Fantasy Watch: Michael Vick (PHI) and Peyton Manning (DEN)
The Denver Broncos have a high-powered offense, and the Eagles’ secondary just won’t be able to shut down Peyton Manning for three plays in a row to get off the field very often. It is certainly possible that the Eagles fall behind rather quickly, which would force Chip Kelly’s hand and make him abandon the run game to an extent. Expect Vick to rack up a lot of yards through the air, and when the Eagles are passing the ball, he’ll also make some plays with his legs. He may not have his best overall game of the season, but fantasy-wise, he’s a must-start in all formats.
Projected stats for Vick: 375 passing yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs, 50 rush yards (28 points)
The Eagles secondary is just not very good. That’s really it. The Broncos have too much firepower on offense for some type of zone/double-coverage scheme to work, so the Eagles will be forced to play man-to-man most of the game. What does that mean? Nothing good for the Birds if the last few weeks have been any indication. Welker-Boykin, Thomas-Williams, Decker-Fletcher, Thomas-Kendricks: those are all matchups that Denver wins in the passing game. Peyton Manning is having possibly the best 3-game stretch of any QB in history (73.0 completion percentage, 1143 yards, 12 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 134.7 passer rating). He’ll put up points, and he’ll put them up in a hurry.
Projected stats for Manning: 420 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs (32.8 points)
Key Matchup: Jason Peters/Evan Mathis vs Terrance Knighton/Robert Ayers
The Eagles will need to get points on the board, and they’ll need to do it quickly. The Broncos have the number one rush defense in the league, having held their opponents to a total of 130 yards through 3 weeks (70 yards better than anyone else). But don’t get fooled by that statistic: they are vulnerable in the run game, especially without suspended All-Pro OLB Von Miller. It’s just that Manning and the offense put up points so quickly that running ceases to become an option. The Eagles can’t let that happen; the running game is what has led to success thus far this season, and Kelly can’t abandon it even if his team falls behind.
Thus far, LeSean McCoy has been the best player in the NFL not named Peyton Manning, racking up a league-leading 395 yards and averaging an impressive 6.4 yards per carry. A lot of his success has been on runs to the left side, where he has followed the blocking of All-Pros Jason Peters and Evan Mathis. Peters has been a bit underwhelming in the passing game due to a hand injury that’s been plaguing him, but he’s still been a beast in the run game. When he and Mathis push people off the line, McCoy has been nearly unstoppable, making the read-option blitzer—the guy who the offensive line lets through—miss and finding open field in front of him.
Knighton and Ayers have been quite solid for the Broncos this year; a combination of confusion created by the read-option and solid blocking by Peters and Mathis could neutralize their presence on the line of scrimmage. This could be the deciding matchup.
X-Factors: Getting Pressure on Peyton (PHI) and Using Run Effectively (DEN)
The Eagles secondary could have its best game of the season, putting blanket coverage on Thomas and Decker, forcing Peyton Manning to force throws and disrupting his rhythm. Now I’ll take the time to end my horrendous stand-up comedy and get back to reality.
The only, and I mean only, way the Eagles win this game is if the front four has its best game to date. Manning has had days to throw the football thus far this season, and he’s taken advantage of it. This week, however, he is without his left tackle Ryan Clady, a huge blow to the Denver offense. If the Eagles can force Manning to rush through his progressions, they can take away Denver’s ability to stretch the field vertically and horizontally, crippling an otherwise well-oiled machine. Besides Connor Barwin, however, pressure on the QB has been virtually nonexistent for the Eagles this season. Last week, Chip Kelly finally realized something wasn’t working, and he injected Vinny Curry into the lineup late in the game to see what, if anything, he could provide. In 12 snaps, Curry had 3 hurries and a sack, and if Billy Davis doesn’t want a repeat of the Kansas City game, he’ll need Curry and Trent Cole to step up this weekend.
Speaking of the Kansas City Chiefs, the reason their passing game was so effective was because the Eagles were forced to take Jamaal Charles and the run game into account. If the Broncos lean on the passing game too heavily, stopping Manning will be just that much easier for the defense. If the Broncos mix up play calls, however, and use Knowshon Moreno/Montee Ball the right away, the Eagles defense will be unable to sit back and take away the pass. That could lead to big play after big play.
Prediction: Broncos 37, Eagles 28
This is a much closer game than most predict; the Eagles go down early but a strong game from Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy brings them roaring back only to fall short. The Eagles head to northern New Jersey at 1-3.