The first detail Philadelphia Eagles fans need to know is things are not going to get any easier for their beloved Birds in Week 4. Coming off back-to-back home losses, Philadelphia heads west to take on quarterback Peyton Manning and the 3-0 Denver Broncos—likely Super Bowl contenders out of the AFC.
No doubt the Broncos will be heavily favored going in, and there are many who would chalk this up as a defeat before the game is even played. If we were to search for silver linings, I suppose the fact that Denver just competed on Monday night, while the Eagles will be coming off 10 days rest is one of the few.
No way will that be enough to sway the air of inevitably surrounding this contest.
It’s not as if the Birds offense couldn’t go toe-to-toe with the Broncos, though. Denver and Philadelphia are ranked one and two in the NFL in total offense, respectively, so as long as Michael Vick and Co. can cut down on the five turnovers they committed last week, there is a chance—a chance!—the Eagles could outscore the Broncos.
Hey, that’s why they play the games. With that in mind, here’s a look at everything going on around the Eagles heading into this enormous encounter.
NFC East Standings
Dallas Cowboys (2-1)
DeMarco Murray ran over the St. Louis Rams for 175 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, prompting the question: Where did that come from? Murray is an explosive back, yet Dallas still ranked 31st on the ground in 2012, while the Rams entered Week 3 allowing 61 yards per game this season.
The Cowboys haven’t had a strong running game in years, which has been one of their greatest downfalls. It’s far too early to tell whether or not head coach Jason Garrett has discovered a magic elixir for his offensive line, but if this were to become a trend, it would take a lot of pressure off quarterback Tony Romo—for a change.
Philadelphia Eagles (1-2)
The good news: Both losses, thus far, were to opponents outside the conference, which might be helpful if the Birds somehow find themselves in the thick of the wild-card race come December. Unfortunately, that nugget doesn’t really do a whole lot for Philly in the sad-sack NFC East because they’re all common opponents.
Still, at least the Eagles are competing. They lost to San Diego on a last-minute field goal, and it took Kansas City until the fourth quarter to put the Eagles away, despite the five giveaways. Better days are somewhere on the horizon—perhaps even in 2013.
New York Giants (0-3)
Food for thought: No NFL team has been more thoroughly embarrassed in a game this season than the Giants were by the Carolina Panthers on Sunday—not Jacksonville, not Oakland, nobody. Thirty-eight points is the largest margin of victory this season, thus far, and New York is the first to get shut out.
Is there a worse offensive line in the league right now? The Giants are ranked dead last in rushing (44.3 YPG) and 30th in yards per carry (2.7), while only Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been sacked more than Eli Manning (11). Not coincidentally, Eli leads the NFL with eight interceptions.
Washington Redskins (0-3)
Misleading stat of the day: Washington’s offense enters Week 4 ranked fifth overall with 408 yards per game. In terms of points on the board, though, they are only averaging 22.3, which is good for 19th—oh, and that total even includes a pair of defensive touchdowns.
From day one, it was clear that franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III isn’t comfortable (ACL), and it goes deeper than his sharp decline in efficiency as a passer—his rating is down from 102.4 last season to 84.1. RG3’s inability to make plays with his legs is even more striking, as he’s run for just 62 yards through three games compared to 815 in 2012.
Week 4 Opponent: Denver Broncos (3-0)
Is Peyton Manning playing the best football of his career? Scary thought, but here are the numbers through three games—89-of-122 (73.0%) for 1,143 yards, 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
If Manning is playing his best football, it might have something to do with the fact that he has quite possibly the deepest talent pool ever assembled around him on offense. Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker are Pro Bowlers, Eric Decker eclipsed 1,000 yards last season, and tight end Julius Thomas is poised for a breakout year.
This is an impossible offense to game-plan against, and not to sound ridiculous or anything, but a team that potentially has a shot at going 16-0 over the balance of the regular season this year.
The Eagles haven’t practiced since their game on Thursday, so it’s impossible to know where LeSean McCoy’s ankle is at since the injury. Yeah, he came back into the game and looked fine, but no doubt that thing swelled up something fierce afterward. Safe bet is the All-Pro back will be ready to play come Sunday, but it’s a situation to monitor.
Michael Vick also had his ankles rolled up on at the end of the loss to Kansas City, but the signal-caller brushed it off as nothing during his postgame press conference.
Patrick Chung’s shoulder contusion sounded like the only serious injury coming out of last Thursday’s game. Via PhiladelphiaEagles.com, Chip told the media at his day-after presser that Chung would not have played if there was a game that day, but the safety should be ready for practice on Tuesday.
The Broncos, on the other hand, are looking a bit more depleted, particularly on the defensive side of the football. We’ve known they would be without Von Miller this week since before the season began. Champ Bailey has yet to suit up this season, and backup Tony Carter was dinged on Monday night—no word on his condition, but an obvious disadvantage in their secondary if he’s unable to suit up.
The other major injury is Ryan Clady, who was lost for the season last week. His absence didn’t seem to impact Peyton Manning too much versus the Raiders, though, as the future Hall of Famer completed 32 of 37 passes for 374 yards and three touchdowns.
What Must Improve (Just Ignore The Defense Edition)
It’s been fairly well-established that Philadelphia’s defense has issues. By the same token, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of this Peyton Manning fella, but he’s not exactly bad. In short, nothing Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis plans to “fix” between now and Sunday is going to stop the Denver offense.
Let’s worry about things the Birds can do that might actually have a chance of making a difference on Sunday.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription only), Vick was hurried 20 times on Thursday, accounting for half of the QB’s dropbacks. He was sacked six times in all.
Those numbers can be somewhat misleading for an offensive line charged with protecting Vick, which tends to try to make big plays, while avoiding checkdowns like they are the plague. That said, the Kansas City Chiefs’ pass rush was relentless in Week 3, particularly to Philly’s right side where guard Todd Herremans and rookie tackle Lane Johnson struggled mightily.
There are no simple answers. Herremans hasn’t looked comfortable even dating back to the preseason, and Johnson is further along as a run blocker than he is in pass pro. Maybe Chip Kelly needs to think about keeping a back or tight end in to help out.
Either way, all quarterbacks get rattled under pressure, and although Vick has tremendous escapability, he’s not the type to carve up a secondary when defenders are constantly in his face. Protect him or don’t bother making the trip to Denver.
Tight End Involvement
Brent Celek averaged 744 receiving yards over the last four seasons heading into 2013. The Eagles signed James Casey a three-year, $12 million contract on the first day of free agency back in March, then used a second-round draft pick to select tight end Zach Ertz in April.
Between the three of them, the tight ends have been targeted 16 times through three weeks for a grand total of eight receptions, 148 yards and one touchdown.
Those numbers wouldn’t seem sooo bad were it not for all the hype surrounding the rise of the tight end under Chip Kelly. Where we’re sitting today, with the investment the front office has made into these players, it’s downright disappointing.
Granted Casey has never been much of a receiver at this level (career-high 34 REC for 330 YDS in ’12), and Ertz is a rookie who surely needs time to develop. OK, so what’s Celek’s excuse? With WR Jeremy Maclin out for the year with a torn ACL, the offense really needs this position to get involved in the aerial attack—otherwise it will continue to suffer.
Simply put, you can’t win games in the NFL when you turn the ball over five times as the Eagles did against Kansas City in Week 3. You can’t win many games in the NFL when you turn it over two or three times for that matter.
If Philadelphia is going to have any remote chance at victory on Sunday, they are going to have to take great care of the football. Odds are, Peyton Manning and that Denver offense will score more often than not—no matter what the defense does.
As Manning himself can attest, it’s not so much about time of possession; it’s about not giving those precious possessions away. We’ll soon see if it was a one-time thing for the Eagles this season or if they are reverting back to a 2011-12 level of ball control.