NFL Preview - Philadelphia (5-2) at Houston (4-4) (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) - Philadelphia Eagles linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Connor Barwin know what to expect against J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans.
You see, both Ryans and Barwin played in Houston when Watt made the transition from college and will see their old friend Sunday at NRG Stadium.
"I think he's probably the most disruptive guy in the league up front," Barwin told the Houston Chronicle. "He does everything well.
"He doesn't waste rushes. He's big, strong, has really long arms. He has great vision of the quarterback while he's rushing, and he's relentless to the ball."
Watt is second in the NFL with seven sacks and recorded two in last Sunday's 30-16 win at Tennessee. Eagles center Jason Kelce, who hopes to return from hernia surgery this week, said Watt has a variety of different moves and ways to attack an offense. Kelce is the anchor of an Eagles line that has suffered a myriad of injuries after going unscathed last season.
Extra film is needed to understand Watt's game, according to Kelce. Watt has five sacks in last three games and faces an O-line that has allowed only two sacks over the previous six games.
Eagles guard Todd Herremans is dealing with a torn biceps and his status for Sunday in unknown. Herremans continued to play with one arm in last week's 24-20 loss in Arizona and practiced this week with an arm brace.
The Texans, who started 3-1 under first-year head coach Bill O'Brien, ended a three-game losing streak with their 30-16 win over the AFC South-rival Titans, as Arian Foster continued to grind up yards with 151 and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Foster is second in the league with 766 rushing yards and is tied with DeMarco Murray for first with seven rushing scores.
While Watt, an early MVP candidate, and rookie linebacker Jadeveon Clowney will cause problems for the Eagles up front, Foster is Houston's offensive star. He has rushed for 100 or more yards in four straight and six of seven games this season, and the Eagles are 21st against the rush, allowing 116.7 yards per game. Foster, who is averaging 109.4 rushing yards per game, has carried the ball more than 20 times in each of the past four games.
Houston is fifth in the NFL with 139.4 rushing yards per game.
After the Texans play Philadelphia, they will enter the bye week. Houston is a game behind Indianapolis for first in the division, while the Colts play Monday night on the road against the New York Giants.
The Eagles are coming off a back-breaking loss to the Cardinals and both teams entered the afternoon with 5-1 records. Cody Parkey gave the Eagles a 20-17 lead on a 20-yard field goal with 1:56 to go in the game, but the defense cost them the game when Carson Palmer hit John Brown for a 75-yard touchdown pass over the heads of Eagles safety Nate Allen and cornerback Cary Williams.
"They had a safety on me, so when they put him on me, all I had to do was run past him," Brown said.
Allen was apparently bothered by a hamstring injury and did not practice Wednesday. Neither did slot corner Brandon Boykin (hamstring). If Allen doesn't play, Earl Wolff is expected to fill in.
While most of the attention should be centered around stopping Foster, the Eagles can't sleep on Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and receivers DeAndre Hopkins and veteran Andre Johnson. Hopkins leads the Texans with 569 yards and three scores, while Johnson has a team-best 46 catches with 551 yards and a score. The Eagles were burned by both Brown and Larry Fitzgerald, who hauled in seven passes for 160 yards and an 80-yard touchdown.
That can't happen again if the Eagles want to make a run at a second straight NFC East title. Dallas currently leads the division with a 6-2 mark.
Williams remembered playing against Johnson before.
"It was amazing seeing him for the first time," Williams said. "I've always thought he was the best out there and one of the greatest of all time to do it on a consistent level year after year."
Williams doesn't feel Johnson has missed a step and said the muscular wideout plays physical with his hands and at the point of attack. He also added that Johnson is a good blocker, which benefits Foster and could be a huge problem for the Eagles.
"He's very much like Fitzgerald. One of the best, regardless of whether the team is good or not," Williams said. "Those are the guys who do it every year. He can do it all. He's got great body control. In my opinion, I thought he was the best guy I faced ever because of his ability to catch the ball, run routes, his ability to separate at the ball."
Johnson has 12 catches for 250 yards in two career games the Eagles, who lead the all-time series with Houston by a 3-0 count. In a 34-24 win on Dec. 2, 2010, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy posted 130 scrimmage yards and two scores, one rushing and one receiving. Johnson had 149 yards on six catches.
In their lone visit to Houston on Sept. 10, 2006, the Eagles came away with a 24-10 victory. Donovan McNabb threw for 314 yards and three TDs and Donte' Stallworth caught six passes for 141 yards and a score.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Clowney is working his way back from knee surgery and could give the Eagles problems if he's on his game. Clowney, the first overall pick in the 2014 draft, played sparingly in last week's win over Tennessee and had one tackle. It was his first game since Sept. 7 versus Washington.
O'Brien said Clowney should see more action Sunday.
"I think he'll be in there a little bit more," O'Brien said Monday. "We'll see how he feels throughout the week. I think it's still a process of not being out there for whatever it was, seven weeks, and now coming back. I don't think he's ready to play 80 plays in a game, but I think we can keep working him in there more."
Clowney, who didn't practice Wednesday, said the knee is still sore, but is getting better "week-by-week."
Texans linebacker Brian Cushing is tied for the team lead in tackles with 50 and did not play last Sunday because of a balky knee.
The possibility of Cushing returning this week is unclear. Cushing also did not practice Wednesday.
"That'll be day-to-day. It's definitely day-to-day," O'Brien said Monday of Cushing. "He said he felt better today. We'll see how it is on Wednesday. Tomorrow is their day off. He'll come in for treatment tomorrow. He's going to do everything he can to try to play on Sunday. I can tell you that. He will do everything he can to be there on Sunday."
The last thing Eagles quarterback Nick Foles needs is pressure. Foles threw two costly interceptions against the Cardinals and has been picked off twice in each of the last two games. Foles, who had just two INTs in 2013, has thrown nine interceptions this season.
"We just have to keep working towards it," Foles said of the Eagles' goals. "You can't just say, 'Oh, that's the way it is, that's the way it's going to be. If anyone has ever played a sport, you know you're going to go through adversity. Things are going to happen that you to keep pushing forward. Just because a turnover happened doesn't mean the world is going to end. You keep fighting, you keep moving and you keep learning."
Philadelphia is still sixth in passing yards (283.6), fifth in total yards (398.7) and fourth in points (29.0). Foles has won his last three starts against AFC teams and needs one more 300-yard passing game to tie Sonny Jurgensen and Donovan McNabb for the most 300-yard games in a season in franchise history.
Foles was busy at Arizona with 411 yards and two scores on 36-of-62 passing. The Texans secondary could be in for a long afternoon because they are just 28th in pass defense, allowing 271.4 yards per game. They're also giving up 379.6 total yards a game. They'll put their work in if Eagles head coach Chip Kelly calls on Foles more than 60 times.
Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who is arguably the only threat on the outside, had 12 receptions for a career-best 187 yards and two scores last week. He has a touchdown in seven of the last nine games.
The Eagles hope to have running back and special teams star Darren Sproles back after he missed the Arizona game with a balky knee. Sproles is a dual threat and has 211 yards rushing and 198 yards receiving in his first season with Philly. Tight end Zach Ertz is another weapon for Foles.
Texans safety Johnathan Joseph (knee) did not practice Wednesday and also has 50 tackles this season. He had 11 stops in Week 1 and has posted five or more in six of the last seven games.
And then there's McCoy. Last season's NFL rushing leader is seventh with 505 rushing yards and only has one total touchdown. He hasn't been used much in the passing game with 88 yards and that role could expand in Houston. McCoy (5,978) has rushed for more than 80 yards in each of his past three games and is 17 yards shy of Brian Westbrook (5,995) for second on the team's rushing list.
Foster and the Houston defense will be too much for the Eagles in their second straight loss. Luckily for them, there's still plenty of games left. Patience, though, will start to run even more thin with Foles.
The Texans are also in the hunt for a division title and have plenty of respect for Sunday's opponent.
"It's a challenging game and we go out there to play to the best of our ability, and if we're able to win the game, it will be a big win for us. No doubt about it," O'Brien said.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Texans 24, Eagles 21