Well, here it is Christmas Day. If you,ve been as bad as the Rams this year, you'll be getting a lump of coal in your Mustard and Brown stockings tomorrow instead of that autographed picture of Eddie Royal. If you were good, maybe Santa will bring that Bronco jersey you've been dreaming of. Either way, the UFR team of Broncofan91, Bshrout and Kaptain Kirk has left something under the tree for you.
I. Setting the stage:
After a tough loss to the Raiders in the waning minutes of the game last week, everyone is wondering which Bronco team will show up for this contest. Will it be the team that beat New England and the Giants? Or the team that lost to Washington and Oakland. The Eagles are on a 5 game winning streak. The Broncos are slumping, and trying to sneak in to the postseason. Philly is 10-4 and playoff-bound. They are playing host to the Broncos and will welcome home a well-loved symbol of the City of Brotherly Love; Brian Dawkins. Eagles fans should be celebrating their Favorite Son's return instead of worrying about their teams future. B Dawk will get a special welcome from the Philadelphia Fans. He is well loved by the city. He spent 13 good years there becoming the Eagles All-time Leader in Games (183), Interceptions (34),and the 2nd most INT return yards (515). Let's not forget another fan favorite for both teams; Correll Buckhalter. C Buck has had a resurgence, rebounding from knee injuries earlier in his career. He is having career bests in most of his stat categories, most notably his 5.3 Yards Per Carry. He also needs 4 yards to tie a career high.
Weather and Conditions
Last week, the start of the game was pushed back 3 hours because the city was still recovering from the 2nd-largest snowfall it has seen since records began in 1884. A total of 23.2 inches of snow fell in Philadelphia on Saturday.
The Weather Forecast at Lincoln Financial Field for Sunday Dec. 27, at 2:13 PM MST is:
UV Index: Low
Wind Impact: LIGHT
W at 8.0 mph
Injuries and external factors
Michael Vick was forced out of Sunday’s game against San Francisco with a bruised thigh. Michael Vick was the only Eagle who did not participate in Thursday's practice due to the quad injury he suffered in last week's win over the 49ers. Vick missed Wednesday's practice as well. If Vick can't play, the Eagles will be unable to run the spread-option, and Kevin Kolb would move up to the #2 QB spot on game day.
While Vick's status for this Sunday's game against Denver is uncertain, things look good for running back Brian Westbrook and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. Westbrook has not played since the Nov. 15 loss at San Diego because of a concussion. Maclin missed last week's game due to a foot injury. Both players have had full participation in each of this week's practices.
II. Areas of Competition
Philadelphia is mainly a pass-first offense. Even without Westbrook, the Eagles have been prolific. They're 2nd in the NFL behind the New Orleans Saints in scoring, averaging 28.5 points per game. Other offense stats: YDS 364.6(10th) PASS YDS 257.8(10th) RUSH YDS 106.8(21st). Donovan McNabb is having an outstanding season, and DeSean Jackson has replaced Westbrook as the top playmaker with 11 TD's, including 8 of 50+ yards.
During their 5-game winning streak, the Eagles have scored points in just about every way imaginable. They have been explosive with big plays all over the field. They have gone on time-consuming, efficient drives. They have thrown the football in the vertical game, and they have used the intermediate-range game and they have had some big gains in the screen game, too.
The Eagles' aerial attack features a big-play weapon with DeSean Jackson, a dependable middle of the field option in Brent Celek and a solid possession receiver in Jason Avant. Donovan McNabb moves around in the pocket and can spread the ball around, leaving defenses unable to use coverage-only schemes against the Eagles due to the success of Leonard Weaver and LeSean McCoy on the ground.
They do a great job spreading the football around and keeping defenses honest. If the coverage rolls toward Jackson, opportunities open for the rest of the receivers, and McNabb has been able to get the ball to all of his targets.
In the Atlanta game, the offense showed a very balanced attack: 26 rushes and 27 passes. The ground game gained 103 yards while the passing game amassed 286. Though it must be acknowledged that 158 of those passing yards came on just 3 plays. The rushing attack was largely composed of runs up the middle (9 for 48 yards) and to the left side (11 for 33 yards). The leading rusher was the FB Weaver (37 yards), followed by RB Buckley (33 yards, which mostly came in the 4th quarter as the Eagles tried to run out the clock). Nearly all of the remaining rushing yards were logged by the two QB's (each had 17).
The passing game looked a lot like Denver's -- short passes with the receivers expected to turn them into longer plays. RBs accounted for nearly 1/3 of the receptions along with 87 of the 286 yards. WR Jeremy Maclin logged 83 yards on 4 catches. WR Reggie Brown added 64 yards on 2 catches.
In the Atlanta game, Donovan McNabb showed a great deal of versatility. He went 14 of 25 for 238 yards and a TD. What makes him especially dangerous is that he will pull the ball down, and once he does, the defense does not know if he will run (he had 2 runs for 17 yards up the middle), or abruptly pull up and pass. He did show a tendency to come off his feet in an attempt to get the ball over the upraised hands of the defensive linemen. In his passing, he went 7 of 9 for 72 yards when passing short left, 3 out of 8 for 88 yards on short middle routes, and 3 out of 6 for 33 yards and a touchdown to the short right. He attempted only 2 deep passes, a completion to the deep left that went for 59 yards, and an incomplete pass to the deep right.
Against San Francisco, McNabb went 21 for 36 for 306 yards, 1 TD and 2 INT's.
The Vick Factor
QB Michael Vick has become a factor in the Eagles' offense, particularly in the red zone, where the Eagles have converted 5 of their last 8 trips inside the 20 into TD's. In the last 3 games, Vick has run for a pair of TD's and thrown for another. He had 7 rushing attempts and 4 pass attempts vs. Atlanta and the Giants, and averaged 9.8 yards on those 11 plays .Against San Francisco, Vick was injured early. He was stopped on a 3rd-and-1 late in the 1st quarter and left the field on his own power. He was on the field for 3 plays. He ran twice for 2 yards.
Against Atlanta, Vick was on the field for 6 plays. He rushed 4 times for 17 yards and a TD. He was 2 for 2 in passing, gaining 48 yards, and TD. In the Giants game, Vick took snaps from center, ran the ball, lined up as a receiver and took a handoff and then pivoted and reversed field to throw a pass and drilled a 32-yard completion to Jackson on the 1st drive. His integration into the offense has helped the Eagles keep drives alive and to score TD's in the red zone. Vick clearly has his quickness back, and defenses are reacting to him when he comes into the game.
It took nearly three-quarters of the season, but the Eagles have found the right role for Vick. He is a weapon in short-yardage situations and the Eagles are working him into different formations and uses.
Look for Vick to continue to take meaningful snaps, probably in the range of 6 to 10 a game. He can throw out of any formation, and he can certainly run when he has the football in his hands. The Eagles are taking advantage of his versatility, especially in the Red zone.
The Eagles have fueled two key 4th-quarter scoring drives the last two weeks with the run. Last week, they ran the ball 6 times on a game-clinching 8-play, 89-yard 4th-quarter scoring drive in their 27-13 win over the Niners. The week before, they ran the ball 6 times on a 12-play, 91-yard 4th-quarter TD drive that produced the deciding points in a 45-38 win over the New York Giants.
The key has been the play of the offensive line. Plagued by injuries early on, they have started to gel at just the right time. LT Jason Peters, who the Eagles signed in March to the richest contract ever given an offensive lineman, finally is playing at a Pro Bowl level after being nicked up early in the season.
Peters is playing better than he did last year in Buffalo, and he made the Pro Bowl then. He isn't at 100 % (knee/ankle), but he is handling blockers one on one most of the time and is doing a good job. That allows the Eagles to double-team elsewhere along the line.
LG Todd Herremans missed the 1st 5 games after suffering a stress fracture in his foot in August. He also is playing well.
This veteran bunch is much-improved. They have given up just one sack in the last 2 games and have only allowed 10 in the last 6 games.
Versus Atlanta, the offensive line was adequate without being spectacular. They provided sufficient time for McNabb to get his passes off, and allowed only 2 sacks. They were less consistent in the running game, mostly having trouble clearing running lanes on plays to the outside.
The running game has Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver, a 3-headed monster on offense. The offensive line has been solid, but not spectacular. That the Eagles are so potent down the field has made defenses back off the blitz and the result is that Donovan McNabb has had a lot of time to set up and throw the football. He has been outstanding, showing great leadership, patience and a fantastic command of the offense.
Westbrook has missed the last 5 games with a concussion. He will have a limited role in Philadelphia's offense, sharing plays with LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver. Westbrook, once the key weapon in the Eagles' offense, has just 225 yards rushing and 156 yards receiving in 6 games. The Eagles are just 3-3 when Westbrook has played, and 7-1 without him.
Against the 49ers, LeSean McCoy was involved with a shotgun hand-off play (Wild Bird?), where he goes off tackle. The Eagles used this several times. McCoy carried 9 times for 48 yards, 5.3 yards per carry. He now has the Eagles single-season record for rushing yards by a rookie, passing Correll Buckhalter, who had 586 yards in 2001.
The Eagles are averaging 4.3 yards per carry even without Westbrook. In his absence, rookie LeSean McCoy and FB Leonard Weaver have done a solid job. With 606 yards, McCoy already has set the Eagles' rookie record for rushing yards. Weaver has gotten a chance to touch the ball, and he has made the most of it. He is averaging an impressive 5.5 yards per carry on 45 rushing attempts and 9.4 yards per catch on 13 receptions.
The Eagles favor a lot of 3 WR, one-back, 1-TE sets. And when Westbrook was healthy, he was the one back. But after Westbrook got hurt, Weaver saw his playing time and touches increase. McCoy struggled early on with blitz-pickup, so the Eagles were reluctant to use him much in one-back sets, to protect Donovan McNabb.
After Weaver rushed for a career-high 75 yards on 8 carries against the Giants, Philly started going with a lot of one-back, 2 TE sets with Weaver as the lone back. He has rushed for 166 yards on 37 carries in the Eagles' last 4 games. He's also proven to be an effective receiver with a one-handed grab that turned into a 59-yard TD catch and run 2 weeks ago against Atlanta. So Weaver is definitely going to stay part of things offensively. The Eagles are having positive results with their running game.
DeSean Jackson continues to show why he is such a big-play threat, He had 6 catches for 140 yards and a TD vs. the Niners, giving him 1,087 yards this season. Jackson's 19-yard TD catch was his 1st score under 35 yards this season. McNabb hit Jackson for a 19-yard TD pass to put Philadelphia ahead 7-0 on the opening possession. It was the shortest of Jackson's 11 TDs this season. He already has tied the NFL record with 8 scores of at least 50 yards, including two punt returns and one rush.
DeSean leads the NFL in yards per catch (19.4) and has 8 TD's of 50-plus yards this season. He was the 7th receiver taken in the '08 draft, bypassed because of his puny size (5-9 3/4, 169 pounds). Jackson ran a 4.35 40 yard dash at the '08 combine.
Rookie Jeremy Maclin (46 Rec, 623 yds 4 TD's) practiced Wednesday, giving hope to the possibility that he'll play Sunday. If Maclin can't go, Reggie Brown and Jason Avant (38 Rec, 554 yds 2 TD's) will rotate at the starting WR spot opposite DeSean Jackson in 2 WR sets.
Without Maclin, Jackson gets double-teamed all over the field, leaving Brown, Avant and Brent Celek in single coverage and a lot of chances to make plays.
TE Martin Rucker was promoted from the practice squad 2 weeks ago, but he may not be activated for the Broncos game. The Eagles have been carrying just 2 TE's all season-—starter Brent Celek (65 Rec, 754 yds 7 TD's) and backup Alex Smith.
PTS 20.4(15th) YDS 315.9(11th) PASS YDS 214.0(14th) RUSH YDS 101.9(10th)
The Eagles run defense has been pretty good this year, in large part because the defensive line works so hard and gains leverage against bigger bodies, and because the LB's have been physical and disciplined and have tackled well against the run. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has done a good job timing the run blitzes, and he has got more out of Jeremiah Trotter than anyone expected. But it is the running game that demands the most attention for the Eagles defense, they need to play well in the early run downs or they have trouble.
The Eagles Defense had a bad game in New York, allowing 38 points to the Giants, missing a bunch of tackles and giving up big plays. The Eagles allowed 512 total yards of offense to the Giants. The Eagles went with their nickel package—2 LB's and 5 DB's—much of the game last week so that they could put a CB on the 49ers' speedy TE, Vernon Davis.
This week stopping the Broncos run game will be their priority. They'll revert to their base package on 1st and 2nd down. It looks as ifs SAM LB Chris Gocong has lost his starting job. When the Eagles went with 3 LB's last week, rookie Moise Fokou played SAM. Gocong didn't play a single defensive snap. His only game-action came on ST's.
They have had trouble defending TE's this season. In the last 10 games, opposing TE's have 70 catches for 776 yards and 8 TD's against the Birds. This could be a matchup for the Broncos to take advantage.
Eagles vs Giants: The defensive line looked gassed at times and unstoppable at others. They really struggled against runs where the Giants pulled a guard. On straight, up-the-gut runs, there wasn't many yards to be had early on. DTs Mike Patterson and Broderick Bunkley did a great job of clogging up the middle but seemed to fade as the game wore on. Patterson still made some good plays by collapsing the pocket on a few passes but both of them were getting out-muscled on runs for the majority of the second half. Trent Cole had quiet but solid game. He finished with 4 tackles and a forced fumble.
Cole is one away from his career high of 12 1/2 sacks. His forte is getting after opposing passers, and he is a consistently disruptive presence in the backfield even in games in which he doesn't record a sack. Despite adding more than 30 pounds to his frame since being drafted, Cole has not lost any of his explosiveness, and that, combined with his incredible motor, make him a handful for opposing tackles. If teams are going to double team him, somebody else on the D line will have to step up. Juqua Parker (6.0 Sacks, 2 FF'S) is the other DE. The DT's are; Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley. They take up space for the LB's to make tackles. Last years team sack leader, Darren Howard (5.5 Sacks, 2 FF's), and Chris Clemons (who had a sack last week), get in on the rotation at DE.
Eagles vs Giants: The LBs played well when they were given the chance. The D-line was being pushed so far back that the LBs were getting washed away from the play. When the line held their ground, the LBs were very disciplined. They kept to their gaps and did not over-pursue. I also saw a lot of gang-tackling by the linebackers during this game. Jeremiah Trotter was always around the ball. However, they did tend to struggle in pass-coverage.
Tracy White was in at the nickel LB spot and had an INT in the Niners game.
LB Akeem Jordan, who still is recovering from a hyperextended knee, practiced Thursday and will play Sunday. Whether it will be at WILL or MIKE is uncertain.
The Eagles are bringing him back slowly. He only played about 15 snaps last week, and all of them were at MLB, where he rotated with Jeremiah Trotter, rather than his regular weak-side LB position. Will Witherspoon, who slid over to WILL from MIKE after Jordan got hurt, is expected to take all of the snaps again at WILL on Sunday against the Broncos.
Jordan likely will rotate at MLB with Trotter again on Sunday. Jordan missed 4 games with a hyperextended knee before returning last week. Once his knee is close to 100 %, he'll likely return to his regular weak-side LB spot.
That doesn't mean Jeremiah Trotter will be out of the lineup. Jordan started at weakside LB for the first 8 games of the season. They keep experimenting, trying to get the best 3 LB's on the field. In the San Francisco game, they had Moise Fokou AT SAM, Jeremiah Trotter split time with Akeem Jordan at MIKE, and Will Witherspoon at WILL.
The Eagles have had trouble defending TE's this season. In the last 10 games, opposing TE's have 70 catches for 776 yards and 8 TD's against the Birds.
Eagles vs Giants: Asante Samuel is a very aggressive, ball-hawking corner. This can be either good or bad. His skills make it very risky to throw his way, however, those same skills can be used against him. He tends to bite on pump-fakes and play-action. I also like Marshall's size advantage. Their other corner, Sheldon Brown, seems to struggle when trying to be physical. He got burned repeatedly after trying to bump receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Asante Samuel has 8 INT's this season, the most by an Eagles player since Eric Allen had 8 in 1989. Sheldon Brown has 5 INT's, including an 83 yard TD return. Together they are a formidable pair at the CB position. Joselio Hanson has made an immediate impact as the 3rd CB, and had 4 Tackles againt the 49ers.
Patrolling the middle backfield is SS Quintin Mickell (78 Tackles, 2INT's) and FS Sean Jones (57 Tackles, 2 INT's). Backing them up is rookie Victor "Macho" Harris.
Donovan McNabb threw for 1 TD and ran for another, DeSean Jackson had 140 yards receiving and the Eagles beat the San Francisco 49ers 27-13 Sunday. The start of the game was pushed back three hours because the city was still recovering from the second-largest snowfall it has seen since records began in 1884. A total of 23.2 inches of snow fell in Philadelphia on Saturday.
The 49ers doomed themselves from the get-go, committing 4 turnovers in the 1st half, including 3 INT's thrown by Alex Smith. It wasn’t bad until some fans started throwing snow balls in the 4th quarter. Once LeSean McCoy scored on a 2-yard TD run to put the Eagles ahead 27-13, a few of the fans celebrated by tossing snow up in the air.
Frank Gore ran for 107 yards, becoming the 1st player to surpass 100 yards against the Eagles in 24 games. McNabb finished 21 of 36 for 306 yards. He threw 2 INT's for just the second time this season.
Down 20-3 at halftime, the 49ers scored 10 quick points to get close. Josh Morgan returned the 2nd-half kickoff 52 yards, but they couldn’t capitalize and Joe Nedney kicked a 25-yard FG.
Then Dre’ Bly intercepted McNabb’s cross-body pass into double coverage. and this time, the Niners took advantage. Alex Smith connected with Morgan on a 12-yard pass to cut it to 20-13.
The Eagles later drove 89 yards and went ahead 27-13 on LeSean McCoy’s run early in the 4th period. McNabb’s 59-yard pass to Jackson on 3rd and 2 kept the drive going.
A scrambling McNabb hit Jackson for a 19-yard TD pass to put Philadelphia ahead 7-0 on the opening possession. It was the shortest of Jackson’s 11 TDs this season. He already has tied the NFL record with eight 8 of at least 50 yards, including two punt returns and one rush.
Nedney drilled a 51-yard FG on San Francisco’s 1st possession.
Coming off an impressive victory over Arizona on Monday night, the 49ers were sluggish following a short week and cross country flight. But the Eagles weren’t too sharp, either.
Michael Vick limped off and didn’t return because of a quad contusion in the 1st quarter. Andy Reid then made the call to go for it on 4th and 1 from Philadelphia’s 29, but Leonard Weaver was stuffed by Former Eagles Takeo Spikes and Michael Lewis.
The 49ers wasted the excellent field position. Sheldon Brown stripped Delanie Walker after an 8-yard catch and Asante Samuel recovered at the 6. McNabb drove the Eagles 94 yards in 9 plays, running in from the 8 to make it 14-3.
Samuel intercepted Smith on the Niners next possession and his 18-yard return to the Niners 28 set up a 22-yard FG by David Akers.
And when 49ers QB Alex Smith was sacked by Eagles DE Trent Cole on fourth-and-7 with 3:45 remaining, it was time to turn out the lights. San Francisco was down by 14 points and at Philadelphia's 22-yard line when the sack ended any hopes of a comeback.
David Akers does the kicking chores. He is nearly perfect inside the 40 yard line and is 87% in FG accuracy on the year. The average depth of his kickoffs was the 11 yard line in last week's game, although he did have an early touchback. He definitely kicks a returnable ball. The kick coverage unit allowed a 24.6 yard average on their returns, and gave up a 52 yarder at one point. Their kick coverage is better than average.
The punter is Sav Rocca. He has an average of 41.6 and a net of 38.0 yards. 23 of his 64 punts have been inside the 20. The punt coverage unit is very good, allowing a 5.3 yard return average.
DeSean Jackson is putting up PR numbers this season beyond what anybody in Eagles history has ever done. His 17.8-yard average leads the NFL, and in less than 2 full seasons, he has become the 1st Eagle to return 3 punts for TD's. He had a 72-yard TD return against the Giants.
Quintin Demps is very happy to be back in the KR role he performed so capably in last season. Demps got one return against the Giants, a 30-yarder, and that earned him a shot against the Niners. It was well-founded, as his 48-yard return of the opening kickoff got the Birds headed toward their opening-drive TD. The Eagles have also tried Jeremy Maclin and Macho Harris as KR's since Ellis Hobbs went down for the season with a neck injury.
Eagles DE Trent Cole vs. Tyler Polumbus. - The Broncos will have problems with this matchup unless they use a TE or RB to help out Polumbus. Tyler has Cole by 30+ lbs., but Trent has the quickness edge.
Eagles LT Jason Peters vs. Broncos Elvis Dumervil. - Dumervil has an NFL-high 15 sacks, but he has been shut out for 2 weeks in a row and is hungry for a sack. Peters has played at a Pro Bowl level the last 3 games and had his best game of the season against the Giants.
Eagles CBs Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown vs. Broncos WR's. - Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal. Samuel and Brown have combined for 13 INT's. Marshall and Royal have combined for 130 receptions. Something's got to give.
Eagles WR DeSean Jackson vs. Broncos DB's. - Jackson is averaging 19.4 yards per catch and has 8 receiving TD's. DeSean normally lines up on Champ bailey's side of the field. This is where Dawkins can have an impact. If the little receiver heads across the middle, Weapon X may knock him into next week...if he can catch him.
The Broncos' ground game is the lead horse in their offensive attack. They need the run game to make their pass game go. They've averaged half a yard less on the ground in their 6 losses (3.87) than they have in their 8 wins (4.37). In their losses to Oakland and Indianapolis the last 2 weeks, they averaged just 3.02 yards per carry. If the Eagles can shut down their ground game early in the game, it's going to force the Broncos to throw the ball more than they want to.
Items of Interest
The Eagles have won 5 straight for the first time since 2006.
Philadelphia is 10-0 when heading into halftime with a lead.
This is the 11th regular-season meeting between the two teams.The Eagles lead the series, 6-4.
After a 6-0 start, the Broncos have stumbled into a late-season funk. This is becoming too familiar for the Mile High faithful. Last season, the Broncos went through a similar swoon, losing 3 straight with 3 to go to miss the playoffs for a 3rd year in a row. This season, Denver has dropped 6 of 8, allowing the Chargers to storm back from a 3 1/2 -game deficit and clinch their 4th straight division title. Meanwhile, things are working very, very well for the Eagles. They have started games with scores on 8 opening drives, which is fantastic. So if the opportunity is there on Sunday, it would be "better to receive than give" the opening kickoff. Merry Christmas MHR, and as always....