MHR got to ask Brandon Lee Gowton from Bleeding Green Nation about the upcoming game between the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles to provide insight on the matchups from the other sides perspective.
1. Let's get the flashy stuff out of the way first. Can you tell Broncos Country about the progression of Carson Wentz from year 1 to year 2 and what he's doing better in that has the Eagles offense humming?
It’s often said the leap from Year 1 to Year 2 is the biggest in a player’s career. That’s certainly been the case with Carson Wentz, who is currently in the conversation to win NFL MVP eight games through the 2017 season.
Wentz is a really impressive player. A lot of his success is based on his intelligence. Not unlike a certain former Broncos quarterback, Wentz has the ability to read defenses and make adjustments at the line of scrimmage. He’s in complete control of the offense out there. One area where this really shows up is on third down. Wentz has been one of the best third down passers in the league all season since he understands where to go with the ball based on what the defense is showing him.
But Wentz doesn’t just need to play within structure to succeed. He’s a dynamic play-maker as well. Look no further than his performance against the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football to see what I mean. Wentz can beat defenses with his deep ball. He can beat them by avoiding pressure and taking off running. He can fire passes into tight windows with pin-point accuracy. At his best, he’s impossible to defend.
That’s not to say Wentz is flawless. He has a tendency to sail some of his passes, which can lead to dangerous overthrows. He could also afford to get rid of the ball quicker sometimes and not take as many hits.
But the good has clearly outweighed the bad with Wentz this season. He’s a big reason why the Eagles have the best record in the NFL right now at 7-1.
2. The Eagles have a potent defense as well. What's their biggest strength and why?
Statistically speaking, at least, the Eagles have a better run defense than the Broncos do. Jim Schwartz’s unit has only allowed 70.4 rush yards per game, which is the fewest in the NFL. (Denver ranks just 2.5 yards behind the Eagles at 72.9.)
The reason why the Eagles are able to stop the run? Their defensive line is stacked. Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan are dominant interior linemen. Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry have played well at defensive end and their backups, Derek Barnett and Chris Long, are able to regularly contribute as well.
Stopping the run forces teams to become one-dimensional. From there, Philadelphia is able to tee off on the quarterback when the other team has to throw to stay in the game. The Eagles can regularly generate pressure which leads to sacks and/or turnovers.
While Philly’s front four has been great, it’s not like they’re the only reason for the Eagles’ success. The secondary has been playing well despite having some concerns at cornerback. Linebackers Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks are flying around the field making plays.
This unit is coming off a real strong performance in Week 8 where they absolutely dominated rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard. He was sacked on four plays and hit 12 times.
3. I don't know what else your team might need, especially after picking up Jay Ajayi on the cheap, but if you could take one player not named Von Miller, who would it be and why?
Aqib Talib is the pick for me. To some surprise, the Eagles have been getting good production out of Jalen Mills, Rasul Douglas, and Patrick Robinson. But Talib would obviously be a talent upgrade on those players. If Ronald Darby was playing, the combination of him and Talib would be one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL. Better pass coverage would give the Eagles’ defensive line even more time to get to the quarterback.
4. Tell us about 2 players that our fan base probably haven't heard of but are making an impact for your team in 2017.
Mack Hollins is an under-the-radar player to keep an eye on. The rookie fourth-round pick has only seen nine targets this season but he’s been reliable when his number has been called. Hollins has logged eight receptions for 164 yards and one touchdown. He’s a real efficient contributor who can make big plays down the field. Hollins is also a good blocker in the run game. With Torrey Smith struggling to make a real impact this season, Hollins could potentially be in line for more playing time as the season goes along. If the Broncos sleep on him too much, he might be able to make a big play or two.
On defense, I’ll go with Patrick Robinson. Expectations for the former first-round pick were low when he signed a one-year, $1 million contract with Philadelphia this offseason. He really struggled in training camp and many people thought he was going to be cut. Oddly enough, however, Robinson has been an important contributor since the real game started. He has two interceptions and nine passes defensed this season. He’s done a real good job defending the slot while also contributing on the outside.
5. With us hardly ever playing you, I'd love to hear your general overview on your coaching staff. What do they like to do on both offense and defense and what tendencies have you noticed.
On offense, the Eagles are pretty balanced. Philadelphia has passed the ball on 53.76% of their plays this season. Although starting tight end Zach Ertz is a popular target for Wentz, it’s not like he’s the only guy the offense relies on. The Eagles really spread the ball around and get all of their receivers involved. Same things with the running backs. That might eventually change given the new presence of Jay Ajayi, but for now it’s been a steady rotation of ball carriers.
Head coach Doug Pederson is a fairly creative play-caller. He’s also been pretty good at making in-game adjustments.
The Eagles use a number of different packages on offense. The Eagles like to work the middle of the field a lot, which is apparent given the numbers Ertz and Nelson Agholor have posted this year. But they also take deep shots down the field as well. It’s just a good, balanced attack that doesn’t become too predictable.
I kind of already touched on what the Eagles like to do on defense. Schwartz loves to attack. It all starts up front with the defensive line. The goal is to stop the run so that the other team’s offense is forced to pass the ball. From there, it’s up to Philly’s defensive line to pressure the quarterback. Schwartz isn’t a heavy blitzer, but he will mix it in sometimes to catch the offense by surprise.
You didn’t ask about this, but special teams is worth noting here as well. Philadelphia has consistently had one of the NFL’s top-ranked special teams units since Dave Fipp was hired. This seems especially noteworthy to me since Football Outsiders ranks the Broncos 32nd in special teams DVOA.
Bonus: Who you got in this game? Score prediction?
The Broncos have scored over 20 points just three times in their last 12 games. The Eagles, meanwhile, have scored over 20 points in 12 of their last 12 games.
I’m not saying that stat means the Eagles will automatically win, but obviously I feel good about their chances. The Eagles are as high as 9.5 point favorites in some places after the line opened at 7. Philly is at home. Denver is traveling to the East Coast to play a 1:00 PM game after having to face the Chiefs on Monday night.
Now, I’m not really expecting this to be a walk in the park for the Birds. Von Miller going up against second-year tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai is terrifying. This offense could really struggle if Wentz doesn’t bring his A-game.
Even if that’s the case, though, the Eagles’ defense has proven they can step up when the offense can’t get it done. Brock Osweiler has done some nice things with the Broncos in the past but quite frankly he’s not very intimidating. And he’s prone to taking sacks, which could be good news for Philly’s pass rush.
I’m expecting this to be a hard-fought battle where the Eagles pull away late. I’ll say it’s 17-13 until the Eagles score on a touchdown run from new running back Jay Ajayi in the fourth quarter. Eagles win, 24-13.