If you missed the first cheat sheet, click here.
Now, 10 things you need to know about how the Eagles’ defense matches up with the Broncos’ offense.
1. I guess we need to start with Peyton Manning, huh? Don’t know how much I can add that hasn’t already been said. He leads the NFL in completion percentage (73.0), yards-per-attempt (9.4), touchdowns (12) and passer rating (134.7). A year ago at this time, the Broncos were 1-2, and many questioned the future Hall of Famer’s arm strength. But with a new stable of weapons, Manning looks as good as ever. The Broncos are the top-ranked offense in the NFL, per Football Outsiders – first in passing and fifth in rushing. Denver is averaging 42.3 points per game. No other team is averaging more than 32.
2. The Eagles have the 26th-ranked defense, per Football Outsiders – 14th against the run, 27th against the pass. Billy Davis’ crew played well for three quarters last week, but couldn’t get off the field late, allowing the Chiefs to take over eight minutes off the clock on a critical fourth-quarter drive. Of course, the offense and special teams didn’t do much to help the ‘D’ out, turning the ball over five times. Davis likes to disguise his looks pre-snap on most weeks, but that will be thrown out the window on Sunday. There’s no disguise or coverage Manning hasn’t seen and diagnosed. Look for the Eagles to just line up and play this week. There’s no sense in getting cute and over-thinking things.
3. The Broncos have four receivers who have been targeted at least 20 times. Demaryius Thomas is sixth in the NFL with 307 receiving yards. He’s Denver’s big-play threat, averaging 15.4 yards per reception with four grabs of 20+ yards. He’s averaging 9.1 YAC, according to Pro Football Focus. In 2012, Thomas had 94 receptions for 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns. That included 29 catches of 20+ yards. He’ll get matched up against Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher. Fletcher missed the Chargers game because of a concussion, but quietly played well in the other two games. Williams was solid last week too after a three-penalty game vs. San Diego.
4. Eric Decker has 19 grabs for 252 yards. He had 85 receptions for 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago. Wes Welker has 19 catches for 190 yards and four scores. Tight end Julius Thomas has 20 grabs for 194 yards and four touchdowns. Look for Brandon Boykin to match up with Welker all game long. We wrote about how Davis is using Boykin earlier this week, but against Denver, the Eagles need him as a cover guy. The Eagles rank 27th in the NFL at covering tight ends, per Football Outsiders. Mychal Kendricks has been a disappointment. He’ll need to step it up in coverage in this one.
5. The Broncos’ offensive line from left to right is: Chris Clark, Zane Beadles, Manny Ramirez, Louis Vasquez and Orlando Franklin. Clark is a converted tight end who made his first career start at left tackle last week for Ryan Clady, who suffered a season-ending injury. This is a matchup the Eagles will look to exploit. Trent Cole has played well through three games. In the Eagles’ base 3-4, he lines up at right outside linebacker. In sub packages, he usually has his hand on the ground. On passing downs, Cole has rushed 86 percent of the time and dropped 14 percent of the time, per PFF. He has forced a pair of fumbles.
6. Beadles is a four-year starter coming off a Pro Bowl season. Ramirez had 26 starts in five seasons before 2013. He played guard last year and struggled at times in pass protection. Vasquez is a quality guard who signed with the Broncos in the offseason, after having spent his first four years with the Chargers. Franklin has started 35 straight games.
Connor Barwin and Fletcher Cox lead the Eagles with two sacks apiece. Barwin will line up at left outside linebacker and be used in a variety of roles. He’s done a good job against the run, setting the edge on carries to that side. Cox had his best game of the season last week. In addition to the sacks, he has a team-high four hurries, according to stats kept by the coaches. Cedric Thornton also played very well against Kansas City, and Vinny Curry contributed a sack and a hurry. Isaac Sopoaga should barely see the field in this game. The Eagles will need pass-rushers (including Brandon Graham) on the field all game long.
7. The Eagles can expect to see three different running backs: Knowshon Moreno, Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman. Moreno leads the team with 34 carries for 160 yards (4.7 YPC). Ball, a second-round pick out of Wisconsin, has 99 yards on 31 carries; Hillman 84 on 14. Remember those packaged plays we’ve been discussing all summer with Chip Kelly? The Broncos use them too.
Here, against Oakland, Manning has the option for an inside handoff or a bubble screen.
The Eagles have used the inside run/screen combo all season long.
On the very next snap, the Broncos ran another version:
Again, Manning has the option to hand it off or throw it to the perimeter.
The Eagles’ defense should be used to these plays from practice, but the players will have to know their assignments and stay disciplined.
8. One more play that should look familiar. Remember the downfield screen to Donnie Avery that the Chiefs ran twice for big plays? That one’s in the Broncos’ playbook as well.
Denver ran the play to Thomas on third-and-long, but the Raiders got off their blocks and stopped him short of the first down. Kelly said the play originates from the University of Houston back in 2005. As I said before, don’t be surprised if you see the Eagles run this one on offense.
9. At safety, it looks like Earl Wolff will make his first career start opposite Nate Allen. Patrick Chung is listed as doubtful with a shoulder injury. Wolff blew his assignment on a 51-yard pass play against Kansas City, but has played with hustle and energy. It’ll be up to Davis to put him in positions to succeed. Against San Diego, the Eagles played their safeties deep and gave up a lot of in-breaking routes. Don’t be surprised if that happens again. Coaches will likely emphasize not letting receivers over the top.
10. To blitz or not to blitz? According to Stats, Inc., Manning is completing 71.8 percent of his passes and averaging 10.5 yards per attempt with five touchdowns and no interceptions against extra pressure. But last year, against big blitzes (six or more), he averaged just 5.3 yards per pass, per Football Outsiders. The Eagles’ best bet is winning one-on-one matchups with four or five rushers. But they talked a lot this week about using different looks. So don’t be surprised to see Davis occasionally dial up some extra pressure, especially if he thinks he can take advantage of the left side of the Broncos’ offensive line.