NFL Preview - Philadelphia (1-2) at Denver (3-0)|
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - ESPN has been treating the Manning family like Greek Gods
in the network's latest special, "The Book of Manning."
All of the Manning men are documented by the media conglomerate that calls
itself the worldwide leader in sports, but Peyton Manning seems to garner most
of the attention. He deserves the recognition and will try to keep the Denver
Broncos unbeaten Sunday afternoon, when the Philadelphia Eagles put their
high-octane offense to the test at Sports Authority Field at Mile High
Manning is off to an MVP start and has thrown 12 touchdown passes, an NFL
record through Week 3 of an NFL season. He surpassed Tom Brady's previous
record of 11 set back in 2011 and added three TD passes in Monday night's
37-21 rout of the AFC West-rival Oakland Raiders. Manning has yet to throw an
interception and has eclipsed the 300-yard passing mark each week.
The success Denver has achieved in the passing game has been a reflection on
the ground attack the last few weeks. After Baltimore held the Broncos to 65
rushing yards in the season opener, they ripped off 107 yards in Week 2
against the New York Giants and ran for a season-high 164 yards versus
"We've worked hard on the passing game, starting with the offseason and
training camp," Manning said. "We knew it was going to play a pivotal role for
us this year. But I still think you strive for balance. I think we averaged
four yards-per-carry in the run game, 4 1/2 yards or so, and when you can do
that, that can certainly help your passing game and help put their defense in
a little bit of a bind."
Denver's offense, which is averaging an league-high 374.7 passing yards per
game, has been harassing defenses to an NFL-best 486.7 total yards per game,
just ahead of Philadelphia (461.7 ypg). Fortunately for Manning he has the
weapons around him to make the Broncos a dangerous club and an early
frontrunner to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Demaryius Thomas, Eric
Decker, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker all have at least 14 receptions and 190
yards receiving in only three weeks.
And Manning is the one who gets them the ball. A few years removed from a
nagging neck issue, Manning seems re-born and ready to give it another shot at
winning a Super Bowl. He was just named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for
shredding the Raiders and extended his streak of games with a passer rating
greater than 90.0 to 15 with a 135.8 rating.
"I think guys are doing a good job getting open on time. I think guys have a
good clock in their head about when to come out of the break versus different
coverages," Manning said. "Protection has been good, so it gives you a chance
to see the field and try to throw accurate footballs."
Manning's poise in the pocket and precise timing with his receivers are the
main reasons why the Broncos are one of seven teams with an undefeated record
at 3-0. Chicago, Kansas City, Miami, New England, New Orleans and Seattle are
the other unbeaten teams around the league and the Broncos haven't started 4-0
since a 6-0 mark to open the 2009 campaign. The Broncos have won 14 straight
in the regular season dating back to 2012 -- one shy for most consecutive
regular-season victories in team history -- and are searching for the
franchise's 12th 4-0 start.
"We've started the season 3-0 and there aren't a bunch of those 3-0 teams out
there," Broncos head coach John Fox said.
Fox's team has scored 127 points, tied for the second-most in the first three
games of a season in NFL history.
Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis has his work cut out for him and his
unit this week and it could get ugly fast. The Eagles are near the bottom in
every defensive category, including points allowed (28.7), rushing yards
(115.3), passing yards (323.0) and total yards (438.3).
After turning heads in a Week 1 victory at Washington, Philadelphia has
dropped consecutive home games to San Diego and Kansas City. In last
Thursday's 26-16 loss to former head coach Andy Reid and the Chiefs, the
Eagles fell behind 10-0 and never recovered. The defense showed flashes of
brilliance, but failed to come up with stops in crucial moments. Kansas City
converted 6-of-19 on third down and Chiefs wide receiver Donnie Avery looked
like Jerry Rice.
Avery killed Philly's defense on some third down chances and finished with
141 yards on seven receptions. Still, Eagles first-year head coach Chip Kelly
believes the defense is improving.
"I think our defense has always played with great effort," Kelly said.
"They're starting to get familiar with each other it's the same thing. We've
got a lot of new players over there, new faces and a brand new scheme. They're
starting to get comfortable with it but the one thing I've told them and told
them since we started, if you play with great effort, good things will happen
Kelly's offense stole headlines in Week 1 and now opposing defenses are
finding a way to slow the Eagles down. That's what Philadelphia's defense will
be in charge of against Manning and the high-powered Broncos. Applying
pressure up front with linemen Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox will be huge,
while linebackers Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans must play smart. Manning
is a cerebral player and can sense when a blitz or stunts are coming.
Linebackers Trent Cole and Connor Barwin have to play with urgency in order
for the Eagles to avoid a 1-3 hole.
Cole remembered a 2010 meeting with Manning, who was a member of the
Indianapolis Colts and suffered a 26-24 loss at the Linc.
"I just remember that we were getting back there (into the backfield)," Cole
said. "We were hitting (Manning), but he was getting the ball off so fast. I
can remember him just reading the whole (defensive) backfield, I could see his
eyes flicking back and forth. He didn't even stand up (from under center), he
was just looking (side to side). I saw his eyes cranking back over, he was
just trying to disguise what he was reading. It was crazy, but ... and I can't
give away the secret ... I remember we did jump on him for a minute. We did
something to distract him, and, I remember it now, I'm going to go tell
(defensive coordinator Bill Davis). I think you can get on him if you apply
pressure, disguise (your looks) and get after it."
While Cole urges the front line to distract Manning, the Eagles' secondary has
the toughest job in containing Thomas, Decker and Welker and also making
"That's huge, being able to tackle, because he does get the ball out
(quickly)," Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin said. "It might be a one-on-one
situation in the flat or across the middle ... a broken tackle can take it
from a 5-yard gain to a 25- or 30-yard gain, and that has happened a lot of
times. (Tackling is) very important for us, knowing that (Manning) will get it
out quick. The rush might not get there, but we have to trust ourselves to
make those tackles."
The Eagles lead the all-time series against the Broncos, 7-4, but have lost
three of five matchups in Colorado. Philadelphia won the most recent meeting,
a 30-27 win back on Dec. 27, 2009 at Lincoln Financial Field. Manning is 3-1
in his career against the Eagles, posting eight touchdown passes, three
interceptions and a 104.5 passer rating.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
While it's known the Broncos have the top passing offense in the league, the
Eagles are first in rushing yards with 209.0 per game. Eagles running back
LeSean McCoy, who gave fans a scare with a mild leg injury in the loss to the
Chiefs, leads the league with 395 rushing yards and 514 yards from scrimmage.
McCoy is a dangerous back and can make practically any defender miss. He is
posting an average of 171.3 scrimmage yards per game and has two 100-yard
rushing performances this season to go along with a 100-yard receiving effort.
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick can run, too. Although he is injury-prone and
tends not to slide when escaping the pocket, Vick has to learn how to protect
his body so he can last a full season and give his team the best chance to
win. Vick has always been a threat passing and running and the Broncos are
aware of what he can do from his earlier days with the Falcons.
"I think it's a different offense," Fox said of Vick with the Eagles. "In
Atlanta he was kind of a run, play-action quarterback as well. I think with
the advent of the read-option in college football and now coming to our
league, it fits him perfectly. He's explosive. He's going to have as many
explosive runs as any quarterback in the league I would expect. I guess
they're the number one rushing team now ... two weeks in a row for us. But
he's operating that offense very well."
Vick has only faced the Broncos once back on Oct. 31, 2004 with the Falcons
and passed for 252 yards with two TD strikes and no interceptions. He also ran
for 115 yards. For how well the Eagles run the ball, Vick must get DeSean
Jackson, Brent Celek and the rest of the passing offense back in gear. Jackson
was completely shut down by Kansas City, which played press coverage and had a
safety over the top so the speedy wideout couldn't break through.
Philadelphia's unstoppable force that is its running game meets Denver's
immoveable object or run defense. The Broncos rank first in rushing yards
allowed (43.3) and rushing average (2.3) in three games.
The Broncos also rank fifth in the NFL in third-down defense with a 31.1
percentage (14-of-45). When the Eagles' offense isn't clicking, and that has
happened at times in the past two games, Denver will be able to get Manning
on the field with plenty of time. Since the Eagles like to score quickly,
giving Manning more than 40 minutes to work with isn't a bright idea.
Linebacker Wesley Woodyard is back to his old tackling tricks and leads Denver
with 25 on the season. Danny Trevathan is right behind his fellow linebacker
with 20 stops and the middle of Denver's defense has to eliminate Philly's
quick routes and timing plays. Kansas City did a good job of taking away the
middle and also the deep route. After Jackson, the Eagles don't have much of a
receiving threat with Jason Avant and Riley Cooper.
Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, who has two interceptions in his last three
games, said the key to stopping the run is pressure up front from the line.
"I expect that with the big boys up front," Harris said. "We don't think
anybody can run on us. We expect to make teams one-dimensional and make them
throw on us, and with the offense putting up points, that's what teams are
going to have to do. If we stop the run, it's going to be a long day for
Former Eagles defensive back and current Bronco Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
ranks second in the NFL with 86 passes defensed since he entered the NFL in
2008 and will take on his former teammates. The Broncos lead the AFC with six
INTs. Also keep an eye out for Broncos speedy return man Trindon Holliday
setting up Manning and the offense with good field position.
Manning and Fox both complained the Eagles had more than a week to prepare for
Sunday's game and they're coming off Monday night's recent affair. But Denver
has to realize the Eagles just played three games in 11 days.
"We're on to Philly," Fox said Tuesday. "They've had 10 days (to prepare),
we're on six. All our focus is on Philadelphia."
The way Manning has this offense rolling it's not necessarily an advantage for
Philadelphia, which is showing signs of fatigue and a few cracks in Kelly's
offensive foundation. The Eagles, who will play three straight and five of the
next seven games on the road, can keep pace with the Broncos, but it will be
turnovers, penalties and mistakes that will send them to 1-3 on the season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Broncos 33, Eagles 21
09/26 12:18:25 ET