5 Things to Watch for Eagles vs Broncos
The Eagles will face the Denver Broncos, loser's of three straight and four-of-five, in the midst of a quarterback change. Earlier this week, Broncos first-year head coach Vance Joseph announced that the team would turn to Brock Osweiler this Sunday against the Eagles.
While Trevor Siemian struggled, Osweiler shouldn't be looked at as a savior. In his last NFL start, Osweiler completed 23-of-40 passes for 198 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions in the Houston Texans' Divisional Round playoff loss to the Patriots. He was traded to Cleveland this offseason after signing a four-year, $72 million deal with $37 million guaranteed in the 2016 offseason.
1. The tight end is a problem....for Broncos defense
The Broncos have the top rated defense in the league, but one area they struggle is covering the tight end. This week they will face the league's best - Zach Ertz. Ertz is having a breakout season, with 43 catches for 528 yards and six touchdowns, and the Broncos defense has been very vulnerable to opposing tight ends.
"Covering the tight end has got to be their biggest weakness," ESPN NFL insider KC Joyner said on the Sports Bash.
While the Denver secondary is solid with Chris Harris, Bradley Roby, and Aqib Talib it's Justin Simmons and Darian Stewart the Eagles might be looking to pick on and the man he will be asked to cover is Ertz.
Last week Travis Kelce had a field deal, working Simmons to the tune of seven catches for 133 yards and a touchdown in the Chiefs' 29-19, Week 8 win over the Broncos on Monday night.
"Since Week 1 they've not allowed fewer than five receptions to opponents tight ends and fewer than 60 yards to opponents tight ends," Joyner said. "That's a matchup you can go at."
If I'm the Broncos, I might look to use Talib on Ertz and try my hand with the rest of my secondary, which is solid against the Eagles wide receivers, either way Denver has their hands full with the Eagles passing game.
2. Eagles pass rush vs Osweiler
The Eagles have been one of the best teams in the league at getting to opposing quarterbacks, ranking ninth overall with 22 sacks. One downfall in going from Siemian to Osweiler is mobility - or lack thereof.
"Osweiler won’t have time to sit back and throw longer passes," Joyner explained. "He’s going to have to dink and dunk and again, that may work better for him because he’s not a great vertical passer, but it also tells eagles, hey, if he’s going to be dinking and dunking, you might be able to jump some of those routes."
"If they try to go down field on dink and dunk passes and have to do it on 12 plays
then fine, if they go downfield 12 plays they can go down field on 12 plays, I just don’t want to give up any big plays so I would play kind of soft and let those guys get catches underneath and then go and hit them."
3. Nelson Agholor vs Brandon Roby/Chris Harris
You can make the argument that Agholor has been the Eagles best, most consistent wide receiver this season. His 32 catches 392 yards and five touchdowns working in the slot have give opposing defenses all sorts of issues in coverage; and shouldn't be any different this week.
"I think it’s going to be interesting to see him (Roby) vs Agholor and if they got to that matchup if Agholor can win that matchup because I think he can to a point where you can get some consistent passing there, if you can get Agholor passing and Eertz a lot, you can get through the air like that."
With the Broncos struggles with the tight end and in the slot, the Eagles have two matchups that they have been using this season to succeed on offense, and can most likely count on Agholor and Ertz again this week.
4. Jay Ajayi's debut
While Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Jay Ajayi will be working with a "very limited" set of plays this against the Broncos, he could be the key to the Eagles from just being a playoff team or becoming a main threat for the Super Bowl.
Ajayi had a tremendous 2016 season, but hasn't had a real breakout game during the 2017 season.
ESPN NFL insider KC Joyner joined me on the Sports Bash Friday and said he puts a lot of that blame on the Dolphins offensive line pay.
"The Dolphins run blocking was next to worst in the league," Joyner explained about Ajayi's down season in Miami. "He wasn't problem, the blocking was the problem."
"He has the kind of breakaway ability the Eagles don't have right now and that's why the traded for him."
In Miami, the blocking wasn't there, but in Philadelphia Ajayi could fit perfectly. He’s a good pass protector, something the current group of Eagles running backs were not. Furthermore, his addition gives the Eagles a pass catching back, home run threat, and with Blount you still have that short yardage, golaine guy who can grind games out.
"You have backs who can do all these different things," Joyner explained. "Before you were hoping that Smallwood would be your home run guy, now you have more distinct roles, so I like where he (Ajayi) fits in this offense."
The trade might work out well for the Eagles both now and in the long-term, as Ajayi is just 24-years old.
This week could be a tough debut, with a Denver defense that is ranked tops in the league in total yards, and against the run, giving up just 3.0 yards per carry and in seven games this season just 510 yards and no rushing touchdowns.
5. Filling in for Jason Peters
As we know Peters is done for the season with a MCL and ACL tear, but the show must go on. Last week Halapoulivaati Vaitai made his first start at left tackle and held his own against the 49ers, but facing the Broncos defense is a different animal.
Facing Von Miller, maybe the top pass rusher in the NFl will provide a totally different challenge for the Eagles offensive line, including Vaitai. Expect the Broncos to move Miller up and down the line, and get him lined up on Big V.
"I think Denver moves him around," Joyner said. I think they want to move Miller around and get the best matchup that they can."
Miller himself recognized this week that Peters would not be lined up at his familiar left tackle position.
"Jason Peters is out right now. If they would have had him, it would have been double trouble," Miler explained. "He’s not playing. They still have a solid offensive line with Carson [Wentz] out in the backfield extending and shortening plays. They’re pretty solid on offense.”
The Pick: Eagles 27, Broncos 16