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Xs and Os: Eagles-Chargers Preview and Prediction

Xs and Os Eagles Chargers

Background/Storylines: Eagles (1-0) and Chargers (0-1)

The Eagles are coming in as the NFL’s darling after a 33-27 triumph over the division rival Redskins in Week 1, and with their heads held high, this is an opportunity for a letdown. The biggest mover in ESPN’s Week 2 Power Rankings (25 to 14), the Eagles are looking to improve an impressive performance last week. All three units shined in the first half, with the offense methodically moving the chains on both the ground and through the air, the defense limiting RG3 and the ‘Skins to 47 first-half yards, and Special Teams making big play after big play led by coordinator Dave Fipp. Running back LeSean McCoy was the player of the game, racking up 184 yards and a touchdown and leading the NFL in rushing yards. Can Chip Kelly start out his coaching career with back-to-back wins?

The Chargers started out their 2013 season with another rookie head coach, offensive guru Mike McCoy, with impressive results, taking a 28-14 lead over the championship-contending Texans through three quarters. In the fourth quarter, however, they had a flashback to former coach Norv Turner, as Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson led a 17-point comeback to stun San Diego. Linebackers Donald Butler and Bront Bird combined for 27 tackles, and safety Eric Weddle added 11 more plus a pass deflection. When you throw in an aging but still productive Dwight Freeney, you have a defense that can make plays and disrupt the Eagles’ warp-speed offense.

Fantasy Watch: Riley Cooper (PHI) and Philip Rivers (SD)

Photo courtesy of SBNation.

Last week, the Washington Redskins consciously made the decision to take away the underneath routes which allowed DeSean Jackson to make a couple big plays over the top. This week, expect the Chargers to do the exact opposite.

Chip Kelly has a knack for using Jackson extremely well. Last week, he would have Riley Cooper run a crossing pattern underneath Jackson, forcing the safeties to creep up and giving Jackson that extra split-second to get behind the defense. He also uses Jackson on fake bubble screens to lure linebackers and cornerbacks, giving his tight ends and other wide receivers 1-on-1 matchups everywhere else. I expect Cooper to be the biggest beneficiary of Jackson’s play-making ability this week, getting free a couple of times due to confusion in the secondary and making San Diego pay.

Projected stats for Cooper: 6 catches, 83 yards, touchdown

The Eagles secondary showed last week that they are capable of shutting teams down when defensive coordinator Billy Davis is blitzing and the cornerbacks are pressing receivers at the line of scrimmage. That kind of defense, however, is taxing, and at times the Eagles will be forced to retreat into a zone and try and limit the Chargers’ passing attack that way. Chip Kelly’s lightning-speed offense, whose 3-and-outs result in merely 30-45 seconds of rest for the defense, doesn’t help matters much.

In addition, the Eagles will be missing starting cornerback Bradley Fletcher, and although Brandon Boykin will seamlessly fill the void, the other positions (especially the slot) will suffer. Expect Philip Rivers to have a couple big drives that pad his stats and make him a viable fantasy starter this week.

Projected stats for Rivers: 23-38, 282 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception

Key Matchup: LB Donald Butler vs OG Evan Mathis

With a running quarterback, Michael Vick, and an extremely agile back in LeSean McCoy, Chip Kelly has helped take the read-option to the next level in the NFL. That was all on display against the Redskins, with the Eagles rushing for 236 yards out of read-option plays. The beauty of the read-option in this offense is that Vick has so many options. He can hand it off to McCoy, take it himself, or throw a quick out to one of his wideouts. This play, however, relies on key downfield blocking from the guards, especially Evan Mathis, who are usually the ones leaving a lineman unblocked and taking out the middle linebacker.

For example:

Here, Mathis lets a lineman go by and pancakes the linebacker, providing Vick with a clear path to the end zone (via Birds 24/7).

This week, with rookie linebacker Manti T’eo out, Mathis will be going up against Donald Butler, San Diego’s strong inside linebacker (they run a 3-4). The Eagles love running the read-option to the left side of the offense, so Mathis being able to release at the right time and make a clean block on Butler could determine how effective this team’s rushing attack is.

X-Factors: Stopping Antonio Gates (PHI) and Slowing Chip Kelly Down (SD)

Gates led the Bolts in receiving yards in Week 1.

So, let’s say the Eagles defense does what it did through three quarters last week. The front seven gets a lot of pressure on the opposing quarterback, especially from outside linebackers and defensive ends, which allows the secondary to press receivers and take away the short, sideline-to-sideline passing game that the Chargers rely on. The Chargers’ anemic rushing attack can’t find another gear and sputters out midway through the second quarter. Even if the Eagles manage to do all that, they still have one wild card to deal with: tight end Antonio Gates. Gates has been making Rivers look great for years, and while he’s nearing the end of his career, he’s still one of the most dangerous tight ends in the game. Mychal Kendricks and Nate Allen need to find a way to shut him down, or else the Eagles’ defensive plans could start to unravel like they did in the 2nd half against Washington.

If the Chargers don’t want to find themselves down several touchdowns at halftime like the Redskins were, they will have to find a way to slow down Chip Kelly’s hurry-up offense. The Eagles are going to put up points and yards, but the Chargers can limit how many if they can force incompletions and create turnovers. If they are unable to keep the Eagles from picking up first down on the ground or completing passes, the defense will tire quickly and depth is one thing the Chargers don’t have on defense. The Eagles will rely on the run game to tire the Chargers out, so the Chargers will really need their front seven to come up and make plays or else this game could end up being pretty ugly pretty early on.

Prediction: Eagles 34, Chargers 21

Kelly comes out swinging, handing the ball off to LeSean McCoy 15 times in the first half as the Eagles jump all over the Chargers. The defense isn’t stellar, but they make enough stops to keep the Chargers at bay as a late touchdown seals the deal. Chip Kelly starts his NFL coaching career at 2-0.

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Categories: Eagles, Editorial

Author:Manav Khandelwal

I am the founder of Khandyman Sports, and follow all Philadelphia pro sports teams religiously. I also write for the Hoop76, covering the Sixers for ESPN, and am a credentialed Flyers reporter for Main Line Media News.

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