This should be fun. The Eagles, as double digit road underdogs, have absolutely no “risk” in this game. Their not expected to keep it close, let alone win it, and that should make it much more enjoyable for fans to watch. I don’t think things are as hopeless today as some others do, but it will be tough.
Here’s what I’ll be watching for:
- Aggressive Play-Calling. Chip has to expect that his defense will allow a lot of points. Therefore, the gloves need to come off on offense. So 4th and less than 5 yards should be a go. Field goals should be avoided, and not just because Alex Henery is far from a sure thing right now. Unless it’s 4th and long from the 30 yard line or less, I wouldn’t send him out there. This might also be a good opportunity for a surprise on-side kick, provided there’s some evidence it’ll work (depends on Broncos STs, which I haven’t reviewed. Overall, this needs to be an “all-in” type of game.
- Boom or Bust Defense. If we start the game under the assumption that the Broncos will score nearly every possession, then the “goals” for the defense shift. Big plays against are not the enemy, they’re the necessary result of playing a high-risk defense. The Eagles should be doing everything they can to bait Manning into an INT (unlikely as that might be) or to sack him. That requires taking chances, which will leave some big openings for Manning to exploit. That’s OK, the Broncos were probably going to score anyway. If the Eagles can grab an extra possession or two with a big defensive or STs play, it’ll go a long way towards neutralizing the Broncos advantage.
- The Broncos are not invulnerable. For example, the team has fumbled the ball EIGHT times already this year, though not all of those were lost. Tying into the last bullet point, today’s the day to commit to stripping the ball at the risk of a broken tackle. Also, the Broncos were losing to the Ravens at halftime in week 1. The Broncos were beating the Giants by just 1 point at halftime in week 2. There have been long stretches of play where Denver looked ordinary.
- Get Vinny Curry on the field! The problem seems to be that Bill Davis refuses to play either Cox or Curry out of position. I think that’s ridiculous. Hell, I’d put Curry at NT if that’s what it takes. He’s undersized, but on passing downs, I don’t see how he’s not an upgrade over Sopoaga or Logan. Last week, KC double-teamed Curry several times, meaning you could play him next to Cox and force the defense to single-block one of them. The Eagles are going to need as many coverage men as possible, so pressure from the D-Line is a must.
- Blitz, but do so carefully. If the Eagles blitz as transparently as they did against the Chargers, this is going to get ugly fast. Manning, as everyone knows, loves to read the defense pre-snap and call his own play to take advantage of the weaknesses he sees. Therefore, all blitzes must be fully disguised, or they need to be adequately covered (bait blitz essentially). For example, if the CB blitzes off the slot receiver, there needs to be a DL or LB that falls underneath the WR, hopefully getting in the way of a Manning hot-read.
This also looks like a tough game for Kendricks. If I were Davis, I wouldn’t hesitate to use him very sparingly, it just doesn’t seem like a good matchup for him (I’d much rather have an extra CB or S on the field).
- Dare the Broncos to run the ball. Most obvious, but if the Eagles can force the Broncos to run, they’ll have an advantage. I’d much rather have to worry about Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball than the passing game. If that means playing with 6-7 DBs on the field at one time, so be it. I’d rather roll the dice with that line-up against the run than go with the base 3-4 against the pass. In fact, I really don’t want to see 4 LBs on the field at all.
- Have fun. This is more of a reminder for fans. Again, this is an all-upside game. The schedule gets easier after this, so don’t freak out if the Eagles get steamrolled. Meanwhile, watch the rest of the NFC East carefully, a loss to the Broncos today might not end up mattering much.