1. There has been a lot of talk this week about the Chiefs providing a blueprint for stopping the Chip Kelly offense. I just don’t see it that way. Kansas City slowed the Eagles down because it had talented players, and the Birds helped out by making too many mistakes (Jason Kelce’s snap, Damaris Johnson’s fumble, Michael Vick’s interceptions, etc.). In reality, the Chargers used a similar defensive strategy the week before, but they didn’t have the players, and Vick had a career passing game. The Chiefs dominated up front and had corners who could cover one-on-one. Just not sure other teams the Eagles face will have the personnel to accomplish those things.
According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles have the NFL's sixth-ranked offense - 20th in passing and first in rushing. If there's one thing we've learned about Kelly this season, it's that he takes the team's offensive success extremely personally.
"I don't see many problems with our offense except we're turning the ball over," Kelly said this week.
Of course, that's a pretty big except and one that fans have heard before. The Eagles were pretty good about turnovers in the first two games (two total). The key will be seeing if last week was the start of a pattern or a one-time occurrence.
2. The Broncos rank 12th in total defense, per Football Outsiders - 19th against the pass and second against the run. They lost Elvis Dumervil to the Ravens and are also without Von Miller. That's a total of 29.5 sacks from a year ago. Meanwhile, cornerback Champ Bailey has yet to play this season because of a foot injury. The Broncos are 17th in scoring defense, allowing 23.7 points per game. Former Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio is in his second season as Denver's defensive coordinator.
3. Last week, the Chiefs didn't need to do much to confuse the Eagles. They lined up, rarely blitzed and controlled the line of scrimmage. The Broncos are different. They are a base 4-3 team, but will line up in a variety of looks.
A little Wide-9 4-3:
How about just two down linemen?
One? Sure, that too.
And that was all just in the first half of last week's game against the Raiders. It will be up to the Eagles' offensive line and Vick to communicate and diagnose where the pressure is coming from, or it could be a long day.
4. Up front, Denver will rotate several defensive linemen. A few notable names are: Derek Wolfe, Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips. Ayers, a former first-round pick in 2009, has already tied a career high with three sacks on the season. Wolfe had six sacks and 8.5 hurries as a rookie, according to Football Outsiders. And Phillips, a 10-year veteran who joins the Broncos after spending his entire career in San Diego, is coming off a 9.5-sack campaign. He's got 2.5 sacks so far this season.
Up front, the Eagles struggled last week against Kansas City. Jason Peters is playing with a dislocated finger on his left hand. That might not sound like a big deal, but we saw his hand up close and personal this week. He has three fingers - his middle, ring and pinky - taped together. Peters struggled last week against Tamba Hali. Part of that was because Hali is a prolific pass-rusher. We should get a better idea this week how much the injury is affecting Peters.
5. T-Mac wrote a must-read piece yesterday on Todd Herremans. The nine-year veteran has started 103 games for the Eagles. He opened up to McManus about his foot injury and his struggles last week against the Chiefs. We're seeing some concerning things on film with Herremans that we haven't seen before. For example, on one play in the third quarter, he's matched up one-on-one in pass pro against Tyson Jackson.
Herremans gets driven right back into Vick's face.
And eventually, he is trucked to the ground.
Again, that's just not something we're not used to seeing with Herremans. His performance will be spotlighted Sunday in Denver.
6. At linebacker, the Broncos go with Wesley Woodyard in the middle, Danny Trevathan on the weak side and Nate Irving at SAM. Woodyard is a productive, versatile player. He's coming off a season in which he notched 5.5 sacks and three interceptions. Vick will have to be aware of where Wodyard is on Sunday. Irving made some nice plays against the run last week. Overall, the Broncos are limiting opponents to 2.3 yards per carry, a league-low. They have allowed just one run of 20+ yards. But the Eagles enter Sunday as the NFL's top rushing team, averaging 209 yards per game and 6.6 yards per carry. LeSean McCoy is the league's leading rusher (395 yards) and is averaging 6.4 YPC. Vick is tied for 15th with 187 yards rushing and is averaging 10.4 yards per carry. The Eagles' run-blocking up front has been outstanding.
7. Earlier this week, we showed how the read-option has been central to the Eagles' success on the ground. So far, they're using it a little more than 15 times per game. That number could very well increase against the Broncos. Terrelle Pryor had a nice read-option run against Denver last week.
The Raiders leave Phillips, the right defensive end, unblocked.
Phillips crashes on Darren McFadden, and Pryor pulls the ball.
Below, you can see Phillips is still focused on McFadden even as Pryor takes off for a 23-yard gain.
Five players in the NFL have three runs of 20+ yards. Two of them - Vick and McCoy - play for the Eagles. Picking up big chunks of yardage on the ground will be critical on Sunday.
8. The Eagles' receivers could be going up against a banged-up Broncos secondary. Here are the details from Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com:
The Broncos have used rookie Kayvon Webster far more on defense in some of the specialty packages in Bailey’s absence. They do have other injury concerns in the secondary as well. Safety Duke Ihenacho has been held out the past two days because of an ankle injury suffered against the Giants and re-injured against the Raiders, and cornerback Tony Carter was limited Thursday after being held out of practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury. However, the Broncos kept 11 defensive backs on the roster, so they have been able to cover for Bailey on the depth chart even with veteran cornerback Quentin Jammer having been a game-day inactive for all three games.
DeSean Jackson will likely get matched up with his old pal Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Jackson had 62 yards receiving last week, but is still the NFL's third-leading receiver with 359 yards. The big-play ability is back as he's averaging 18.9 yards per catch. Jackson has three catches of 40+ yards, tops in the league, and seven grabs of 20+ yards, behind only Anquan Boldin, who has played an extra game.
Rodgers-Cromartie got beat on a 73-yard touchdown last week. He and the safety ran into each other, allowing Denarius Moore to break to the outside for a big play. Remember, the Eagles were in dire need of cornerback help this offseason and chose not to bring Rodgers-Cromartie back at an inexpensive price. And Billy Davis coached him before in Arizona. This coaching staff should know DRC's weaknesses and try to exploit them. One tactic could be throwing the screen to his side of the field whenever Rodgers-Cromartie isn't pressing at the line of scrimmage. As everyone here knows, he's one of the worst-tackling corners in the league.
A lot of talk this week about Riley Cooper. The reason Kelly is defending him? It's not like Cooper is failing to play up to his potential. This is who he is. A good blocker, a good red-zone target, but not much else. It's possible we see a little bit more of Damaris Johnson or Zach Ertz this week.
9. As for Vick, the supporters never want to criticize him, and the critics never want to credit him. The truth is he played horribly last week. When your QB goes 13-for-30 with three turnovers, it's nearly impossible to win. Vick made too many mistakes, was off-target on too many throws and missed too many open receivers. He played great the week before in San Diego. And the Washington game was somewhere in between. The numbers were good, but he left plays on the field.
Overall, Vick is averaging 9.1 yards per attempt (second to only Peyton Manning) and has 17 completions of 20+ yards, tied for the most in the NFL. He's also been lethal as a runner, both on designed carries and as a scrambler. The Eagles will need him to avoid mistakes and take advantage of big-play opportunities to keep up with Manning and the Broncos' offense.
10. Tim and I talked about this on the podcast, but don't be surprised if we see Kelly looking to take a few more gambles this week. He's a smart man and knows the matchup between Manning and the Eagles' defense will be a tough one to control. Kelly has no intentions of slowing things down and keeping Manning on the sideline.
It seems to be the opposite, actually. He believes the Eagles' best chance for a 'W' is to click on all cylinders offensively. They've been efficient and explosive at times, but have yet to really put it all together for a full game. If it's 4th-and-5 from the Broncos' 26, don't be surprised if Kelly keeps the offense on the field, knowing that field goals aren't going to get it done. Two-point conversions? Onside kicks? All those things are in play. The Eagles are double-digit underdogs and really have nothing to lose. No sense in playing conservative in this one.