Has a quarterback controversy arisen in Philadelphia again? Heck, I don’t know and neither do you. No one knows what’s going through Reid’s mind right now. What I do know is that this Eagles team, especially the offense, is beginning to gel. Very few “experts” gave the Eagles much of a chance last weekend against the Falcons, yet our boys went out there with a great game plan and took care of business. Now they are traveling to Nashville, Tennessee to take on the Titans in what will be one great game. By now you know the drill, so let’s take a look at the Tennessee offense.
The Titans offensive line is tied for 7th in the NFL, giving up 12 sacks and 5th in the league giving up 17 QB hits. They are giving their QBs plenty of time to make plays and do an excellent job of eliminating defensive ends. Last week against the Jaguars, they only allowed 2.5 tackles to their ends and kept the tackles in check throughout the game as well. They gave up no sacks. The Eagles defensive line, however, is far superior to the Jaguars line. The Eagles defensive front wreaked havoc on the Falcons and quarterback Matt Ryan. They sacked Ryan three times and hit him another two times. They tackled players behind the line of scrimmage 4 times. This Eagles defensive front is vicious and I believe they’ll be able to continue that pattern against the Titans.
Behind the line stands one of the best running backs in the NFL, Chris Johnson. There is no back in the league quite as shifty as he is, but we have faced a back that has a similar style of running (Jahvid Best of the Lions). Best carved up our defense, gaining a total of 232 yards, 154 coming in from the passing game. Johnson scares me because he is far better than Best, and Best will be a great running back. He put up 131 total yards and one TD against the Jaguars. The good news is that over the season, the Eagles have been able to shut down some excellent running backs in Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars), Frank Gore (49ers), and Michael Turner (Falcons). The bad news is that none of those backs are quite like Johnson. Personally, I expect Johnson to have a very good day (as he often does) against this Eagles defense.
At tight end the Titans are lacking. Their leading player is Bo Scaife, who has only put up 172 yards and 2 TDs. Last weekend, the Eagles did an excellent job of limiting Gonzalez in between the 20s. However, they did let him score two TDs in the redzone. For the season, Scaife has not had more than four catches per game. His best game of the season came this past weekend when he caught four balls for 53 yards and a TD. Meanwhile, the Eagles line backing core is still susceptible to the tight end. As I mentioned, they did shut down Gonzalez last weekend, but house money says that that is an anomaly rather than the norm. I also suspect that Scaife will continue to not be targeted by his quarterback.
However, wide receivers Kenny Britt and Nate Washington will be targeted. The two have combined for 436 yards and seven TDs. Kenny Britt is the ideal wide receiver to beat our defense. He has a large frame and is very physical off the line. He’s also caught a TD in the past four games. He is the ultimate receiving weapon for the Tennessee offense. As a unit, the Eagles are 9th in the NFL in yards given up per game with 198.3 for the season. Last weekend, however, the Eagles defense let up 214 yards to wide receivers, only letting up one big play. That will be the key against the Titans, limiting the big plays and not giving Vince Young and his weapons confidence and rhythm. Kenny Britt’s physical play will be a challenge for Asante Samuel, but he is still a young receiver, and Samuel should be able to read and jump his routes effectively.
All signs point to Vince Young starting at quarterback this weekend, despite suffering a knee injury against Jacksonville. Young is very similar to Donovan McNabb in many respects. He has a strong arm and is mobile, but his accuracy is lacking. When the Eagles faced McNabb, they were able to effectively shut him down for most of the game, only allowing him to pass for 125 yards and a TD. They also picked off a pass. I expect the Eagles defense to do something very similar to Young. The line backing core is finally gelling, so we should be able to use Ernie Sims as a spy to keep Young from breaking the pocket and taking off. In a way, Young’s injury might be helpful because it might limit his mobility as a whole, which should give the Eagles defense time to get after him and force him to rush. Of the 12 sacks given up by the Titans, 10 of them have come against Young. I look for the Eagles defense to harass him in all phases of the game this weekend.
Now, let’s look at the Eagles offense. The offensive line truly surprised me last weekend. I need to tip my hat to King Dunlap, who really held his own against John Abraham. The thought of Dunlap facing him terrified me and he proved me and countless other doubters wrong. He and the entire offensive line really did a great job. Kolb was sacked only once against a team that had all the ability to get after him many times. What the Eagles did was get after the defensive line, which is something they hadn’t been doing all season. Instead of just sitting back and blocking, they would maul the defenders and get inside their heads. They are facing a very talented defense in Tennessee and they will need to have the exact same mentality to disrupt a pass rush that is ranked first in the NFL with twenty four sacks.
LeSean McCoy did not put up huge, eye-opening numbers last week. However, he did play very sound football, and he too will be a key to stopping the Titans pass rush. While much credit does go our offensive line last week for eliminating the Falcons rush, McCoy was a big part of it as well. However, I look for McCoy to be statistically bottled up again this weekend, because the Titans do an excellent job of shutting down the run. They are ranked eighth in the league with 97.5 yards given up on the ground per game and get very physical with anyone carrying the rock. If I were playing for money, I wouldn’t start McCoy in any of my fantasy leagues.
At tight end, Brent Celek is slowly but surely beginning to join the party. Last week he hauled in a season high four catches for forty-six yards. However, he is still dropping balls that are easily catchable and that needs to stop. Kolb clearly likes throwing to him and I see no reason for that to change, especially given Tennessee’s fierce pass rush. Tennessee gave up 57 yards on six catches last week against to the Jaguars’ tight ends. For the season, they’ve been gashed twice by two other NFC East tight ends in Kevin Boss (Giants) and Jason Witten (Cowboys). Both players are very similar to Celek, and should Celek get his act together, I fully expect him to have a good day. I can guarantee this: Should the pressure keep coming, Kolb will look Celek’s way a lot. Hope you’re ready, Brent.
We suffered a blow last week at the wide receiver position. Our ultimate play maker, DeSean Jackson, was brutally hit and left with a concussion. He has been ruled out for this game. We also saw Jeremy Maclin make sweet music with Kevin Kolb as he hauled in seven balls for 159 yards and two TDs, and it gets even better: If there’s one fatal weakness that Tennessee has, it’s against the pass. They are ranked 23rd against the pass, giving up 231 yards per game. And in one of their games, they only let up 25 yards because the Steelers essentially just ran the ball the entire time. If you were to eliminate that anomaly of a passing game that the Steelers had, the Titans would be giving up 290.6 yards in the air per game. That would rate them 29th in the league. Had Pittsburgh had a normal passing day, they too would likely have shredded the Titans secondary. Our receivers will take advantage of that weakness. The Titans let up an average of 169.6 yards per game to receivers. Over the past four weeks, that number skyrocketed to 231.5 yards per game to receivers. The Eagles wide outs have an excellent chance this week to roast another secondary and, despite the loss of Jackson, they will do just that.
Getting them the ball for the third week in a row will be Kevin Kolb. Kolb had what was unquestionably his best day against the Atlanta Falcons, in which he passed for 326 yards, three TDs, and one INT while completing 23 of his 29 pass attempts. That’s a completion rating of 79.3, which is ridiculous in any game. In my mind, Kolb arrived last week and will continue to arrive this weekend. While the Titans have picked off ten passes this season, most of them have come against teams who are proving to be very mistake prone this season and that is something the Eagles offense is not. They take care of the ball as a whole unit and Kolb does the same. In his starts, he has thrown just two INTs, and the one against the Falcons was truly an incredible play by the linebacker who got the deflection. Kolb has everything in place to shred the Titans secondary this weekend. He has great weapons, he’s getting more and more acclimated with the game at this level, and he does not make mistakes. I love this matchup.
For special teams, the Titans have a very good kick return unit. Return man Marc Mariani is averaging 28 yards per return and has returned one 98 yards to the house. Last weekend, the Eagles coverage units were excellent, but I feel they are facing their biggest challenge yet. I’d look for the Titans to have at least one big kick return. For the Eagles, punt returner Jorrick Calvin had an excellent day in the limited action that he saw. The Titans punt coverage unit is excellent, only allowing six yards per average on returns. I’ve got to give the Titans the clear edge in this category.
Moving to coaching, both teams boast the two longest tenured coaches in the NFL. Jeff Fisher has been the head coach of the Titans for sixteen seasons, while Reid is currently in his twelfth season as the Eagles head coach. Both men are respected around the league but both also have yet to truly get over the hump. Last weekend, Reid put together a nearly perfect game plan to beat the Falcons and Fisher did likewise against the Jaguars. One edge that Fisher has over Reid is his ability to change game plans in the middle of a game.
HOW I SEE IT:
Prior to the season starting, I had us losing this match up. I felt the Titans would be too powerful and we’d be in full rebuild mode by now. I was wrong on both counts. The Eagles are possibly proving to be a true contender in the NFC and the Titans numbers might look decent, but numbers lie. In the Titans games I’ve watched, I see a team that can be gashed through the air and there aren’t too many things Andy Reid loves more than passing the ball. Another interesting statistic is that the Titans are 1-2 at home while the Eagles are 3-0 on the road. That, combined with everything else, makes me like the Eagles this week to go into Nashville and beat the Titans in what will be a great game.