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Can the Broncos shred the Eagles?

Jonathon Gannon’s defense has allowed 6 QBs to complete 80% of their passes in 2021. Will Teddy Bridgewater be the 7th?

After a statement victory over the Dallas Cowboys, it’s fair to wonder if the 5-4 Broncos are headed for a letdown game. There’s no time to rest on laurels with the Philadelphia Eagles up before the bye week, so the banged up roster’s left patching holes in the depth chart after injuries to Bobby Massie, Graham Glasgow, and Patrick Surtain II. While Philly’s 3-6, they’ve got the talent in place to exploit an offensive line starting three backups and their rookie receive DeVonta Smith is capable of burning Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby.

To get a better idea as to what’s ahead in week 10, I reached out to Bleeding Green Nation’s editor in chief Brandon Lee Gowton to exchange a little insight into the upcoming opponent.

1st and 10

What are your thoughts on the current coaching staff? I know Jonathan Gannon showed up on George Paton’s first leaked short list of potential replacements for Vic Fangio. How would Eagles fans feel if he was a one-and-done defensive coordinator? Why?

Gowton: I’d describe myself as a Nick Sirianni centrist. In part because I’m not really interested in putting disproportionate blame on the head coach while the culpable general manager gets let off the hook. In part because he’s had ups and downs.

Sirianni has made some progress in recent weeks by doing what it takes to help the Eagles win in the short-term. And by that I mean finally committing to running the ball. It’ll be interesting to see if the Eagles can keep having success with that approach. One would think Philly can’t just keep having their quarterback attempt under 20 passes per game.

As for Jonathan Gannon, well, it’s hard not to be a skeptic. You might’ve seen the stat posted by ESPN’s Tim McManus that six quarterbacks completed over 80% of their passes in games between 1950 and 2020 … and five quarterbacks have accomplished that feat in only NINE GAMES THIS YEAR. That’s just insane.

Gannon’s defense has clearly made life way too easy on opposing quarterbacks. The Eagles’ defensive coordinator really believes in eliminating big plays and forcing offenses to methodically drive down the field. This approach has too often been taken to an extreme, though, with the Eagles playing so soft and allowing quarterbacks to take what they want underneath. Gannon made some adjustments that worked against Jared Goff in Week 8 but his tweaks did not work in Week 9.

A film review posted at BGN showed that Gannon’s defense simply looks … uncoordinated. Out of sync. One would think the coordinator deserves blame for that being the case.

At the same time, the aforementioned Roseman deserves blame for this defense not being better. He invested the seventh most cash into a unit that’s been able to stop some bad quarterbacks but hardly makes good quarterbacks break into a sweat. The Eagles don’t really have any true difference-makers on the defensive side of the ball. Javon Hargrave had an All-Pro start to the season but he’s been held without a sack in his last four games, possibly in part due to playing through injury. Fletcher Cox isn’t the elite player he used to be. And so on.

2nd and 8

The Eagles secondary has had a number of issues this year, but the defensive line is brimming with talent. The Broncos will enter the game with three backups starting along the offensive line because of injuries to Garett Bolles, Graham Glasgow, and Bobby Massie. How do you expect Gannon and the defense to try and slow down the Broncos offense?

Gowton: The Eagles have defensive line talent on paper but that unit is coming off a very disappointing game. Despite the Chargers missing their starting right guard and right tackle, Philly produced zero sacks, zero quarterback hits, and zero tackles for loss against Los Angeles.

Now, in fairness, Justin Herbert got the ball out quicker than any QB (2.35 seconds) in Week 9. But Colt McCoy and Mac Jones basically had the same time (2.36 seconds) and they were each sacked twice and hit multiple times. The Eagles’ line reasonably could’ve been better than it was.

What might help the Eagles in this matchup is that Teddy Bridgewater tends to hold on to the ball. His release time (2.84 seconds) ranks tied for only the 26th quickest time to throw this season. Philly might actually have time to get to the Broncos’ quarterback if Pat Shurmur doesn’t look to intentionally get the ball out of his hands quickly.

As far as what I expect Gannon to do? Well, again, he made some adjustments in Week 9. The Eagles blitzed more than ever and played more single high instead of just lining up in their normal Cover 2. But it didn’t work. Maybe it will this time around?

3rd and 3

Those who get stuck on the wins and losses are probably overlooking Jalen Hurts this year, but he seems much improved. While the Broncos beat the Dallas Cowboys in convincing fashion, they did so with a makeshift defense leaning on a lot of young players in the front seven. How will Nick Sirianni try to outfox Vic Fangio this week, and do you think Hurts is up to the challenge?

Gowton: Based on the last two games, the Eagles will look to come out running the ball. Hurts only had 14 pass attempts in Detroit and just 17 against the Chargers last week. Limiting the amount of times Hurts throws the ball has resulted in an offense that actually ranks first in EPA per play over the past two weeks.

Now, will the Eagles be able to have success with that approach? That much remains to be seen. The Broncos have a tougher run defense, ranking 11th best in opponent yards per rush attempt.

If I’m Vic Fangio, I’m basically selling out to stop the run and forcing Hurts to drop back often. If the Broncos lose because Hurts has a great day through the air, you should be willing to tip your cap to a quarterback having a better day than expected. Hurts hasn’t demonstrated the ability to carry the Eagles’ offense with his arm.

4th and inches

Are there any unsung contributors you’re looking for to have a big game in Denver? Who should readers be aware of on this side of the contest?

Gowton: Keep an eye on Quez Watkins on offense. He hasn’t had a really big game since Week 2 but he’s a big play threat who can contribute in other ways. He likely won’t see many targets but it’s possible that Hurts can connect with him for a big play or two. Watkins boasts 4.35-second 40-yard dash speed.

On defense, T.J. Edwards has emerged as the Eagles’ top linebacker. He has athletic limitations that raise questions about his ability to hold up in coverage. But he hasn’t been totally exposed in that area this season and he’s a good run defender. Edwards could play a big role in helping to shut down Denver’s run game, forcing Bridgewater to bring his A-game as a passer.

Extra Point

What’s your prediction for the game? Eagles win if...? Broncos win if...?

Gowton: Been flipping back and forth on this one all week. It’s hard to have a lot of confidence in the Eagles when they’re running an offense that’s currently working but might not be very sustainable. And Philly’s defense obviously has some real issues, as outlined above.

But the defensive line might be able to come alive against Bridgewater, who I’ve never really bought as a franchise quarterback. And I don’t know that Denver’s dominance in Dallas last week was a sign of things to come as much as it was one good game against a team that happened to have a very bad game.

I’ll take the Eagles in a very close game, 27 to 26. Jake Elliott hits a 59-yard field goal to steal the win as the clock expires.


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