3 reasons the Eagles could upset the Denver Broncos on Sunday

3 reasons the Eagles could upset the Denver Broncos on Sunday

Somewhat lost amid all of the hoopla over the buzzsaw known as Peyton Manning is the fact that the Eagles are an NFL team with a chance to win a football game this Sunday. Sure, you hear a few people touting this idea, but it sure seems like most are chalking this up as a loss already.

To be fair, the Birds probably will lose. The Denver Broncos have been nearly perfect through their first three games, and the firepower in that offense is unreal. The person who figures out how to contain Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas and those running backs with Peyton Manning at the helm should instantly win some kind of lifetime achievement award.

The Eagles could go into Denver and get absolutely steamrolled and not one person would be caught off guard by that. The Broncos are 11-point favorites, and it’s probably safe to say we’re all prepared for the worst on some level.

But as the old cliché goes, that’s why they play the game. If you don’t think the Eagles have even a remote chance of pulling off the upset over Manning this week, well that’s your opinion, but it’s not one I happen to agree with. There are actually some relatively important details working in their favor going in to this encounter. Whether or not it’s anything that can swing the outcome remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t rule out any of this stuff coming into play.

Extra Rest/Short Week

As much as nobody wants to hear Peyton whining about the schedule after Philadelphia just played three games in 11 days, he has a point. The fact that the Eagles have 10 days between games and the Broncos have a short week with only six creates a significant advantage for the Birds.

For one, the Eagles should be a little less beat up than their opponent. Their players have nearly twice as much time to rest up, so at least in theory Philly should be the fresher ream.

What really seems to have Manning concerned though is the extra time the Eagles have to prepare. They already own the NFL’s second-ranked offense to begin with, and now Chip Kelly spent last weekend in his laboratory coming up with all sorts of ways to attack Denver’s defense. Oh yeah, I suppose defensive coordinator Bill Davis might benefit from the additional time to work on the game plan as well.

If this stuff didn’t make a difference, nobody would be talking about, least of all the opposing team’s quarterback. The players still have to go out and execute on Sunday, but their bodies should be ready, and the coaches able to put them in optimal positions to come away victorious.

Injuries

The only injury that’s prevented anybody from practicing for the Eagles this week is Patrick Chung, who is dealing with a shoulder contusion and is listed as doubtful. Assuming he can’t go, rookie Earl Wolff will likely make his first career start, which is a little scary given the opponent.

That said, Denver’s injury report reads like a novel these days, and the climax is in the secondary. Seven-time All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey has yet to suit up this season, and is still limited in practice by a foot injury – even if he is active, he could be rusty. Bailey's backup Tony Carter is dealing with an ankle himself and was limited this week. And at safety, starter Duke Ihenacho had not practiced at all as of Thursday.

Add in the suspension to outside linebacker Von Miller – the club's most dangerous pass rusher – and you have a defense that very well could be vulnerable on Sunday.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball the Broncos lost left tackle Ryan Clady for the season last week. Any Eagles fan can tell you how difficult that is to overcome.

Other than Miller and Clady, we’ll have to wait and see who’s playing and who isn’t, but the real upset here would be if all three of those defensive backs returned in time for the game and looked their sharpest. Maybe the Broncos have people who can step up in a pinch, but it’s hard to imagine any team can be that deep. These injuries could potentially create a huge advantage for the Birds’ offense.

Offense Can Hang With Anybody

Not that the Eagles necessarily needed those other advantages, although they help of course. Yeah, Manning is great, but Philadelphia’s offense is right behind Denver’s in the rankings – they’re one and two.

The only thing that’s stopped the Eagles so far this season is the Eagles. In Washington, they took their foot off the gas pedal too early. Against San Diego, dumb penalties and lack of execution prevented them from running up the score. Versus Kansas City, it was entirely too many unforced turnovers.

You’re not going to get away with much of that against the Broncos, but even with all of that going wrong for the Birds, again, they have the second-ranked offense in the NFL – eighth-highest scoring offense. Theoretically, they should be able to run with almost anybody.

It’s very possible the Eagles will have to score upwards of 40 points to have a chance to win on Sunday, but it’s not an implausible number. They probably could have done that in Weeks 1 and 2 with the most minor of tweaks. Now they have a Denver defense on a short week with a bunch of injuries, and you’ve got to think Chip has something up his sleeve with the extra days to prepare.

For the Eagles to have any shot at winning on Sunday, they’ll likely need a perfect storm of sorts. The offense can’t leave a bunch of plays on the field, and Peyton Manning can’t go all 158.3 on them which seems like a real possibility with their defense.

That said, I think there’s enough here to feel somewhat upbeat about the Birds’ chances on Sunday. I’m not bold enough to predict a Birds victory based on this, but I doubt it would even be the most shocking thing that happens in the NFL this weekend.

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Carson Wentz takes pride in not letting plays die easily. 

In Sunday’s 34-3 win over the Steelers, one play he didn’t let die ended up being the back-breaker in the blowout. 

We’re, of course, talking about the 73-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles at the 13:08 mark in the third quarter. Coming into the second half, the Eagles had a 10-point lead, but this touchdown pushed it to a 20-3 advantage and the rout was on. This play was a tone-setter (see story)

“That’s something that we talk about a lot,” Wentz said after the game. “We always say that a play is never dead. I like to make plays when we need to and everyone just does a great job of getting open in those situations.”

This was the first big off-schedule play Wentz has hit during his three weeks as the team’s starter, but the signs were there. In the Chicago game, there were several times where he showed his ability to extend plays. We broke them down in a film review last week (see story).

Throughout the week, Wentz had been compared to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. One of the reasons was their shared ability to extend plays and make something happen. Big Ben showed his ability in the first quarter and almost connected on a huge touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton in the back of the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t pull it in. 

When Wentz got his shot later in the game, Sproles was able to pull it in, then make something happen with his feet. 

“I saw Carson scrambling this way,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Darren was literally right in front of me and when I saw him wheel, my first reaction was to find the sideline to see if he stepped out to be quite honest.  He hadn’t, and Carson just — it was like in slow motion — floated that ball up the sideline and Darren did the rest from there. It was a tremendous play from those two individuals. I guess the last thing I did is I always look back to make sure there are no flags on the ground on those long plays.”

There were no flags. Touchdown. Game. 

Let’s take a closer look at the play: 

Wentz is in shotgun with Sproles in the backfield with him. The Eagles come out with three-wide on the far side of the field and a lot of space on the near side. 

Stephon Tuitt, who actually had a pretty good game against the Eagles, takes this route to the quarterback. When he gets to left guard Allen Barbre, Barbre either didn’t see him or didn’t react quickly enough. 

While Sproles is still running his short out, Wentz feels the pressure and is able to step up through the hole created by Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks. As soon as he makes it through, Wentz still has his eyes downfield. 

Now Wentz is through the hole and sees Sproles finishing his out-route. This is when Wentz, on the run, motions to Sproles to take off. This is something we’ve seen Wentz do a few times during his three weeks as Eagles quarterback. 

Wentz was left with a tough decision here. He could have run for 10, maybe even 15 yards. It was wide open, but he decided to try to make a play with his arm instead. 

“I always want to be a thrower first,” he said. “Even when a play breaks down, I’m always looking [to throw] because that’s where the big plays are happening. If I scramble I might get 5, 10, 15, 20 yards, but I’m not that fast. I always want to get it to the guys that can make plays. We always want to make plays when they’re there, and that’s what happened.”

With the line of scrimmage at the 27, Wentz has enough awareness to run horizontally to make sure he didn’t cross. And as soon as Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell takes that first step toward him, Wentz sees how much room Sproles has to work with. 

Ryan Shazier, who was covering Sproles on the play, froze and then started to step toward Wentz too. He said he thought the quarterback crossed the line of scrimmage, but Wentz was aware enough to stay behind.  

Once Sproles catches the ball in open space, he begins to do Sproles things. Defensive back Sean Davis took a bad angle on him and once he gets close, the veteran turns it inside. Davis said he was trying to buy time for the rest of his defense to get there and stop Sproles. It didn’t work. 

“Man, it’s Sproles!” receiver Nelson Agholor said. “Did you think he was going to get tackled?”

While he’s blocking downfield, Dorial Green-Beckham actually trips himself up and does a somersault. But it didn’t matter — Sproles didn’t need a great block. He pretty much did it himself. 

“Anytime that you can put it in the hands of [Sproles] something special can happen on any play, and he did the rest of it,” Wentz said. 

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Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Michael Raffl had just finished playing alongside Travis Konecny, the 19-year-old kid that has Flyers fans abuzz about the now and future.

Yet for Raffl, he wasn’t thinking forward. Instead, he was looking back.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t do that when I was 19, that’s for sure,” the 27-year-old said smiling, eyes wide open. “No, it’s impressive, he’s a really, really good hockey player.”

Konecny had that resounding affect Wednesday night at the PPL Center, recording a goal and an assist while leading the Flyers to a 2-0 preseason win over the Devils (see 10 observations).

He dazzled with speed and shiftiness.

He showed off vision and smarts.

When he touched the puck, he had everyone’s attention.

Paired with Raffl and Brayden Schenn in a game featuring mostly prospects, the 2015 first-round pick made the molding of Ron Hextall’s roster that much more difficult. With the general manager looking on, the highly touted winger started fast before making his imprint during a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds in the second period.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, he deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front on a backdoor pass for a 2-0 advantage.

“We had a cycle play going and he had a nice fake up top there and I was just going to the net,” Raffl said. “Somehow I was all by myself and he saw me, put a perfect pass on my tape and I just went around the goalie and put it in.”

Following his first goal, Konecny nearly tacked on another less than a minute later when he appeared to hit the crossbar on a shot. He also flirted with a few more assists.

“I think I just played relaxed,” Konecny said. “I came into the game tonight trying not to do too much and just keep things simple. The main thing for me was getting pucks out of the zone, so I think I did that well tonight and hopefully I can keep building on it.”

Relieving pucks from the zone isn’t a problem when you possess the speed and skill of Konecny, who racked up 101 points last season at the junior level.

At just 19, that’s where he’ll have to return if he doesn’t crack the Flyers’ roster.

With cuts already made and more coming, that sometimes is on Konecny’s mind.

“It weighs on you a little bit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it and it’s definitely the time I need to step up and make sure I’m playing good hockey,” Konecny said. “And just earning another day — that’s just the way I’m looking at it. Every day I wake up and just work hard and move forward from there.

“I think everyone comes into camp and tries to give them (management) a reason not to send you back and make it hard on them.”

Wednesday night didn’t hurt his chances.

“He played a good hockey game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Had an impact offensively. He did a pretty good job. There’s some youthful mistakes in there, but overall, he had a real good night tonight playing with Raf and Schenner.”

Placing Konecny with two capable NHL forwards offered the Canadian an opportunity to prove what he could do if he was in fact on the big club.

“We played well together,” Konecny said. “I think from the start we just had a lot of communication, we talked in the room, in warmups, we all knew what we were going to do throughout the game and in certain scenarios.”

If anything, Konecny left an impression on Raffl.

“He’s a very smart player,” Raffl said. “Once he has the puck, he makes smart decisions with it. It was very easy to play with him out there. He plays a mature game and I really enjoyed it.”

Time will tell if more is in store come Oct. 14.

Loose pucks
Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon combined for the shutout. Stolarz started and made 11 saves over 29:23, while Lyon played 30:37 and stopped seven shots. “I like both of our guys tonight,” Hakstol said. “Stolie did a good job, he made a difference in this game in the first 10 minutes, those two or three really good saves there. Then Alex came in halfway through, which isn’t an easy thing to do and was ready to go and did his job.” … Schenn, MacDonald and defensive prospect Robert Hagg finished with an assist apiece. … With the roster currently standing at 49, the Flyers expect to make 15 cuts on Thursday. … Defenseman Nick Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday night’s preseason game. ... The Flyers are off Thursday before likely practicing Friday ahead of Saturday's preseason game at 7 p.m. against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.