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5Qs, 5As with the Eagles: What makes Jalen Carter so dangerous early into his NFL career?

“I’m confident he’ll give the Rams’ offensive line some problems”

NFL: Washington Commanders at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams return to the friendly confines of SoFi Stadium to play the Philadelphia Eagles who are favored by 4 points according to DraftKings Sportsbook. LA is coming off a thrilling overtime win over the Colts in a game where the Rams nearly choked away a massive lead in the second half.

If LA has any hope of knocking off the reigning NFC champs, they can’t let their foot off the gas for a second. I spoke with Brandon Lee Gowton from SB Nation’s Eagles blog Bleeding Green Nation to gain more insight on the opposition ahead of their Week 5 matchup.

Q - The Eagles have started 4-0 for the second-consecutive season but for some reason, this team has looked off despite having an undefeated record. Philly has won three of their four games by one score and haven’t appeared as dominant as they were in 2022. What are key differences you’ve noticed in the Eagles’ unbeaten start this year compared to last season and how do they return to their dominant ways that everyone was so used to seeing a year ago?

A - On offense, the Eagles don’t look as effortlessly explosive as last year. The passing game in particular has too often lacked rhythm. The Eagles have made some strides in that regard; Week 4 was their best performance through the air. It’s hard to believe they won’t continue to progress in that regard considering they’re just so talented on that side of the ball. A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert are all top-notch weapons. D’Andre Swift can also contribute as a pass-catcher in addition to looking dangerous as a runner. Philadelphia has one of the NFL’s most talented, deep, and well-coached offensive line rooms.

Jalen Hurts and new Eagles offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, who replaced Shane Steichen, have not totally lived up to expectations thus far. But the belief here is they’re trending in the right direction.

On defense, the Eagles were always going to be due for regression after being historically dominant last year. Not to mention losing five of their 11 starters and adding a relatively inexperienced defensive coordinator. Philly is still strong up front, especially after adding Jalen Carter. But their secondary, which has been hampered by injury issues, is gettable.

All told, the Eagles just aren’t as good as they were last year. And that’s not even meant to be an indictment of this year’s squad; they’re still good. But they’re not “set a franchise record for regular season wins” good. And that shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Rams fans can attest to with Los Angeles missing the playoffs the season after losing a Super Bowl.

Q - Including the Week 4 win over the Commanders, Jalen Hurts has won 22 of his last 25 starts. Hurts has regressed statistically compared to where he was during Philly’s Super Bowl run. However, he likely played his best game of the season against Washington. What are some of Hurts’ strengths and what areas could his game use improvement as the year progresses?

A - Hurts is typically pretty good at avoiding putting the ball in harm’s way. That wasn’t the case through the first three games with four turnovers in them. But he was down to zero in Week 4 and I’d expect him to get back to his old ways moving forward.

Hurts has evolved as a passer. He made some really high-level throws in the Eagles’ win over Washington, such as a completion over the middle to Dallas Goedert with the ball JUST beyond the outstretched hand of a leaping defender to where the tight end could get it. Or when he threw with anticipation to Olamide Zaccheaus to thread the needle in a tight window for a first down completion late in the game.

Every quarterback is guilty of leaving plays on the field but one would like to see Hurts miss less throws that are reasonably there to be made. He could also afford to strike a better balance between running with reckless abandon and being a virtual non-factor with his legs. Hurts had a really good run when he took off scrambling after avoiding in the pressure last week. Outside of that play, though, he gained just 10 yards on eight attempts. Hurts prioritizing his health by avoiding hits obviously makes sense. At the same time, the Eagles can’t neuter him to the point where defenses aren’t even afraid of his mobility.

Q - Now we move onto another Jalen - Jalen Carter who Philadelphia wisely took with the ninth overall pick in the draft. Through four weeks, Carter is the highest-graded defensive tackle in the league. Yes, beating out Aaron Donald which is simply incredible for the rookie out of Georgia. How would you assess Carter’s rookie campaign so far and what makes him so dangerous along the Eagles’ D-line?

A - It is pretty crazy that Carter only has two fewer pressures than Donald this season despite playing in 85 fewer snaps. The rookie defensive tackle is downright dominant. And it doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. He was obviously a great player at Georgia. But the hype started to intensify over the summer when he started to show he can flash at the NFL level. His first preseason snap drew attention since he absolutely cooked the Ravens’ right guard to log a QB hit. He also put two-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler Joel Bitonio on his back with an immediate bull rush during a training camp rep. He doesn’t even look like a rookie out there when you’re seeing things like that happen.

Carter is only aided by playing alongside talented defensive line teammates. He’s been reunited with Jordan Davis, who has taken a step from Year 1 to Year 2. And it’s not like the Eagles are asking Carter to take a huge snap burden. They typically like to go with a six-man defensive tackle rotation to keep everyone fresh.

That said, I’m willing to bet Carter could handle a bigger role. And he likely will have to with the Eagles expected to be missing Fletcher Cox in Week 5. I’m confident he’ll give the Rams’ offensive line some problems.

Q - Let’s talk about the “Tush Push” which I’m sure LA fans will be seeing several times against the Rams on Sunday. I think all the whining about the play and calling for it to be banned is absolutely ridiculous. It’s a legitimate football play and if opposing teams don’t like it, then don’t let the Eagles move the ball with ease down the field. Why is everyone so up in arms over this play and what has allowed it to work so well for Philadelphia?

A - Yeah, I’m pretty tired of the discourse, though I totally get you asking the question. I just don’t remember it being a big issue when Tom Brady was unstoppable on sneaks. And even if you take out the pushing part, the Eagles are still going to be really good at it. They have a great offensive line and a quarterback who’s especially strong as well. To me, the complaints about it seem to be rooted in not liking the Eagles. Which isn’t a valid reason to ban the play. The notion that it is “not a football play” is simply untrue. It’s a play that’s run during a football game. It’s a football play. And there’s nothing inherently unfair or exceptionally dangerous about it. Banning it on the basis of satiating whiny complainers would be pretty unfortunate.

Q - The Eagles are listed as a 4-point favorite with an O/U of 50.5 according to DraftKings Sportsbook. What are your expectations for this game and what do the Eagles need to do to remain undefeated?

A - The Rams are the best team that the Eagles have had to face so far. Matthew Stafford and his receivers are going to have success against Philly’s secondary. Aaron Donald is probably due for a sack after being held without one in his first four games against the Eagles.

And so I like the Rams to cover against the Eagles, who are 6-7 against the spread as road favorites since the start of 2021. But they are 12-1 straight up in those games and I like the Birds to win another close one here. I’ll say the final score is 27 to 24, only just hitting the over.

The Eagles must and should be able to generate pressure on Stafford, perhaps creating a turnover or two in the process. They must also be better in the red zone, where they’ve converted just two of their last seven trips for touchdowns.