In one of the most compelling games on the Week 4 schedule, the Eagles travel to the Mile High city to challenge the undefeated Denver Broncos. All eyes will be on the Philadelphia offense to see how their new, high speed, up tempo philosophy can manage the thin Denver air. Head coach Chip Kelly got off to a great start, but has since lost two winnable games in a row leaving more doubt than confidence among the fan base. Taking a trip to Denver isn’t exactly an easy way to snap a losing streak, but the Eagles are coming off a 10 day respite and Kelly was hired for his creativity and ability to maximize opportunities. Maybe he can put together an imaginative game plan and generate some points to keep the Eagles in the game.
Meanwhile, all Denver has done through three games is get off to a record setting pace. At 3-0, many feel the Broncos are the best team in the NFL and they have been playing without two of their best defensive players. Anyone who didn’t know how dominant Denver can be, got to see on Monday night when they moved the ball at will against the Raiders defense. There is no doubt that the Eagles defensive coaches were also tuned in, but is there anything that can be done to slow down the Broncos right now? If Philadelphia has any shot at an upset, they will need to win these important match ups.
Peyton Manning vs. Eagles Secondary
The numbers for Peyton Manning through three weeks are off the chart. He is on pace to break almost all of the single season passing records in the NFL, including completions and touchdowns. Making these numbers even more impressive is that this point in the season the Broncos lead the league in dropped passes, dropping 10.7% of Manning’s passes. His Accuracy Percentage, which takes into account dropped passes, throw aways and spikes is a staggering 84.3%. In most cases the leader in Accuracy Percentage will be a quarterback who often takes the check down and isn’t a risk taker, but that isn’t Manning at all. He also leads the entire league in yards per pass attempt, averaging 9.39 yards on each pass, showing plenty of big play ability. Peyton will have a chance to add to these numbers this week against an Eagles secondary that was totally revamped in the offseason and has struggled at times early this season.
The starting cornerbacks for Philadelphia have been pretty good so far this season. Bradley Fletcher, who missed the San Diego game, leads the NFL in Cover Snaps Per Reception. In 93 snaps in coverage Fletcher has allowed just 4 receptions for 45 yards. His absence was greatly missed in the Week 2 game. Opposite Fletcher is former Baltimore Raven, Cary Williams. Williams has committed a fair share of penalties this season, but has allowed just 11 receptions on 142 snaps in coverage. The major liability in the Philadelphia secondary is the safeties. Patrick Chung ranks 36th in the NFL among safeties in Cover Snaps Per Reception and fellow starter, Nate Allen ranks 48th. Not rankings to be excited about with Peyton Manning on the horizon.
As great as Peyton Manning is after the snap, he is even more impressive before the snap when he is diagnosing the defense and setting up the play. This could be a major problem for an Eagles defense that got picked apart in Week 2 by Chargers quarterback, Phillip Rivers who was able to get the Philadelphia defense to tip their plays. In that game Rivers got his team to the line of scrimmage early in the play clock and adjusted the play call based off what the Eagles defense showed. This strategy is something that Manning has been doing his entire career. Unless Philadelphia has learned from their mistake and do a better job disguising their plays, it will be easy pickings for Manning.
LeSean McCoy vs. Broncos Linebackers
In most games when you are going up against a Hall of Fame quarterback and a potent offense like Denver, the plan is to slow down the game and run the ball a lot. However, Chip Kelly doesn’t believe anything should ever be slowed down and even his rushing attack is fast paced. The good news for Philadelphia is that like Manning, running back LeSean McCoy is off to a historic start and his big play ability can strike at any moment. McCoy has forced a league high 15 missed tackles on running plays and is ranked third in the league in our Elusive Rating, which rates runners based on missed tackles forced and yards after contact.
McCoy will be facing his toughest test of the season this week. The Denver defense is only allowing 43.3 yards per game on the ground, by far the best in the NFL. Much of Denver’s great start on run defense can be attributed to the strong play of their linebacking corps. Middle linebacker, Wesley Woodyard has made ten tackles on the 55 snaps that he has played run defense on and is yet to register a missed tackle. Both starting outside linebackers currently rank in the top three in the NFL in Run Stop Percentage. Nate Irving is first in the league, making five stops on 30 running plays and Danny Trevathan is third with five stops on 47 plays. Just like Woodyard neither of the outside linebacker has been credited with a missed tackle either. If they can corral McCoy without missing a tackle, that will be a major accomplishment and most likely provide them a great opportunity to win the game.
Brandon Boykin vs. Wes Welker
One of the most important stats in the NFL is third down conversion rate and no player converts more third downs than Wes Welker. Welker continues to perform from the slot at a high level. He has run 87 of his 105 routes from the slot and has been targeted on 24.1% of his routes run from the slot. Welker has been efficient with those targets too, turning three of his 13 receptions from the slot into touchdowns. Assigned with the task of covering Welker this week will be Eagles cornerback, Brandon Boykin. Boykin has been the Eagles slot cornerback since they drafted him in 2012 and has been a bright spot. As a slot defender Boykin has been targeted 11 times this season and quarterbacks have a 53.2 rating on those passes. If the Eagles defense has any chance to slow down Manning and keep the score close, Boykin will have to be successful against Welker and help the defense get off the field during pivotal third down situations.
Follow John Castellane on Twitter.