3TFO: Chiefs @ Eagles, Week 3
It’ll be a giant reunion in Philadelphia on Thursday night when the Eagles host former head coach Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs. Reid and the Eagles divorced at the end of the 2012 season after a highly successful, but not ‘super’, 14-year stint . He returns bringing his 2-0 Chiefs to town on a short week after knocking off his former NFC East rival Cowboys in Week 2, 17-16. When Reid left for Kansas City he took a lot of his staff with him, including the head trainer, so this will be a homecoming for more than just Reid.
The glow on the Eagles after a Week 1 thrashing of the Redskins got a little duller last week when the Chargers spoiled their home opener 33-30. Many of the preseason issues and concerns with the Eagles came through, as the defense struggled mightily to get off the field on third down and stop the pass, and rookie head coach Chip Kelly made some questionable in-game decisions. Kelly has another big test this week with the Eagles playing their third game in 10 days, a task that is hard on a veteran coach, let alone a rookie with little NFL experience. While much of the pregame hoopla will be about the two coaches, this game will ultimately be decided on the field, and these key match-ups will go a long way in determining the outcome.
Branden Flowers vs. DeSean Jackson
No player has benefited more from Chip Kelly’s offense than wide receiver DeSean Jackson. We heard during the preseason how happy Jackson was with the new offense and how his skills were going to be fully utilized. Two weeks into the season that couldn’t have been more accurate. Jackson leads the NFL in Yards Per Route Run (YPPR), with 4.43. To put that in perspective, in 2012 the leader in this category was Andre Johnson with 3.01 YPRR. Even more alarming is that Jackson just missed on three opportunities Sunday that would have been big plays, including one 37-yard touchdown that got called back because of a penalty. Jackson has been targeted seven times on passes more than 20 yards downfield, catching three of them for two touchdowns — but he has been more than just a deep threat. Through two weeks of the season, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick has a 141.1 QB rating when targeting him.
Attempting to keep wraps on the diminutive Eagles receiver will be Chiefs cornerback Branden Flowers. Flowers followed Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant around in Week 2 and struggled. On the 10 passes thrown his way, with Flowers defending, Bryant caught nine for 141 yards and a touchdown. While Flowers was beaten by Bryant, he is a very talented corner and can certainly contain Jackson if he shadows him the way he shadowed Bryant. In 2012, Flowers was in coverage on 436 snaps, was targeted 80 times, and allowed just three touchdowns, while intercepting three passes. Quarterbacks had a 65.6 rating when targeting him last season, so the poor performance against Bryant was probably an aberration, but the Eagles will surely try to find out.
Branden Albert vs. Trent Cole
Despite being injured during last week’s game, all indications are that Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert will be ready for Thursday Night Football. This is good news for Kansas City because Albert is a very important piece to their offense and is off to a very good start in 2013. Albert is ninth in Pass Blocking Efficiency, allowing three total pressures in 79 pass blocking plays. This follows on from a stellar 2012 season when he allowed just one sack in 378 pass blocking snaps.
Albert will be matched up against Eagles outside linebacker Trent Cole most of Thursday night. All of Cole’s 68 pass rushes this season have come from the right side, meaning he will see Albert all night. Cole has smoothly made the conversion to 3-4 outside linebacker after playing in the 4-3 under Reid his entire career. While he has just been good rushing the passer so far this season, tallying eight pressures on 68 pass rushing opportunities, he has excelled in run defense. He ranks second among all 3-4 outside linebackers with a Run Stop Percentage of 19.4%, and has been credited with seven tackles on 36 snaps against the run. Albert finished 2012 with a -3.7 run block grade, so Cole could have an opportunity to be disruptive and continue his hot start.
Chiefs Short Passing Game
The buzz around most of the NFL these days is about high-flying, fast-paced, explosive offense — but not in Kansas City. The Chiefs have had success this season by being extremely efficient and accurate in the short passing game. Through two weeks of the season, 35 of the 42 completions thrown by Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith have traveled less than 10 yards down field. Smith has been accurate on 75.8% of his passes so far this season, ranking him 11th in the NFL, although this is a drop from his 81.3% accuracy which led the league in 2012. At some point Kansas City will need to stretch the field and complete more deep passes, but they might want to stick to short passes and exploit a Philadelphia weakness this week.
Eagles inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks has shown flashes of brilliance at times, but has really struggled in pass coverage. Kendricks ranks dead last among inside linebackers in coverage snaps per reception, allowing a reception every 5.4 times he is in coverage. He has been targeted 18 times on 81 snaps in pass coverage and has allowed 15 completions for 129 yards. Compounding the problem is that he leads the Eagles with five missed tackles, after finishing second on the team in missed tackles in 2012 with 14. Kansas City and their short passing game will be a tough task for Kendricks and the Eagles.
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