance Warmack last week. The Eagles played best last week when Wisniewski was on the field.

Carson Wentz had a modest game last week, but it was good enough for the win. The Chargers have the NFL’s 13th-ranked passing defense, allowing 322.7 yards per game. Their strength is the pass rush, and the two edge rushers — Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa — pose major challenges. Ingram leads the NFL with 5.5 sacks, and Bosa is already one of the NFL’s best defensive players in his second season. The Eagles rely on tackles Jason Peters and Lane Johnson to protect the edges; both must play to their reputations or  Wentz will be on the turf too often.

In the secondary, the Chargers will feel the loss of cornerback Jason Verrett. They still have Casey Hayward, but the Eagles will likely try to challenge Trevor Williams, who is replacing Verrett. Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith can both challenge the Chargers deep. The Chargers have only one interception this season. They also must focus on tight end Zach Ertz, who leads the Eagles with 21 catches for 245 yards and has become the top target in the receiving game.

Rookie Jake Elliott became a household name in Philadelphia after hitting a 61-yard, game-winning field goal last week and will kick again this weekend.

When the Chargers have the ball

The Chargers offense is led by quarterback Philip Rivers, who is in his 14th NFL season. He knows the challenges of an 0-3 start and will need a big game to revive the Chargers. Rivers has completed 65.2 percent of his passes this season with four touchdowns and four interceptions. He is playing an Eagles defense that won’t have star defensive tackle Fletcher Cox for the first time since 2012. Beau Allen will start in Cox’s place next to Tim Jernigan. Elijah Qualls will be the only other defensive tackle active. The Eagles can move Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham inside when needed.

Rivers is playing without first-round pick Mike Williams, who has been injured all season. Rivers’ top receiver is Keenen Allen, who has 19 catches for 196 yards and a touchdown. Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin are also threats. Look for Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas to start on the outside again with Patrick Robinson in the slot. It will help the Eagles secondary that Rodney McLeod is expected to return after missing last week’s game with a hamstring injury. McLeod is questionable, but he practiced this past week. Linebacker Jordan Hicks is also questionable, but is expected to play. The Chargers’ passing game is not just limited to their receivers. Veteran tight end Antonio Gates is one of the best in NFL history, and Hunter Henry is one of the top young tight ends in the NFL. Malcolm Jenkins is often tasked with covering tight ends for the Eagles.

The Chargers have the NFL’s 27th-ranked rushing offense with only 70 yards per game, but Melvin Gordon is a talented running back who can hurt the Eagles if they’re not ready. The rush defense has been strong most of the season; it is ranked sixth in the NFL with only 75 yards allowed per game.

Rookie kicker Younghoe Koo has missed a game-winner and had a potential game-tying field goal blocked. When the Chargers punt, the Eagles will likely  turn to Kenjon Barner as the returner in place of Sproles.

Big number

1990
That’s the last time the Eagles played in the Los Angeles area. The Eagles beat the Los Angeles Rams, 27-21, in Anaheim on Sept. 23 that year. The Chargers relocated from San Diego to Los Angeles this season and play in a 27,000-seat stadium in Carson, Calif. The Eagles will make two trips to Los Angeles this year; they will play the Rams in December. The Rams returned to Los Angeles last season. For the next trip, the Eagles will stay on the West Coast because the Rams game is preceded by a visit to Seattle. This weekend will be a quicker trip than usual – Doug Pederson will bring the team on Saturday and not Friday, like they did for their West Coast game last year and Andy Reid used to do when the Eagles played out west. Pederson will keep the team on Philadelphia time, so it will have an earlier curfew Saturday and approach Sunday’s game as if it’s a 4:05 p.m. game back home.

Predictions

Zach Berman: Chargers 21, Eagles 20

Jeff McLane: Chargers 23, Eagles 19.

Les Bowen: Chargers 23, Eagles 20

Paul Domowitch: Chargers 31, Eagles 20