NFL Preview - Philadelphia (1-0) at Indianapolis (0-1)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - One of the major reasons the Philadelphia Eagles went from worst to first in the NFC East a year ago was their impressive offensive line.
The Eagles' blockers were one of just two O-Lines in the NFL in which all five starters were there for all 16 games, with two, left tackle Jason Peters and left guard Evan Mathis, earning All-Pro honors.
Any hope that good fortune would continue in 2014 was blown up in the preseason when second-year right tackle Lane Johnson, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2013 draft, was suspended for four games after violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drugs policy.
Now, one game into the season, two more of Chip Kelly's "big uglies" are gone as Johnson's replacement at right tackle, Allen Barbre, was lost for the year with an ankle injury, and Mathis was shut down for two months with a sprained MCL in his left knee.
Philadelphia will take that depleted offensive line into Indianapolis on Monday night to face an explosive Colts team searching for its first win of the season.
The Eagles, of course, were on the brink of opening the season with an embarrassing loss to one of the NFL's worst teams from a year ago. Then they played the second half and Nick Foles' 68-yard touchdown to Jeremy Maclin midway through the fourth quarter gave Philadelphia its first lead of the day as they poured it on late to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 34-17.
Foles threw for 322 yards with a pair of touchdowns and an interception, while Maclin hauled in four passes for 97 yards and the game-winning score for the Eagles, who ran off 34 unanswered points to win their fourth consecutive season opener.
Zach Ertz also caught a touchdown pass in Philadelphia's eventful come-from- behind win, and Darren Sproles added a touchdown run.
LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher last season, finished with 74 yards on 21 carries and also recorded 41 yards on six receptions.
"It showed the battle we had," said McCoy. "Things weren't right. We fought hard, fought back strong and then win. There are going to be some tough games like that."
Andrew Gardner, who has already had six NFL stops in four years, filled in for Mathis last week until kicking outside when Barbre went down. David Molk, a center by trade out of Michigan, slid in at guard, a position he had never played before, and held up well against the Jags.
Gardner will continue to start at right tackle against the Colts with Dennis Kelly, a 2012 fifth-round pick who wasn't active last week, expected to take over Mathis' guard spot. Philadelphia also signed veteran guard Wade Smith and promoted Kevin Graf from the practice squad to bolster depth during the week. Smith, a former Pro Bowl player in Houston, might fit in down the line when he gets acclimated to the system.
"All the guys that are active have a chance to play, and we could make a roster move again," Philadelphia offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "So we'll just sort it out as we go. Anybody that's active can start, so that's the way we're going to take it."
The Colts, meanwhile, fell in Week 1 when Peyton Manning and Julius Thomas connected for three second-quarter touchdowns, as the defending AFC champion Denver Broncos held off Indianapolis from there to win 31-24.
Manning, of course, spent the first 13 years of his brilliant career with the Colts and was in midseason form in the first half, guiding the Broncos to a commanding 24-0 lead.
Andrew Luck led Indianapolis back, however, and made things interesting, but ultimately fell short of upending Denver for a second straight season.
Manning finished with 269 yards on 22-of-36 passing, pedestrian numbers by the high standards the future Hall-of-Famer set last season when the five-time MVP broke all sorts of records, throwing 55 touchdown passes in leading the Broncos to Super Bowl XLVIII, where they were ultimately humbled by the Seattle Seahawks.
Luck threw for 370 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions for Indianapolis, which has made the postseason in each of the young quarterback's first two seasons in the NFL. He also had a touchdown on the ground.
"Not how you want to start the season," Luck said. "Obviously, we were beat by a team that played better than us."
Dwayne Allen and Hakeem Nicks had touchdown receptions in the setback, while veteran Reggie Wayne made nine catches for 98 yards.
"They're an explosive offense, as I think they proved," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "Hats off to them, they played well."
By taking down his former team, Manning has now beat every franchise in the NFL at least once.
"I think it means you have to be old," joked Manning. "You have to be 38 years old, at least, to beat all 32 teams. I don't think I'll have that one up on my mantle."
The almost logical loss on the field in Denver was dwarfed by the news that the Colts' star pass rusher Robert Mathis, already out with a four-game PED suspension, will now miss the entire season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon during a recent workout in Atlanta.
The Colts lead their all-time series with Philadelphia by a 10-7 margin and have won four of the past five games between the two clubs. The Eagles snapped a four-game skid against Indy in the last meeting, however, winning 26-24 on Nov. 7, 2010 in Philadelphia.
On "Monday Night Football," the Eagles are 28-25 while the Colts are 23-13.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Last week the Eagles became the first team in NFL history to win by 17-or-more points after being shut out and trailing by 17-or-more at halftime. The Colts, meanwhile, nearly erased a 24-point deficit on the road before falling short. The goal for both this time is to get out of the starting blocks with a sense of urgency.
The key to that for the Eagles is Foles, who was very shaky in the first half against the Jags, turning it over three times (two fumbles and an interception). In 2013 when Foles led the NFL in passer rating he turned it over four times (two fumbles, two interceptions) in the entire season.
Foles was particularly effective on the road last season, compiling an amazing 138.4 passer rating in seven games, completing 122-of-180 passes for 1,867 yards with 21 TDs and just one pick. Repeating those kind of numbers is pie-in-the-sky but improving on the uneven Week 1 performance is necessary if Philadelphia wants to keep up with the explosive Colts.
Indianapolis wasn't going to have Mathis, who had an NFL-best 19 1/2 sacks last season, anyway for this game but the knowledge he was eventually coming back fostered a sort of hold-down-the-fort mentality.
"We knew we were going to be without Robert for the first four games, but this is really a devastating blow for Robert and his family and this organization," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said. "This one stings."
Now, second-year player Bjoern Werner, a first-round pick a year ago, or Erik Walden are going to have to step up as pass rushers. It's unlikely Pagano and his defensive coordinator, Greg Manusky, will waste much time devising schemes to attack Peters, perhaps the best left tackle in all of football, but the fact that Philadelphia is down to its third right tackle in Gardner must be exploited.
Defensively the Eagles much-maligned secondary with have to deal with a talented trio of receivers in Reggie Wayne, TY Hilton and Hakeem Nicks. Cary Williams, Philadelphia's best corner has proven to be susceptible to double moves and you can bet Luck will be trying to prey on that at some point.
"He's one of the best young quarterbacks in the league right now and he's got the big body like a (Steelers QB Ben) Roethlisberger," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said when discussing Luck. "He's a tough sack when he's in the pocket and has the athleticism and speed to get out of the pocket.
"He sees lanes and he's got the big arm. You can see why he was taken where he was taken and he's had the success in two years that he's had. He's a rare talent and he is a young guy that we are going to be dealing with for a long time in the NFL."
This game should be a track meet with Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense trying to outscore Luck and his ability to always keep the Colts in a game no matter how dire the circumstances are.
Figure on the more desperate team (the Colts) having the advantage, especially with Philadelphia's injury concerns on the offensive line.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Colts 35, Eagles 31
09/12 11:47:44 ET