Eagles-Titans Preview: Running on the Field
The Eagles are coming off one of the most humiliating losses of the NFL season last Sunday to the Packers. Luckily for them, the 2-8 Tennessee Titans come to Lincoln Financial Field this week and the Eagles are 15-2 against teams .500 or worse under Chip Kelly, including 6-0 this year. Can they make it 7-0? Let's take a look at the matchup.
This could very well be the last article I write this year. If Eagles coach Chip Kelly continues with his ridiculous pass-happy play-calling against this Titans defense, I am going to run onto the field and smack him in the head. That might just get me in trouble. Anyway.......
Eagles Offense Versus Titans Defense
Mark Sanchez starts again at quarterback for the Eagles and if that alone isn't enough reason to run the ball all game, I don't know what is. Sanchez stinks. He is coming off a game where he threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles. One of those interceptions and one of those fumbles were returned for touchdowns. And it's not like that was just a bad game. That's Mark Sanchez. He has 95 career turnovers (73 INTs and 22 lost fumbles) in 65 games. It's basically useless to tell you that the Eagles have the 4th best offense in the NFL (406.8 yards per game), or the 4th best passing offense (292.6 ypg), since Sanchez has only played a few games and makes so many back-breaking mistakes. There is also the fact that while the Titans are only ranked 21st overall (370.4 ypg), they are actually good against the pass, ranking 9th (226.9 ypg). Hopefully, Kelly can read the NFL rankings as easily as I can.
Add in the fact that the Eagles offensive line hasn't exactly played well this season, with all the different starting combinations, and you're just asking for trouble if Chipper calls pass plays all day. The Eagles have given up the 8th fewest sacks, but the Titans have the 6th most sacks (29) in the NFL. The Titans like to blitz a ton and they like to bring that pressure up the middle. We'll see just how well center Jason Kelce has recovered from his sports hernia surgery. Kelce, LG Evan Mathis and RG Andrew Gardner, subbing for a concussed Matt Tobin, will see plenty of disruptive DT Jurrell Casey and extra blitzers all day.
When the Titans blitz, they often send the house. They play a lot of Cover Zero, where they leave their CBs alone in man-to-man coverage, without any safeties deep. That would normally be good for the Eagles, but Tennessee has three good CBs. Blindi Wreh-Wilson and Coty Sensabaugh are good, but Jason McCourty is the best of the bunch. McCourty normally shadows the best receiver, so expect him to be on Jeremy Maclin (57 catches for 921 yards and 9 TDs) all game. The Eagles will need Riley Cooper or Jordan Matthews to step up. Matthews has 12 catches for 245 yards and 3 TDs in the last two games. It also might not be a bad time for THE Zach Ertz to have a good game for a change.
But the best way for the Eagles to have an effective passing attack against this defense would be to run the ball all day long. (Think about it Chip. It really does makes sense) The Eagles rushing attack is a shadow of what it was last season, when they led the NFL, but only the lowly NY Giants are worse against the run than the 31st ranked Titans, (143.5 ypg). LeSean McCoy is averaging a career-low 3.7 yards per carry, but he should get at least 20 carries on Sunday. Darren Sproles should get at least 5 carries as well and even Chris Polk should get some carries. Rookie LB Avery Williamson leads Titans D and makes all the play calls. The Titans give up 4.4 yards per carry and they've been gashed for 569 yards in their last 3 games, including 206 to the Steelers on Monday night. Le'Veon Bell got 204 of those rushing yards, which is the single highest total in a game for any player this season. McCoy should be given a chance to break that record. If not, I should be given a chance to smack Chip upside his thick skull.
Titans Offense Versus Eagles Defense
Rookie Zach Mettenberger, who will be making only his fourth NFL start, stands 6-foot-5 with a big arm. So far, he has been very good at recognizing coverages, going through his progressions and delivering the ball to his receivers on time. It seems the Titans have found their quarterback of the future in the sixth round draft pick out of LSU, but he still has a lot to learn. The Titans don't have a big-play offense, so they rely on sustaining drives. Their offense is ranked a terrible 31st (309.0 ypg) and their passing offense isn't much better at 25th (216.5 ypg). Luckily for the Titans, the Eagles are just as bad defensively, 26th overall (377.7 ypg) and against the pass, ranked 28th (263.0 ypg). The one thing the Eagles have been able to do this season is pressure the quarterback. They are 2nd in the NFL with 33 sacks and the Titans have given up 25 sacks (ranked 19th). The right side of the Tennessee offensive line has been particularly awful, as RG Chance Warmack and RT Michael Oher have given up a combined 8 sacks and 44 hurries. OLB Connor Barwin has 10 1/2 sacks already this season and will be matched up with Oher. He needs to treat him like a turnstile all day to fluster the rookie QB.
If Mettenberger gets time to throw, he has a few decent receivers. The Titans like to run three-receiver sets most of the time, with Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and Nate Washington. Wright leads the Titans with 43 receptions, Hunter is averaging 19.1 yards per catch and Washington just burned the Steelers for an 80-yard TD on Monday night. You may have heard that the Eagles CBs stink. Cary Williams gets burned often, but looks almost like a Hall of Famer compared to Bradley Fletcher. No defensive player has had more passes thrown in his direction than Fletcher and that's because he is the worst CB in the NFL. Obviously the Titans aren't in the same universe offensively as the Packers, but Fletcher can make any average receiver look great. Nickel CB Brandon Boykin isn't playing nearly as well as he did last season either. Add in the expected return of THE Delanie Walker (38 receptions and 4 TDs) from a concussion and the Titans are probably looking at their best offensive output of the entire season this Sunday, since the Eagles have allowed 22 TD passes and a league-leading 20 pass plays of 30 yards or more.
The Titans don't have a formidable rushing attack, but that might be because they don't really try to run the football that often. The Titans are ranked 26th (92.5 ypg) and are averaging only 22.1 rushing attempts a game, which is the third fewest in the NFL. Of course, they're usually playing from behind, which can force a team to abandon the run. But that still doesn't explain why the Titans only ran the ball twice on Monday night after getting ahead of the Steelers 24-13. Their leading rusher is the unimpressive Bishop Sankey, with only 345 yards. Shonn Greene is the short yardage back, but he's not much of a threat. He only has 8 carries for 15 yards in their last three games. As a matter of fact, the Titans have not rushed for over 80 yards in any of their last five games. The Eagles front three of Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton have done a nice job containing the run lately, holding their last five opponents to 3.7 yards per carry. That will need to continue.
In spite of allowing their first special teams TD to an opponent last week, the Eagles still have the best all-around special teams units in the league. They have a league-leading 4 special teams TDs and have blocked three punts. Darren Sproles leads the NFL in punt returns with a 16.1-yard average, but the Titans are actually the 7th best punt coverage unit in the NFL. They're even ranked a respectable 12th covering kickoffs as well. Eagles kicker Cody Parkey has made 18 of 19 FG attempts, while Titans kicker Brian Succop is a journeyman. The Eagles coverage units are among the NFL's best and the Titans pose no threat on returns. Sankey looked decent returning kicks on Monday night, but punt returner Dexter McCluster doesn't look anything like the guy who returned two punts for TDs last season for Kansas City.
Who would you rather have as your starting QB?
Eagles coach Chip Kelly is starting to lose a bit of that "genius" mojo he achieved when he turned the Eagles into a playoff team in his first season in the NFL. Now, it's starting to look like Kelly might actually need some star players to help his precious scheme beat the NFL's elite. Of the Eagles 7 wins this season, only one is against a team with a winning record (Colts). In his first year in Tennessee, head coach Ken Whisenhunt is installing completely new schemes on both offense and defense. He is also trying to build with youth, so the growing pains are expected. Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton has brought his aggressive style to Tennessee, but he's also hitting some bumps in the road with this rebuilding roster.
The Last Time Mark Sanchez Faced the Tennessee Titans
The truth of the matter is, the Titans just aren't a very good football team. They are building for the future with young players and that obviously isn't translating into wins this season, as they have now lost four in a row. The Eagles proved they shouldn't be considered among the NFL's elite after getting embarrassed by the Packers last week, but they are more than talented enough to take care of the Titans at home, where they have won nine consecutive regular season games. The only way this is even close is if Kelly puts the game on the arm of Mark Sanchez. If that happens, I hope you enjoyed my very last Eagles article.
Eagles 34 - Titans 20