ReFo: Eagles @ Broncos, Week 4
Ben Stockwell conducts a thorough postmortem on the Broncos' big win over Philly, and heaps praise on Denver's receiving corps.
ReFo: Eagles @ Broncos, Week 4
We’re now a month into the season and teams are starting to settle into their identity. After back-to-back defeats in Weeks 2 and 3, the Philadelphia Eagles needed their best performance of the season to date in order to overcome the Denver Broncos and get their campaign back on track — they didn’t get it.
Their defense was cut to ribbons by another strong performance from Peyton Manning and the Denver offense, while on offense there were more struggles as the skill players again failed to spark into life. Next week at least the Eagles get back to playing against NFC opponents, as their three-week sojourn in inter-conference play has not gone well for them. Fortunately for them, the rest of the NFC East hasn’t taken advantage of their slump and a win next week against the Giants would keep them in the running in the division.
For the Broncos, meanwhile, the offense is maintaining the momentum of a runaway freight train, and the defense isn’t exactly being carried along for the ride either. Manning’s receivers again did excellent work for him after the catch, while the defense came up with timely plays paired with persistent pressure to ensure the Eagles were never a real threat in this game. A date with Dallas may provide a sterner test next Sunday.
Philadelphia – Three Performances of Note
More Struggles for Johnson
The performance of Philadelphia’s first-round pick runs somewhat in parallel to the team’s season as a whole. After a strong debut as a run blocker against Washington in Week 1, Lane Johnson has come tumbling down to earth in the three games since, struggling in pass protection in each appearance. This was a continuation of that form for Johnson, as he let up another half dozen pressures (1 Sk, 5 Hu) to take his season total to 19 (4 Sk, 2 Ht, 13 Hu). Shaun Phillips accounted for half of the pressure that Johnson conceded, with the Broncos’ top edge rusher in the absence of Von Miller beating him off his outside shoulder on each of those three occasions. Johnson also had a rougher outing as a run blocker than he has shown in previous weeks, struggling with Kevin Vickerson on occasion, including letting up a holding penalty. Johnson was pegged as a project during the pre-draft process so patience will be key in his development, but the Eagles will be looking for more games like his Week 1 performance to break out of his current funk in pass protection.
Defensive Problems – Starting Up Front.
At every turn on defense you can pick out poor performances in this game, in what is becoming a worrying trend for the Eagles. Once again, Cedric Thornton (+0.9) was a rare bright stop with four defensive stops and was the only defensive player who played more than a dozen snaps to earn a positive grade. Around him, Trent Cole was the only other defender not to net a negative grade, with a pair of hurries and three stops highlighting his usual high effort display. The problems really extended at linebacker though, where DeMeco Ryans (-3.3) continued his poor run of form, missing a tackle in coverage and struggling to disengage offensive linemen when they worked through to him at the second level. Next to him, Mychal Kendricks didn’t miss a tackle this week (a first for the 2013 season) but struggled to have any sort of impact on the game. The Eagles other bright spot in the past two games, Fletcher Cox, had a subdued performance with a neutral zone infraction dragging his grade down further.
Defensive Problems – Continuing at the Back
If things were bad up front, they didn’t get any better in the back end for the Eagles’ defense. Philadelphia started and played much of the game with five defensive backs. Each member of that starting secondary earned a negative coverage grade (from -0.7 for Bradley Fletcher, to -3.2 for Cary Williams). Four of the five starters allowed a touchdown, and only Fletcher (whose coverage line did include the fade touchdown to Demaryius Thomas) allowed fewer than 50% of the passes into his coverage to be completed. To compound the issues in allowing catches and allowing scores, the secondary accounted for five of the Eagles’ seven missed tackles. As ever, Manning was quick to get the ball out (2.2 seconds average time from snap to release), and with a lack of pressure on him the secondary didn’t have an answer, or any adjustments to slow the Broncos’ passing attack.
Denver – Three Performances of Note
Keeping the Pressure On
Your Von Miller countdown should now be down to two, and really we haven’t had to lament his absence for the Denver defense in the past month. Would their pass rush have been better with him on the field? Of course it would, but players like Shaun Phillips and Robert Ayers have done enough in combination with the offense to ensure opponents haven’t been able to keep up on the scoreboard. Added to the three pressures recorded by Phillips (1 Sk, 2 Hu) and three hurries from Ayers though, was a cameo by Wesley Woodyard (+1.6 pass rushing) doing a lot of good work on delayed blitzes and reacting to scrambles by Michael Vick. He had a highlight-play on his sack by running over Jason Kelce to get to Vick, but plays in pursuit and clean up only built his presence as a pass rusher. His speed to Vick, having initially dropped into coverage, gave him the strange quirk of recording five pressures (1 Sk, 1 Ht, 3 Hu) in spite of having rushed the passer (by design) on only three occasions.
Manning Keeps Everyone Happy
Less than a week after Eric Decker’s redemptive performance against the Raiders, Manning’s focus in the passing game moved on this week, with Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker leading the team in targets and receptions en route to a pair of touchdowns apiece. Manning’s best pass of the day was probably the 52-yarder to Decker, getting in behind Earl Wolff and Cary Williams on a post route, but the majority of his contribution was done on short throws with the receivers doing the leg work after the catch. Each of Manning’s four touchdown passes was aimed less than 10 yards across the line of scrimmage, with a pair of out-breaking routes (one from the backfield and one from the slot) to Welker, while Thomas got his on a screen and a well placed fade from Manning. Manning has been brutally efficient all season, and that continued in this outing, making the most of those short throws, with only four incompletions not coming by way of either a throw away or a dropped pass.
Right Side Continues to Shine
The main focus on the Denver offensive line this season has been the loss of Ryan Clady to a season-ending injury, but opposite his replacement the pairing of Louis Vasquez and Orlando Franklin has played consistently well in the first month, with both coming into their own as run blockers yesterday. Aided by Manning’s quick release (23 of 34 pass attempts released in 2.5 seconds or less) they were nearly flawless in pass protection with only one hurry surrendered by Franklin. However, going forward in the ground game they both made their mark, with Vasquez in particular doing some extra work on pull blocks leading around the corner and moving up to the second level. You may not have been able to pick out one crunching, dominant block from either player, but the consistency set the table for a strong outing from both players to blunt the Philadelphia run defense.
– With a comfortable fourth quarter lead, the Broncos rang the changes on offense with Joel Dreessen, John Moffitt, Steve Vallos and Brock Osweiler all recording their first snaps of the season.
– In his first four games this season, Jason Peters has surrendered 15 pressures (1 Sk, 14 Hu), only six fewer than the 21 pressures he surrendered in his last full season in 2011.
– On 37 drop-backs, Michael Vick was pressured 19 times which led to three sacks, five scrambles and a passer rating of 45.6 on the remaining 11 attempts (three completions).
PFF Game Ball
With a pair of receiving touchdowns each, the Eagles didn’t have an answer for either Demaryius Thomas (whose nine completions came against seven different defenders) or Wes Welker ,who ensured that the Broncos’ short passing game hummed this week and the team was never forced to look deep, or even intermediate, with any sort of consistency.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.