I hate losing prior to a bye week, but I should be used to it by now. I hate it because I get to spend two weeks thinking about everything that went wrong. One week of that is bad enough! However, we’re normally granted some solace because of Reid’s perfect record after the bye week. 11-0 is nothing to sneeze at, unless you’ve been struck by the flu this season. If that’s the case, sneeze away. I promise, we’ll understand. Back to the game though: That 11-0 record is in jeopardy this week, as the Eagles will be hosting none other than the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts aren’t the juggernaut that we’re used to, but they are still a very, very good team. Let’s take a look at the match-up.
The Colts offensive line is largely responsible for Peyton Manning’s success over the years. This season they have given up the least amount of sacks (7) and the third least amount of quarterback hits (23). The line is led by standout center Jeff Saturday who’s arguably the smartest center in the league when it comes to figuring out defensive schemes and blitzes. If there is a spot that has a weakness it’s the left guard spot, where the starting situation has been in flux. The Eagles will likely be welcoming back defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley. However, if I was the coach I would keep Antonio Dixon in the starting lineup. Since Dixon’s been the starter, the defensive front seven has been vicious and we need that level of play this weekend. Trent Cole leads the defense in sacks (6) and tackles for a loss (6 for a loss of 39 yards).
Behind the offensive line, the Colts have a mishmash of running backs. Joseph Addai is the starter on paper but he’s been hurt. Behind him is Donald Brown, but he’s been hurt too. Last weekend, the top rusher for the Colts was third-year man Mike Hart, who rushed for 84 yards on 12 carries. The Colts rushing attack is ranked 23rd in the NFL with 96.6 yards per game while the Eagles defense is ranked 18th in the league, giving up 109.9 yards a game on the ground. However, the Eagles defense has been nothing short of stout against the run over the past three games. I fully expect them to be the same on Sunday. The fact is that the Colts struggle greatly to run the ball, and the Eagles defense is quietly becoming one of the better run stuffing teams in the league.
At tight end, the Colts are without All-Pro Dallas Clark. However, when you’re the Colts, you don’t worry about things like that. You just simply plug in a guy in his place that no one’s ever heard of (in this case Jacob Tamme), and you continue like nothing ever happened. Peyton Manning loves to utilize his tight ends, having completed 46 of his 197 completions to them throughout the season. The Eagles defense has effectively shut down the tight end two games in a row, but I suspect that might change this coming weekend. Manning always finds a way to get them involved.
At wide receiver, it seems to be the same story: Guy goes down (Austin Collie) and a new guy takes his place and the Colts offense just keeps chugging along. The Colts’ wide receivers put up 172 yards and a TD against the Texans last week. The leading man in the group is Reggie Wayne, Manning’s favorite target over the past few years. If the Eagles are to have any hope of slowing down the Colts’ passing attack, it’ll be to stop Wayne. However, in doing that you either need to have Asante Samuel on him all game or double him all game. Either way, you are exposing yourself in other parts of the secondary. We saw just how bad Ellis Hobbs can be against the Titans, and the good news is that he won’t be starting this weekend. In his place will be Dimitri Patterson. Patterson has seen mostly rotational duty this season, though he did start against the 49ers when Samuel was hurt. He had a decent game with the highlight being a sweet INT, but he did struggle in coverage at times against Michael Crabtree.
This is a match-up that greatly favors the Colts and a lot of it has to do with who will be throwing the ball. Peyton Manning….need I say more? He is without question one of, if not the best, quarterbacks to ever touch a football. Even in what’s appearing to be a slightly down season, he is still among the best of the best. Since he’s been in the league, the Eagles have never beaten him. This season he’s ranked 4th in passing yards (2,184), 2nd in TD passes (16), tied for 1st in INTs (2), and is second in quarterback rating (101.4). In simpler terms: He’s good. He’s very good, and he will pose a huge problem for our defense. In the first half against the Texans, he appeared flustered with different schemes that Houston presented him with. However, he adjusted and had a successful second half. In all honesty, the best way to beat Peyton Manning is with a good offense. Allow me to explain as we take a look at the Eagles offense.
Returning the lineup for the offense this weekend will be left tackle Jason Peters. In Peters’ absence, King Dunlap has played decent football. However, he was exposed for what we all knew he was against the Titans. Jason Peters, while frustrating at times, is still a very good left tackle. He’s not the best in the league and is overpaid by those standards, but he’s still valuable to this team. The rest of the lineup appears to be the same for now. The tackles will need to be on their A game this weekend as they are facing one of the most dominating defensive end tandem in the league with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Those guys terrorized Matt Schaub last weekend and will be looking to do the same this Sunday.
Behind the line stands LeSean McCoy, who is, in my mind, our offensive MVP. It’s frustrating knowing that his full potential is not being tapped due to various reasons, the biggest being the play calling. That said, he is still putting together a very good season from a quality standpoint. He is averaging 4.5 yards per carry and has reached the end zone 4 times. The Colts biggest weakness is defending the run. They are ranked 28th against the run, having given up 133.1 yards per game. They also are giving up a lot of catches to running backs. As of now, LeSean McCoy might be the best screen pass catching back in the league. I’d look for that to be utilized early and often. The key to beating the Colts will be attacking this weakness against running backs. The Eagles must eat up the clock and run the ball down their throats. LeSean McCoy and the offensive line are the keys in this game.
Brent Celek continues to line up at tight end for us. During the bye week, I went back and watched some bits of the previous games again. One thing I noticed is that he is running far less routes this season. He is being utilized as a blocker due to the porous play of our line. He will likely have to do the same this weekend. The Colts have given up very little to tight ends throughout the season, and I’d expect that trend to continue, given how few opportunities Celek is getting.
At wide receiver, we should be getting our top weapon back in DeSean Jackson. While he likely wouldn’t have made much a difference against the Titans, given Kolb’s poor play, his presence was still missed. At the very least, he is someone who simply must be accounted for at all times. All signs point to him returning this weekend as of writing this. Should he not be back, we will still have Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, and Chad Hall on hand. While none of them have the explosiveness of Jackson, they are all still valuable and Maclin in particular is a stud in his own right. The Colts secondary has been stout this season, most recently shutting down Houston’s dynamic aerial attack.
Kevin Kolb will not be getting our weapons the ball. No- the reigns are being handed back over to Michael Vick, who is playing for the first time since being injured in week four against the Redskins. We all know that Vick looked good in the games he played in. Now he is facing a much better secondary than he has faced in the past, so it will be very interesting to see how he plays. He’s also likely going to have some rust to knock. However, his legs will bring much needed play making ability to the table. I have zero doubt that Freeney and Mathis will be pressuring him from all angles, so his ability to elude pressure will be invaluable. The Colts, as I mentioned, have been stout against the pass. Michael Vick will have his work cut out for him, as have all of the quarterbacks who’ve faced the Colts. The only one who’s had real success throwing the ball against them as been Kyle Orton of the Broncos.
On special teams, both teams are basically even. In the game against the Titans, the Eagles found that they can rely on Jorrick Calvin in the return game (I truly believe the fumble was just culmination of all that went wrong that day), and the coverage units have gotten progressively better. The Colts coverage and return teams are floating around the same levels that ours are. For field goal kicking, both kickers are having a solid season. Akers has had one poor game (Atlanta) and has been close to automatic the rest of the season. Adam Vinatieri for the Colts is, as always, solid in the kicking game.
From a coaching standpoint, I am not sure what to make of Indianapolis head coach Jim Caldwell. Obviously he has himself a mighty fine team, but I wonder just how much of that is due to Peyton Manning. I firmly believe that Manning could make Brad Childress look like a great coach. As for the Eagles, Andy Reid continues to be Andy Reid. Should be come up with a masterful game plan (one that would have to include a healthy dose of running plays) the Eagles might have a chance. Either way, you know that a change in the game plan won’t be happening.
HOW I SEE IT:
I know Andy is 11-0 coming off a bye. I know the Colts are going to be coming off of a short week and going on the road. It doesn’t matter. The Colts are a great team. They’re no longer the best of the elite but they’re still a great team, and the Eagles are a good team at best. Manning will be taking advantage of the weakness at corner back. The only chance the Eagles have is to run the ball down their throats and I don’t trust Andy Reid to do it. It won’t be a blowout but the Colts will win this one.