Eagles Opposition Report: Bills Offense

Eagles Opposition Report: Bills Offense

The Buffalo Bills are one of the NFL's surprise teams through the first month of the season, sitting at 3-1 largely due to their offensive prowess. They are fourth in the league averaging 33.2 points per game, anchored surprisingly by their rushing offense, which has been good for 137 yards per game (5th) and 5.3 yards per carry (4th). That could spell bad news for the Birds' 30th ranked run defense.

RB Fred Jackson
Quite possibly the most underrated back in the NFL, even his own team has never seemed convinced of Jackson's ability. Despite gaining nearly 2,000 yards on the ground between 2009-10, the Bills continually attempted to place other runners ahead of him on the depth chart, but those road blocks wouldn't slow him down.

The job was finally all Jackson's entering this season, and he's turning it into a career year. He's currently on pace to rush for almost 1,500 yards, while averaging an astounding 5.8 ypc. Jackson also has four touchdowns, more than halfway to a personal best. Plus, he's dangerous catching the ball out of the backfield too, with 13 receptions for 147 yards.

Already 30 years old, Jackson probably doesn't have many years left as a feature back, but he's clearly playing his best football right now. At 6-1, 215, he presents a challenge for any defense, let alone one that isn't tackling or covering very well at the moment.

RB C.J. Spiller
Since being selected ninth overall in last year's draft, Spiller has fallen out of favor with the Bills coaching staff. His athleticism makes him extremely dangerous every time he steps on the field, but the offense hasn't been able to harness that ability. Spiller also has ball protection issues. The defense has to keep their eyes on him whenever the Clemson product is in the game, but he's primarily a kick returner now -- with two career special teams touchdowns so far.

QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick's is an interesting case. The Harvard grad made his NFL debut with the Rams in '05, and wasn't that bad considering he was a seventh round rookie on one of the worst teams in the league. He eventually wound up the starter in Cincinnati after another Carson Palmer injury, and again, they could have done worse. By the time the Bills finally got a hold of him in '09, nobody imagined he could turn into a franchise quarterback -- and now it may be happening before our very eyes.

Fitzy has been one of the most efficient QB's in the league through four games. The first reason for his success is his refusal to make mistakes, throwing three interceptions and taking just two sacks this season. He's also made major strides as a passer, with career highs in completion percentage (63.4), yards per pass (7.2), and is on pace to surpass 4,000 yards. His improvements have caused a slight dip in his rushing yards, but don't let those numbers fool you, because he will take off.

Interestingly enough, Fitzpatrick is playing himself into a huge contract extension in Buffalo -- and more importantly, a playoff berth. Oh, and he also shrieks like a girl:

WR Stevie Johnson
You can't talk about Fitzpatrick's success without mentioning Johnson, who has been the greatest benefactor of his quarterback's newfound comfort zone. Johnson had a breakout season in 2010, going over the 1,000 yard mark with 10 touchdowns, and he's proving that was no fluke. With 24 catches for 314 yards and three touchdowns, he's on track to surpass all of his totals from last season, while averaging the exact same 13.1 yards per reception. The seventh round pick out of Kentucky in '07 fell in the draft due to 4.6 speed, but his 6-2, 210 lbs. frame makes him a tough cover for even a physical corner like Nnamdi Asomugha.

WR David Nelson
The most important player on the Bills' offense you may not have heard of, when Nelson reaches paydirt, his team usually wins. Undrafted out of Florida last year, the 6-5 wideout had an almost immediate impact in Buffalo's offense last season -- but when Fitzpatrick started targeting him in red zone, they went on a little streak. In 15 career games, Nelson has touchdown catches in four games. They've won three of those, and in all the rest, they are a lousy 2-9. Nelson will often work out of the slot, so anticipate Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie drawing the big man in coverage.

TE Scott Chandler
It took five years, but the Iowa product has finally found a home in the NFL. Despite starting his career with the Chargers in '07, Chandler never had a catch until joining the Bills late last season -- and entering 2011, just one for eight yards. However, he's broken out as a red zone threat, scoring four touchdowns thus far, which accounts for over a third of his total receptions. The Eagles have struggled to cover tight ends in the red zone, or anywhere else, as is typical, so if Buffalo finds themselves in scoring position at any point, you can be they'll be looking for number 84.

LT Chris Hairston
The Eagles will catch a bit of a break on Sunday, as starting left tackle Demetrius Bell will not play due to injury. He'll be replaced by Hairston, a 6-6, 332 lbs. fourth-round rookie out of Clemson. We don't know much about the kid, other than it's his first career start at one of the most difficult positions in football, going against a defense tied for first in the NFL with 15 sacks. Likewise, Hairston will catch a break too, with Trent Cole and probably Juqua Parker both out on Sunday, but if the Eagles are going to shut down this potent offense, the key to the game might be bringing pressure to Fitzpatrick's blind side.

Flyers reveal split squad rosters for Monday's preseason opener

Flyers reveal split squad rosters for Monday's preseason opener

The Flyers on Monday night kick off their preseason schedule, with split squad games against the Islanders in Brooklyn and New Jersey Devils in New Jersey.

And Monday night offers the first chance for prospects Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov to impress the Flyers' brass in game competition, as their quest to make the orange and black continues. Both Konecny and Provorov will be with the Flyers' split squad in New Jersey.

Carter Hart and Mark Dekanich will be the goalies with Konecny and Provorov in New Jersey, while Anthony Stolarz and Martin Ouellette will goaltend in Brooklyn.

Travis Sanheim and Sam Morin will be with the split squad team in Brooklyn, along with veteran defenseman Michael Del Zotto.

The Flyers' game in Brooklyn can be streamed on their official website, while the game in New Jersey will be aired on the radio at 97.5 The Fanatic.

Here are the full lineups for Monday's split-squad contest, via the Flyers.

Eagles-Steelers: Roob's 10 observations

Eagles-Steelers: Roob's 10 observations

BOX SCORE

We could probably fill 100 points tonight after this wipeout of the Steelers.

Fifty of them might just be: Wow.

The Eagles on Sunday handed the Steelers' their worst loss in 27 years, walloping everybody's AFC favorite 34-3 and extending their streak to a game and a half without allowing a touchdown (see Instant Replay).

New coach, new quarterback, but you could make an argument the Eagles are the best team in the NFL.

Three games in, the Eagles have won three blowouts. Sunday's was the most impressive (see photo gallery).

1. What Carson Wentz is doing simply defies belief. He isn’t playing at an insanely high level for a rookie, he’s playing at an insanely high level for a quarterback. It’s not about him being a rookie anymore. There’s nothing rookie about him. Wentz has managed to put together one of the finest three-game stretches in Eagles history, not just by a rookie but by any quarterback. And this after missing all of training camp and getting promoted to the starting spot exactly one month ago? It’s scary how good this kid is playing. His ability to recognize and diagnose what a defense is doing is off the charts, and he’s so accurate that as soon as he realizes who’s going to be open, the ball is on the way. He can fire it, he can float it, and he can do it all in mistake-free fashion. That’s what’s most impressive about all of this. Zero turnovers playing in his NFL debut, on a Monday night at Soldier Field and against a hot pick to win the AFC.

2. We all knew this defensive line was talented. But this? This group has played out of its mind so far. In all three games the opposing quarterback really had no chance by the second half. They are simply wearing people out, getting stronger and stronger as the game goes on and taking over in the second half. The Eagles still haven’t allowed a second-half touchdown this year. Look at net passing yards against the Eagles this year:

                                 1H                  2H

Browns                    118                  50

Bears                       145                  75

Steelers                   138                  84

They’ve been OK in the first half, but they are just destroying people in the second half. They have yet to allow 100 net passing yards in a second half. And that’s when teams that are trailing by double digits generally pad their passing stats. Ben Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl winner, and by the second half, the Eagles’ defensive line was just teeing off on him, giving him very little opportunity to get the ball down the field. This has been an astonishing stretch from the entire defense, but the defensive line in particular has been playing at a breathtaking level.

3. There was no announcement in the press box about Ryan Mathews, but we’re assuming his sore ankle, originally injured on opening day, was bothering him. Mathews had minus-five yards on two early carries, then didn’t play the rest of the game. In his place, we saw a real emergence from the Eagles’ two young backs. Rookie Wendell Smallwood ran 17 times for 79 yards and Kenjon Barner was 8 for 42, both career highs. Mathews has looked sluggish running the ball all year, and Darren Sproles – as electrifying as he is in all other facets of the game – really isn’t a runner anymore. Smallwood and Barner both hit the hole decisively and have wheels once they get into open space. Sunday, they combined for 25 carries for 121 yards. Very promising start for both backs.

4. One thing the Eagles did throughout this game was tackle exceptionally well, something that’s been a problem around here for a while. The Steelers, unable to run the ball, and with Roethlisberger under tremendous pressure, tried snap after snap to get the short passing game going, trying to get 1-on-1 matchups and then break tackles for big gains. But time after time, the Eagles swarmed the receiver as soon as he caught the ball, quickly limiting the damage. Fourteen of Roethlisberger’s 24 completions went for six yards or less, and this is a quarterback who is as good as anybody getting the ball down the field.

5. Malcolm Jenkins in particular was exceptional Sunday, both in coverage, stopping the run and tackling in the open field. Jenkins has been playing at such a high level since he got here in 2014 it’s easy to take him for granted. But he’s playing as well right now as any safety we’ve seen here. This is Brian Dawkins-level stuff right now.

6. A few words about Brandon Graham. This guy was so vilified early in his career for not being Earl Thomas, and all he’s done for seven years is work hard in practice, play as hard as he can on gameday, and hope to finally get an opportunity to show that he can play. Graham hasn’t been bad. He had 23½ sacks coming into this year, including 12 the last two years. But he’s been playing his best football ever this year, not just pressuring the quarterback, getting sacks and being around the ball — he’s got a forced fumble and a fumble recovery to go with three sacks this year — but also playing very stout against the run. Graham has played under three head coaches and five defensive coordinators, and he’s finally in a scheme that really suits his strengths. Graham has perservered, he’s overcome a lot, and you might notice nobody ever talks about Earl Thomas around here anymore.

7. As impressive as the offense and defense have been, Doug Pederson has been just dazzling so far. His ability to call a game, to keep defenses off-balance, to establish the pass early and then start pounding the run … all of this is remarkable for a first-time head coach who’s never called plays before. Pederson has guided this team masterfully through a difficult few months, with the starting quarterback disappearing and then getting traded, two players in legal trouble, another player likely to get suspended and several players protesting during the national anthem. And here they are 3-0. Pederson has been astounding.

8. And how about the Eagles’ rush defense. The Steelers managed just 29 yards on 10 carries, and that includes a seven-yard Roethlisberger scramble. Their backs had just 22 yards. Nobody’s been able to run on the Eagles yet, and that makes this defense even scarier.

9. Seeing Cody Parkey miss two field goals for the Browns in their overtime loss to the Dolphins Sunday, including a 31-yarder as time ran out in the fourth quarter, and seeing Caleb Sturgis continue to boot all his attempts through the uprights is a good reminder of how a difficult roster decision has really paid dividends for the Eagles. Maybe it didn’t seem like a tough decision, since Sturgis outplayed Parkey throughout the preseason, but getting rid of a Pro Bowl kicker, who two years ago broke the NFL rookie scoring record, can’t be easy. Sturgis has been solid, making both his field goal attempts Sunday and seven of eight so far this year.

10. A couple quick stats to put this all in perspective:

• The last time the Steelers lost a game by 31 or more points, their quarterback was Bubby Brister. It was 1989 and a 41-10 loss to Boomer Esiason and the Bengals at Riverfront Stadium.

•  Wentz’s 102 pass attempts are the most in NFL history by any quarterback in his first three games. Dak Prescott is at 75 going into the Cowboys’ game Sunday night.

•  Wentz is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 30 or more passes with no interceptions in each of his first three games. Only three others had done it twice.

• The Eagles are the 23rd team in NFL history to open a season with three straight wins by 15 or more points. Of the first 22, 18 went to the playoffs.

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