The Eagles, then, face a ginormous challenge on Sunday in Denver.
And that huge task is what makes the NFL so great.
If you are a player or a coach, this is the kind of game you have to love. This is an opportunity to match up against the best of the best in the league, so who wouldn't be excited about that?
"You see Peyton Manning on the other side and you know what kind of quarterback he is," said cornerback
Can the Eagles win this game? Absolutely. Is it going to take a near-perfect game to do so? That's the opinion from this perspective. The Eagles have to play great football to beat Denver. And they are capable of doing just that, as evidenced by the standard set in the first half of the win at Washington.
The opening-night victory provided the blueprint for Eagles football in 2013. The offense set the tone from the start with crisp execution and an ultra-fast tempo. The defense was sound and aggressive and around the football, prying loose two early turnovers and forcing a safety. The special teams dominated the field position.
That is the very formula needed to beat Denver. The Eagles need to get out on Denver from the jump and put touchdowns on the board. The defense must play fast, must be sound, and has to catch every pass that is within reach, and jump on every football that comes loose. The special teams have to win field position and force Manning into long fields and give
A tall order? Sure, but it's certainly possible. The Eagles have to play their best game of the season, a full 60 minutes of outstanding football, to turn away the Broncos.
There is nobody going into this game with a sense of anything less. It's a terrific test for the coaches to find out about their schemes against the top of the NFL's power pile, and it's a perfect opportunity to further evaluate personnel and how it fits here.
Some of the things I will be watching ...
1. How Aggressive Will The Defense Be Vs. Manning?
The Eagles aren't going to resort to trickery against Manning, who is off to a super-human start in 2013. The Eagles want to mix up their looks and play solid, sound and physical defense. Will Davis use cornerbacks
Manning is terrific against the blitz, so Davis must time up his calls well and hope his players execute perfectly. No way can the Eagles allow Manning to sit in the pocket and dictate, so the defense is going to have to take a chance or two. But how? From whom? From where does Davis bring the blitz? Can the Eagles get to Manning with four rushers, and cover with seven?
Let's see how creative Davis is here. The Eagles have to perform the basics -- tackle, shed blocks, communicate to perfection -- and that's a given. That's what this extra time preparing has been all about. The players have to be on the same page with the coaches and play the best game of the year on defense -- and still know that Manning is going to get his. The Broncos are going to score some points. And that's where the offense comes into play ...
2. Play Eagles Football On Offense
I loved the offense against Washington for much of that game and against San Diego for periods of that game. The Eagles are potent enough to score against any team, provided they are secure with the football and sound in their assignments.
Run or pass against Denver? Whatever the defense gives, which is the basis of this offense. Slow down the tempo? Hey, just do what works. Score touchdowns, no matter how the Eagles accomplish the mission.
Make no mistake, though: A four-turnover game from the offense is a bad recipe against a team as good as Denver. The Eagles stayed in the game against Kansas City even with the turnover problems because the Chiefs lack the explosive offense and because the Eagles D kept the game close for most of the contest. Denver isn't as generous. Denver blows teams out that commit holding penalties, and line up incorrectly, and have false starts, and give the ball away.
It all starts up front, and the offensive line has heard from reporters all week about the troubles it had against Kansas City. I look for a redemption game here. I look for the Eagles to have an extremely focused performance up front.
3. The Michael Vick Factor: Big Stage For No. 7
After two excellent games against Washington and San Diego, Michael Vick struggled last Thursday night. The Chiefs pressured him, and Vick made some mistakes and the entire offense struggled together. Vick has been stewing over that performance for a long time, and he's got a national television audience on FOX watching him on Sunday. This is a great setting for a bounce-back game for Vick.
Ball security is Vick first priority here, because giveaways will doom the Eagles. Vick has to read and trust what he's seeing from Denver's defense, and he has to distribute the ball with great accuracy and timing.
This is just a feeling, but I see Vick having one of his great games. I see him playing with confidence and decisiveness -- darting through holes when he has a chance to run and working the pocket in the passing game -- and having an outstanding 60 minutes against Denver.
All week it's been "Peyton Manning this" and "Peyton Manning that," and we all know what a great player Manning is and how tough he is to defend. Why can't Vick steal the show on Sunday and win a tough game on the road?
We all acknowledge that the Eagles are still a developing team, while Denver is poised and polished and one of the very best squads in the NFL. This is a game to embrace, attack, and play with confidence. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, right? Sunday represents that kind of opportunity for the Eagles.