When the Eagles run the ball
The Eagles (2-1) use a by-committee running attack in which the individual workloads change weekly depending on the opponent, the game plan and the situations. Last week’s season-ending injury to Darren Sproles takes away the Eagles’ most versatile offensive threat and makes life a little easier for opposing defenses, which won’t have to deal with him in space. The Eagles are coming off their best rushing performance of the season (193 yards vs. Giants). LeGarrette Blount, who was brought in to be the short-yardage pounder, had 67 yards on 12 carries. Wendell Smallwood, who had just 8 yards on seven carries in the Eagles’ first two games, rushed for 71 yards on 12 carries vs. the Giants, including four runs of 8-plus yards. The Chargers are 31st in the league in run defense. They’re giving up 4.7 yards per carry and 4.96 on first down. They’ve already allowed 12 double-digit-yard runs, third most in the NFL.
When the Eagles throw the ball
Carson Wentz already has been sacked 11 times in three games and will be facing one of the league’s fiercest pass rushes Sunday. Defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram combined for 18½ sacks last season and already have 7½ of the defense’s 11 sacks in the first three games. The Eagles have converted nearly 50 percent of their third-down opportunities, despite having the fourth-most third-and-8-plus plays (21) in the league. Wentz has been the major reason for that. He’s averaging 8.32 yards per attempt on third down, more than 2 yards per attempt better than last year. Tight end Zach Ertz has been Wentz’s go-to guy. He has been targeted 28 times and has 21 catches. His 14 first-down receptions are the second most in the league. Wentz’s chemistry with Alshon Jeffery continues to get better. They connected on the big 19-yard completion that set up Jake Elliott’s game-winning field goal last weekend. Wentz targeted him eight times vs. the Giants, six on third down.
When the Chargers run the ball
The Chargers (0-3) are 27th in rushing, averaging just 70.7 yards per game. That’s not all that surprising since they’re averaging just 20.7 rushing attempts. Melvin Gordon, who rushed for 997 yards last season, is averaging just 3.3 per carry. He rushed for 79 yards on 17 carries last week vs. the Chiefs, but injured his knee in the second half. He returned to the game, but had just one more carry (for -1 yards). He will play Sunday. How effective he’ll be remains uncertain. The Chargers have just 11 rushing first downs in three games. They are averaging just 3.2 yards per carry on first down, seventh-lowest average in the league. Aside from the 53-yard TD run they gave up to the Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt, the Eagles have been stout against the run. They’ve allowed just 11 rushing first downs, third fewest in the league among teams that have played three games. They’ve allowed just five runs of 10-plus yards in 53 attempts.
When the Chargers pass the ball
Philip Rivers is coming off a horrible performance vs. Kansas City. He completed just 20 of 40 passes and threw three interceptions. His 37.2 passer rating was his lowest in 10 years. Rivers threw an NFL-high 21 INTs last year and already has four in 112 attempts this season. He’s 32nd in third-down passing with a 20.7 rating (14 for 28, 111 yards, 0 TDs, 3 INTs). Even without No. 1 pick Mike Williams (back injury), Rivers has ample pass-catching talent at his disposal, but isn’t getting the ball to many of those receivers. Tight end Hudson Henry, the team’s 2016 first-round pick, had eight TD catches as a rookie, but hasn’t caught a pass of any kind since Week 1. Injuries in the secondary have forced the Eagles to play a lot of soft coverage and rely on their pass rush. On top of that, they’ll likely be without defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (calf) this week, which is going to significantly impact their ability to pressure Rivers, much like his absence did Sunday in the fourth quarter vs. the Giants.
The loss of Sproles, one of the league’s best punt returners, is a big blow to the Eagles. He averaged a career-high 13.2 yards per return in 2016. Either wide receiver Torrey Smith, who hadn’t returned a punt since high school before Sunday, or Kenjon Barner, who was signed Tuesday, will handle punt-return duties. Rookie kicker Jake Elliott hit a franchise-record 61-yard FG with no time left Sunday to beat the Giants. Nailed a 46-yarder right before that to tie it. Punter Donnie Jones is 25th in net average (39.2), but opponents have returned just four of his 12 punts for a total of 11 yards. The Chargers are 31st in kickoff coverage (28.8) and 26th in punt coverage (9.9). They are last in NFL in opponent average-drive start on kickoffs (27.6). The Chargers’ kicker, Younghoe Koo, also is a rookie. He beat out the incumbent, Josh Lambo, in the preseason. But he’s 2-for-5 on FG attempts. He missed from 43 and 44 yards and saw a 44-yarder get blocked in Week 1.
Domowitch’s prediction: Chargers 31, Eagles 20
— Eagles LT Jason Peters and RT Lane Johnson vs. Chargers DEs Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram: Bosa and Ingram are one of the top pass-rush tandems in the league. Peters, who spent last week battling the Giants’ Olivier Vernon, will have his work cut out for him with Ingram, who already has 5½ sacks. ADVANTAGE: Chargers
— Eagles TE Zach Ertz vs. Chargers S Jahleel Addae: Ertz is second in the league in first-down catches. Addae did a good job the last two weeks vs. the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce and the Dolphins’ Julius Thomas. ADVANTAGE: Eagles
— Eagles CBs Rasul Douglas and Jalen Mills vs. Chargers WRs Keenan Allen and Travis Benjamin. Without Ronald Darby, the Eagles are playing a lot of off-coverage and trying to keep receivers in front of them. Benjamin is averaging 17.7 yards per catch. ADVANTAGE: Chargers
Hot and Not
Eagles: K Jake Elliott. Hit a 46-yard field goal with 51 seconds left to tie the score, then drilled a 61-yarder with no time left to beat the Giants.
Chargers: DE Melvin Ingram: Had three sacks in the Chargers’ loss to Kansas City. His 5½ sacks in three games are the second most in the league.
Eagles: CB Jalen Mills. Gave up two fourth-quarter touchdown catches to Odell Beckham Jr., and also was victimized by OBJ on a play that resulted in a pass-interference penalty on safety Malcolm Jenkins.
Chargers: QB Philip Rivers. Threw three interceptions and had his lowest passer rating (37.2) in 10 years in a loss to the Chiefs.