NFL Preview – Philadelphia (5-2) at Houston (4-4) (ET)

By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor

( – 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

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.


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


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