It isn't very often that you get a chance to face one of the greatest players in NFL history. That's exactly what the Eagles will do on Sunday when they travel to Denver to take on Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Some people fret over facing a great player like Manning. I love it. These are the games you should get excited about. Manning could have a great day and post huge numbers, but you never know if the defense will play a great game and help the Eagles pull off a big upset.
The Broncos are 3-0 and look like the best team in the league right now. Manning is the big star, but he's not alone. Denver has built up a lot of talent in recent years. They have the best offense, a solid defense and a dangerous special teams unit.
The spotlight will be on the Eagles defense as they try to slow down the Manning Express. In a way, the Eagles had some good preparation a couple of weeks back. Philip Rivers is second in the NFL in passer rating. He is playing lights out. Rivers also used pre-snap adjustments to shred the Eagles defense. Sounds a bit like Manning, huh? The Eagles had no answers for Rivers and the Chargers. The defense made some changes and played better last week against the Chiefs. Denver will be the toughest test of all, but facing Rivers and his style of play might have been a good warm-up for Sunday. I'm not saying Rivers is anywhere close to Manning, but Rivers is having a great year and he is one of the few quarterbacks in the league who makes a lot of pre-snap adjustments. You can't simulate that in practice the way that you can learn from it in a game.
Defensive coordinator Bill Davis has faced Manning several times over the years. He knows the real key to having success against Manning is to be fundamentally sound. If you make a mistake, Manning will make you pay. Players must be smart and disciplined. I'm sure Davis will stress to his players to do their job and not to try and be a hero. Players who take chances against Manning usually fail and get burned.
Davis talked about the fact there are no magic defenses you can throw at Manning to fool him. He's just too smart. Davis will mix up the looks that he gives Manning. You don't want to let Manning get into a comfort zone by doing the same thing over and over. You mix man and zone coverage. You go 3-4, 3-3-5 and 4-2-5. Heck, maybe Davis uses some 4-3.
Obviously the one thing that can affect all quarterbacks is pressure. The Eagles will throw some blitzes at Manning, but he reads the blitz so well that you can't do too much of it. You need the pass rushers to win their one-on-one battles.
You can't sell out to stop the pass because Denver will run the ball. They use three running backs and all three have at least 84 yards so far this season. Knowshon Moreno has been the best, rushing for 160 yards and averaging almost 5.0 yards a carry. Denver isn't a great running team, but they mix it in enough so that their play-action passes are very effective. Linebackers and safeties must be very disciplined so as not to get burned and allow big plays to happen.
The Eagles must tackle well. Denver is second in the NFL in yards after the catch. Manning loves to throw short, quick passes and then let his receivers make plays for him. Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker are all very dangerous with the ball. In the previous two games, the Eagles were burned by receivers making plays after the catch. They must clean that up or Sunday will be a long day.
I do think the Eagles match up well.
Coming up with some takeaways would be a huge help, but that is much easier said than done. Manning has not thrown an interception all year. Denver has lost five fumbles. The Eagles had five takeaways after the first two games, but came up empty last week.
The Eagles offense can help out the defense. Manning is useless when he's stuck on the sideline as a spectator. The offense needs to move the ball and score points. It would also be good to put some pressure on the Broncos. The Eagles have yet to score first in a game. Playing from behind isn't a habit you want to get into. I was surprised to see that the Broncos have been a much better team after halftime. They trailed the Ravens, before exploding in the third quarter. They led the Giants 10-9 at the half and then dominated the second half. Denver destroyed the Raiders last week and that went on all game long. The Broncos aren't going to panic if they trail at halftime or even in the second half, but you don't want them playing with a lead and dictating the game to you.
The Eagles prefer to spread out the opposing defense and run. Denver seems to be at its best when it is able to crowd the line of scrimmage and attack the run. They won't be able to do that as well against spread looks. The Broncos are just 30th in the league in pass defense, but that stat is skewed because teams fall behind and become pass-happy. Denver's pass defense is better than the numbers would let you believe. They are eighth in passer rating against so while they may give up yards, they aren't giving up many touchdowns and they are picking the ball off.
Vick didn't get good pass protection in the last game. That hurt his performance and led to some of his sloppy play. The Eagles caught a break in not having to face Von Miller, but Denver has solid pass rushers in Shaun Phillips and Robert Ayers. Offensive tackles
The Chiefs did a great job of limiting the Eagles passing game. I'm interested to see what adjustments Chip Kelly makes. The Chiefs success had more to do with personnel than scheme so Denver can't just steal the idea and get it to work the same way. Still, Kelly will tweak things if he thinks that will help the offense. That could mean different plays or different players. The Eagles put up 30 or more points in each of the first two games. Last week, they scored just 16 points. Kelly will not be satisfied with that and will do anything he can to help Vick and company get into the end zone.
Playing a talented, undefeated Broncos team in Denver is no easy task, but it is a great opportunity. How many really impressive wins have the Eagles had in recent years? Beating the Ravens last year was good, but that was just Week 2. The Eagles knocked off Peyton Manning and the Colts in 2010. That was a big win. There were a couple of special wins in 2008. The Eagles beat the Steelers in a defensive struggle early in the year. They also beat an 11-1 Giants team later in the season.
We don't know just how good this Broncos team will end up being, but they look pretty darn good right now. The Eagles can beat them if they are able to score touchdowns on offense, play smart on defense and make plays whenever they have the chance - on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game.
I'm genuinely excited to see what the Eagles can do. We may never get to see them face Manning again. He might end up playing great and winning, but the Eagles could make a huge statement by winning this game. At the very least, it should be fun to watch the two high-powered offenses battle it out.