Eagles Wake-Up Call: Carucci On the Bills
In this installment of Opposition Research, we spoke with Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News about what the Eagles should expect Sunday against the Bills.
What are Buffalo’s strengths and weaknesses?
“Strengths of the team? Number one is the corner back position — not necessarily the secondary as a whole — when Stephon Gilmore is healthy and playing, but the expectation is he’ll miss Sunday’s game. Ronald Darby is having a Defensive Rookie of the Year season and Gilmore has played really well. He’s played up to the expectations to when they made him a first round pick.
The offensive line, which was the greatest weakness of the team last year, has improved significantly and has now made itself a strength. I think that’s evolved as the season has gone on. Once you got past the midseason point, they were starting to grasp an entirely new offense and new blocking scheme with Greg Roman as the offensive coordinator, who has probably the most complicated run blocking scheme in the league. He brought that with him from San Francisco and it’s just now starting to show up.
And you’re seeing it in the running game, especially with LeSean McCoy running for those three 112-yard games in the last five games. That’s had a lot to do with the offensive line. They’re just getting it now and you can see it when you watch tape just how much more confident they are and the authority with which they’re blocking. They did an amazing job on J.J. Watt last week. They made him disappear, which very few teams are able to do.
As far as weaknesses go, probably the biggest would be linebacker. I don’t think this group has played well at all for most of the season. They certainly haven’t tackled well and they’re not very good in coverage. The screen game could be a problem against them, which would be a matchup issue against Darren Sproles and this Eagles offense.
It’s hard to think a team that led the league with 54 sacks last year and had three defensive lineman in double digits needs a pass rusher, but it really does. It doesn’t have a consistent force. As I project the needs of 2016, I’m going to put outside linebacker/edge rusher pretty close to the top of the list.”
How is the Kiko Alonso-McCoy trade viewed in Buffalo?
“Buffalo has been obviously thrilled, especially with what they’ve seen lately out of McCoy. He started slow — he had that hamstring issue — so there was concern it may be a lingering issue. When he suffered it in training camp, it looked bad.
Rex Ryan, when I asked this question [on Wednesday], he said the biggest difference in LeSean McCoy now compared to earlier in the season is just that: his health. He’s healthier and he looks like he’s running faster. I thought in the last game especially, he’s looked like the McCoy you expected to get.
And I think there’s a sense that the Bills overwhelmingly won the trade. While I cite linebacker as a weakness and Kiko Alonso’s tackling is probably something they miss, I don’t think their missing that is as great as the impact of McCoy.”
What injuries are the Bills battling that could impact the game?
“Safety has been an issue, and Aaron Williams is out with a neck injury that could actually be career-threatening. He revealed [on Thursday] that he has a 50-50 chance of coming back and playing. Kyle Williams is missing from the defensive line with a knee injury that put him on injured reserve. He was playing well up to the point of the injury; they miss that run stuffing ability he has.
If I’m the Eagles and I do have a DeMarco Murray-type back I want to utilize up the middle, I’m thinking they’re looking at tape and they’re going to try to exploit that. I think those opportunities could be there, especially with the tackling issues I mentioned at linebacker.
The absence of Gilmore with a shoulder is a problem, and they’re missing Karlos Williams. As well as McCoy ran last week, I think their running game is generally better when you have McCoy and Williams running effectively. Williams is out with a shoulder injury.”
What’s a key matchup you think could decide the game?
“Fletcher Cox versus the left tackle Cordy Glenn, and the offensive line in general. I think he’s identified as the single biggest impact player the Eagles have in the eyes of the Bills. Just as they went into the Houston game zeroing in on Watt, they’re pinpointing Cox as someone they have to neutralize and do what they can to keep from being disruptive.
They were very happy with their plan against Watt, and I think they’re pretty confident they can do something similar with getting extra blockers his way. As much as anything that happened last week, they sent extra blockers at Watt and ultimately discouraged him. Maybe some of that was on Watt and a hamstring issue, but when it was clear early on to him that he wasn’t going to have this big day, it seemed to be easier for the Bills to neutralize him.
I don’t think the Bills look at this defensive front for the Eagles as one where if they get Fletcher Cox under control, someone else is going to step up and really wreck what they’re doing offensively.”
Who do you think will win?
“I’m picking the Bills. I think they could win pretty big. I think the matchup is very favorable in terms of the way their offense should be able to move the ball. Tyrod Taylor is finally coming into his own. It’s still incremental, but he’s coming off as good a game as he’s had all season. I think that matchup and this 3-4 scheme is one he can exploit if he makes the right reads. There are plays he missed against the Jets and Patriots and I think it’s a similar approach offensively, but figuring by what will be his 11th career start, he’ll start making those plays.
If LeSean doesn’t lose it emotionally and tries to do too much that will lead to fumbles, I think everybody in that stadium knows he could go off for 200 yards. I think that’s the kind of game he’s aching to have and a motivated McCoy is a scary thing.
Defensively, the fast pace thing will give them some issues, but what I think the Bills are pretty good at is figuring out the right personnel groupings when the possession starts. I think they can win pretty comfortably, like a 30-17 game.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
“I’m very happy here.” DeMarco Murray addresses the plane conversation heard ’round Philly.
Chip Kelly regrets the way the LeSean McCoy trade unfolded, and would like to apologize.
Examining how Billy Davis shrugged off two woeful outings and confused Tom Brady.
“He would kill it.” What did the Eagles miss in passing on Tyrod Taylor? They’ll see on Sunday.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Fletcher Cox doesn’t often appear in Defensive Player of the Year conversations, but as Zach Berman points out, he was huge in topping the Patriots.
Fletcher Cox’s conventional stats did not pop out in the Eagles’ win over the Patriots on Sunday. He had three tackles, no sacks. Yet Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised him after the game. A Patriots assistant sought out Cox to compliment him. And anyone watching saw the effect that Cox had on the game.
Plus, looking beyond tackles and sacks, the numbers also told the story. Cox was credited with eight pressures on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. That was a big reason the Eagles won.
“He was winning one-on-ones,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “Those guards were struggling with him. We move [Cox] around. We move them all around, but we move [Cox] around to any matchup that we see fit. Inside on the guards, he was beating them quick. They were one-move wins, and he had a big game.”
DeMarco Murray’s conversation with Jeffrey Lurie was the distraction that Chip Kelly’s team just didn’t need, says Les Bowen.
The part of this that Kelly should be worried about isn’t that Murray unburdened his soul to Jeffrey Lurie, spontaneously or otherwise. [Kelly]’s problem is that we all learned about the unburdening from tweets and a story by ESPN’s Dallas-based Ed Werder, tweets and a story that were transparently sympathetic to Murray’s plight.
Somebody in Murray’s camp – agent, family member, friend, Murray himself – thought the world needed to know Murray had taken his frustrations over his role to the Eagles’ owner. And the question arising from that fact hasn’t changed – why? Toward what end?
“That’s a great question,” Kelly conceded, during a frenetic, combative news conference that the team surely would have preferred be focused more on the Eagles’ resurrected hopes of winning the NFC East. “I don’t have an answer for that.”