Merry Christmas! Read this breakdown of the upcoming Broncos / Eagles game, then get back to your family and the Christmas cheer!
The Denver Broncos control their own destiny. If they can beat the Eagles at Philly and the Chiefs at home, they get into the playoffs. In fact, Denver can get into the playoffs with just a win this week (with losses by MIA, JAX, PIT, and NYJ). With a loss this week, they can still get in, but the odds would be real long and Denver would need a lot of help.
As I thought some time ago, the game against PHI will be huge for Denver. I didn't expect a playoff spot this year, nor did I predict a record better than 8 wins (though I was confident the team would look much better). Now the team looks SO much better that fans are getting upset that the team might not make the playoffs at all. If anything, this shows how far we've come as a team. But I knew deep down that the PHI game represented the last game on the schedule that looked to me like a tough match-up. It seemed to me that if there was going to be any chance of a playoff spot, the Eagles game would be key.
What should we watch for in this game?
Let's get this out of the way. Everyone is going to be talking about Brian Dawkins returning to his old stadium to play his old team in front of his old fans. The announcers may talk about this ad infinitum. Is it an issue?
I don't think so. First, I would expect the fans to give Dawkins a standing ovation after all he has done for the Eagles over the years. It would be the classy thing to do. Even if the Philly fans get nasty, it would only serve to motivate Dawkins. It just shouldn't be an issue either way. Dawkins is a professional, and will bring his "A-Game" regardless of what happens.
Don't forget, Correll Buckhalter is returning to Philly too.
Even if the fans welcome those two back, the adoration will die the moment the game starts and either player gets going.
Who are the Eagles?
When I think of the Eagles this year, a few thoughts come to mind. On defense, the Eagles love to blitz. They have also forced 36 turnovers and have 23 interceptions for the year.
They are 15th in the NFL in preventing points (opposing teams average 20.4 points per game) and are 11th in stopping yards (opposing teams gain an average of 315.9) . Denver only ranks 20th in getting points (avg. of 19.6 points per game) and 17th in yards gained (336.4). Philly's pass defense ranks 14th with 214 yards allowed, and they hold opposing teams to 101.9 yards rushing (10th place). Denver ranks 17th in the pass (216.3 yards in the air) and 12th in rushing (120.1)
When I think of the Eagles on offense, I think of passing. They are 10th in passing yards (257.8) and 21st in running (106.8); they very much favor the air war. This presents an interesting match-up, giving that Denver is 2nd in the NFL in stopping the pass (177.5 yards) and 22nd in stopping the rush. Overall, the Eagles are 2nd in points scored (avg. 28.5) and 10th in yards (364.6), which tells me the Eagles are proficient. Denver is 3rd in stopping yards (294.4) and is 7th in stopping points (17.9)
These teams match up very well. Denver has a good defense (particularly in stopping the pass), and the Eagles are good at putting up points (in the air).
While there are big names on the Eagles offense, the name I have been focused on is receiver (and punt returner) DeSean Jackson. He's a big play kind of guy. Consider: after 56 receptions this year he still manages to average 19.4 yards a catch. He's a deep field threat. Brent Celek is one of the best TEs that most people haven't heard of. Watch for him to get several throws short. LT Jason Peters seems to be improving with time.
The Eagles got some good news when they found out that Brian Westbrook (RB) will be back from injury this game. However, Coach Andy Reid says that Westbrook will be sharing the load with RB Lesean McCoy.
Who are the Broncos?
The Broncos have one of the best game managers at QB in Kyle Orton. He isn't flashy, but his arm is better than advertised, and he is careful with the ball. Running backs Buckhalter and Kyle Orton are a legitimate tandem, but not so much in short yardage.
The vaunted offensive line of Denver seems to have taken a step back this year, though they are still much better than average and are missing RT Ryan Harris to injury for the year. Brandon Marshall has established himself as one of the better WRs in the League. While Brandon Stokley proves his worth with key receptions, Eddie Royal and Jabar Gaffney (as well as TEs Daniel Graham and Tony Scheffler) have been getting less passes recently.
Denver's secondary continues to rank 2nd in the NFL, and sports a legendary roster with Champ Bailey and Dawkins playing together. Andre' Goodman continues to impress.
The team fired out to a quick start this year, despite controversy from the new head coach and a departed starting QB. However, the team has fallen on some hard times, winning only two of their last four games.
QB - PHI
RBs - Lean DEN
OL - Even
TE - Even
WRs - Even
DL - Lean PHI
LBs - DEN
CBs - Lean DEN
SAF - Lean DEN
STs - Strong PHI
Keys to the Game
- Must improve in short yardage runs.
- Must improve in red zone scoring.
- Must improve field position with improvement in STs coverage.
- Pressure Orton. Pass rush, pass rush, pass rush.
- Get off to a quick start. This is something Philly is good at. Try to force a shoot out.
- Contain the Denver running game, and force Orton to throw. Consider covering up Marshall to see if Orton will go elsewhere under pressure or throw the ball away.
A Review of the Denver Season
Ok, so some folks are upset at Denver's record so far. I think we're either on track or ahead of where we thought we might be. Let me review each game and see what folks think.
1) DEN over CIN - We beat a team that is currently ranked 4th in the AFC. That's darned good.
2) DEN over CLE - We beat a terrible team, as we should have.
3) DEN over OAK - Again, we beat a terrible team. Still, it is a win.
4) DEN over DAL - We beat a team that is 6th in the NFC (a wild card contender). Good job.
5) DEN over NE - Third best team in the AFC. Very good work here!
6) DEN over SD - We beat the eventual AFC West champions, proving it can be done. They are #2 in the AFC.
7) BAL over DEN - We lose to one of the top two AFC teams of last year, a team currently ranked 5th. No shame there.
8) PIT over DEN - We lose to the SB champions. Again, no shame.
9) WAS over DEN - OK, this was a bad loss. WAS isn't good this year.
10) SD over DEN - This one stings because we already beat them in their house. It was also a blow-out. Still, it was against a team that is currently 4th in the NFL (2nd AFC).
11) DEN over NYG - The Giants are only a game outside of the playoffs right now. They're a good team, not great.
12) DEN over KC - Denver proves they can win in KC in DEC. KC may not be a good team, but the "KC in KC in Dec" curse is broken.
13) IND over DEN - Denver loses to the #1 team in the NFL, and it was on the road. Still, Denver played a good game, and it was closer than the score board showed at the end. No shame in this loss at all.
14) OAK over DEN - Like the WAS game, this one was terrible. It may have only been by one point, but we HATE the raiders, and losing to a basement team is going to leave a mark.
All in all, we've won a lot of games against teams that are the best of the best. We've played all five of the teams that rank higher than us. We lost to the #1 team, split the series with the #2 team, beat the #3 and #4 teams, and lost to the #5 team. Of the top 7 teams in the NFC, we've played the #6 and #7 teams, and beaten them both. That's pretty good for a team that is starting over this year. Would last year's Denver team have beaten those teams? I don't think they would have.
On Sunday we play the #3 team in the NFC. I think the game could go either way. We are NOT a top tier team, but we are one of the best of the second tier teams, and a borderline playoff team. I don't know what will happen at the end of this season, but my expectations have already been surpassed. I'm hoping for the best for this post season, but nothing is locked in place. However, based on the improvements I've seen over last year, I like our chances for improvement next year already.
Blessings to all, Philly and Denver fans alike.
Steve and family.