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Eagles-Colts Preview: Test Your Luck
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was the first pick of the 2012 NFL draft. A mere 87 picks later, the Philadelphia Eagles drafted quarterback Nick Foles. Now the two QBs get to face each other for the first time on Monday Night Football to prove who the best quarterback from that draft really was.
Both quarterbacks led their teams to frantic second half comebacks in Week 1, but only Foles was able to seal the deal with a victory. Of course, the Denver Broncos were a little tougher opponent for the Colts than the Jacksonville Jaguars were for the Eagles. Let's take a look at the matchup.
Eagles Offense vs. Colts Defense
Nick Foles looked horrible in the first half against Jacksonville. He held the ball too long, missed wide open receivers, fumbled twice and threw an interception into the endzone. We hadn't seen this Nick Foles since the Cowboys debacle last season. Luckily for the home crowd, Foles looked better, but not great, in the second half as he led the Eagles to 34 unanswered points and the Week 1 win. After that terrible Dallas game last year, Foles' next game back was the best of his career, as he threw an NFL record-tying seven touchdowns against the Raiders. Will, he be able to repeat that performance? Doubtful, but there is no way he can be as bad as he was against the Jags.
The Colts have a decent defense, but much like the Eagles, they are a bend but don't break kind of defense. They didn't give up nearly the amount of yardage that the Eagles gave up last last year, but they got torched by Peyton Manning last week. The problem for the Colts this season will be the season-ending Achilles injury to DE Robert Mathis. The Colts had 42 sacks last season, but 19 1/2 of them came from Mathis. Without him, they simply have no pass rush. That's good news for the Eagles since they lost two offensive linemen last week. RT Allen Barbre and All Pro LG Evan Mathis will miss this game and be replaced by RT Andrew Gardner and LG Dennis Kelly. Barbre was already starting for the suspended Lane Johnson, so their depth is being severely tested. But as I said, the Colts won't offer much in the way of pass rush pressure, even in their dome. 2013 first round pick OLB Bjoern Werner has been a complete bust so far and Gardner didn't look bad out there last week. Expect the Colts to blitz often. The outcome of the game could depend on how well the re-vamp Eagles offensive line and Foles handle that pressure.
When the Colts blitz, Foles will have to pick up the hot receiver. Other than that 68-yard touchdown catch last week, Jeremy Maclin and Foles just weren't on the same page. On the other side, Riley Cooper will be matched up with Vontae Davis who had an excellent season in 2013. The only chink in Davis' amour is that he'll give up the occasional long gain. Expect Chip Kelly to find a way to exploit that. You would also expect Foles to check down to his running backs, LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles a bunch. But the real stars on offense for the Eagles should be tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek. The Colts simply couldn't cover Denver TE Julius Thomas last week, as he scored three first half TDs. While neither Ertz nor Celek is as good as Thomas, but Ertz did have three catches for 77 yards and a TD last week, with all three of those catches going for over 20 yards. The Colts' LBs will simply be over-matched.
The funny thing about the Eagles' first game is that their best offensive weapon got completely overlooked. LeSean McCoy hardly gets mentioned when discussing the win, but he had 74 yards rushing and 6 catches for another 41 yards. 115 total yards is a great day for any RB, but the Colts improved an already solid run defense by signing Arthur Jones. Expect the Eagles to try to establish the run against the Colts and test the Colts' LBS, led by D-Qwell Jackson. After all, the Eagles were the No. 1 ranked rushing team in the NFL last year. And that's the best way to ease the pressure on a couple of inexperienced offensive linemen playing in a loud dome.
Changing of the Guard
Who will throw for more yards on Monday Night?
Colts Offense vs. Eagles Defense
The Colts got rid of future Hall of Famer, Peyton Manning when they drafted Luck and he has actually been as good as advertised. He has led the team to 11-5 records and a playoff berth in each of his first two seasons. And in half of those 22 wins, Luck led the team to a victory with either a fourth quarter comeback or a game-winning drive. Plus, he made me happy when he beat Andy Reid's Chiefs in the playoffs last year despite being down by 28 points in the second half. Classic Reid.
While Luck couldn't pull off another comeback win last week, he did throw for 370 yards and 2 TDs against the Broncos. Luck is not only an elite passer though; he is also a surprisingly good runner. His 10 rushing touchdowns are second only to Cam Newton since the start of the 2012 season. That means that the Eagles defense is going to have to play smart. And that's where I get worried.
The Colts added Hakeem Nicks in free agency and got TE Dwayne Allen back, after he missed all of last season with a hip injury. When they're added to WRs Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton, the Colts have a nice array of weapons that can cause problems for opposing defenses. While the Eagles defense adjusted after a rough first quarter, that was only Chad Henne and the Jaguars collection of rookie receivers they shut out in the second half in Week 1. Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams are going to have their hands full this week and I expect one or both to get burned again this week. The only good news is that with so many receivers on the field for the Colts, the Eagles best CB, Brandon Boykin will be on the field most of the game. I'm expecting an interception from Boykin, since the one negative with Luck is that he does try to force the ball into tight spaces and can throw the pick.
Of course, the Colts are also a bit banged up on the offensive line, as well. Center Khaled Holmes missed the opener with a sprained ankle and the Broncos sacked Luck three times and pressured him into 13 deflected passes. If Holmes is still out, ex-Eagle A.Q Shipley will start again. Expect the Eagles to bring lots of pressure using their linebackers. Michael Kendricks should test the middle of the Colts line early and often. Backup LB Brandon Graham had a great game against the Jags and he'll rotate in for Trent Cole again.
The main problem with the Colts offense is that it is one-dimensional. The trade for RB Trent Richardson last season didn't pay dividends, as he averaged only 2.9 yards per carry for the Colts. Last week wasn't much better, as Richardson only gained 20 yards on six carries. Obviously, he didn't get many chances since the Colts got down early and had to abandon the run. That led to more touches for Ahmad Bradshaw, who had five catches for 70 yards against the Broncos. And since the Eagles allowed the fifth fewest yards per carry in the NFL last season (3.8 ypc), the Eagles should be able to make the Colts a one-dimensional offense again this week.
The one part of the game that went well from beginning to end last week for the Eagles was special teams. Rookie Cody Parkey made both of his attempts and had touchbacks on 5 of his 7 kickoffs. Also, punter Donnie Jones carried over his excellent play from last year with the help of some nice coverage work. Also, Sproles had two 22 yard punt returns. On the other side, Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri is still one of the best in the league. Punter Pat McAfee is solid and their coverage units, led by ex-Eagle Colt Anderson are better than average. Their return teams won't scare anybody though.
Nick Foles Throws NFL Record-Tying 7 TDs Against Raiders
Chip Kelly didn't look like a genius in the first half last week, but whatever adjustments he made at halftime against the Jaguars worked. Philly fans are still getting used to positive in-game adjustments by the coaches after the Reid era. On the other sideline, Chuck Pagano is not only an inspirational leader, he also gets results. The Colts have never lost back-to-back games under Pagano and Luck. That's impressive.
The Colts have the home field advantage with their dome, but they lack any sort of passrush to exploit backup offensive linemen who have to operate on a silent count. Foles looked terrible for most of the game in Week 1, yet still managed to do enough to win, while Luck played better in a losing effort. The game is sure to be a shootout with this much offensive talent on the field. Expect both quarterbacks to put up big numbers and keep the outcome in doubt late into the 4th quarter on Monday Night. The Colts have never lost two in a row under Chuck Pagano, but there's a first time for everything.
Eagles 34 - Colts 30