Key matchups to watch in Eagles-Broncos tilt

Key matchups to watch in Eagles-Broncos tilt

DeSean Jackson vs. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

John Gonzalez had a nice story some days back about these two flashy stars renewing their rivalry. Not only were they going at each other in practice every day over the previous two seasons, they actually have some history on the field.

DeSean Jackson and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie crossed paths twice as rookies in 2008 when DRC was with the Arizona Cardinals. In the Eagles’ Week 13 win, DJacc hauled in six receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown. Then in the NFC Championship, Jackson pulled down six more balls for 92 yards, including a 62-yarder where he beat Cromartie.

DRC seems to be rejuvenated in Denver, and when he’s in the right frame of mind he has the ability to be a top corner. He also still has a propensity for giving up the big play though, as seen last Monday when Raiders WR Denarius Moore shook Rodgers-Cromartie for a huge 73 yard score.

Jackson has looked better so far this season than he has since he made All-Pro in '09, entering Week 4 second only to Atlanta's Julio Jones in receiving yards. The Eagles are going to need big plays to keep up with the Broncos, so expect Michael Vick to look for those big plays down the field.

Lane Johnson vs. Shaun Phillips

The rookie right tackle had the worst game of his young NFL career in Week 3, playing his part in allowing Kansas City’s Justin Houston to rack up 3.5 sacks of Vick. Lane Johnson looks like a strong run blocker already, but veteran pass rushers have been able to give him trouble.

Meanwhile, Denver may be without their best pure rusher in Von Miller (suspension), but the Broncos do have a presence at outside linebacker Shaun Phillips. Phillips notched 2.5 sacks working against Baltimore’s right tackles in Week 1, and is averaging 7.7 sacks over nine seasons in the league. He's not somebody to take lightly.

Phillips is a guy that could give Johnson problems if the rookie is left to handle him one-on-one for much of the contest. Considering we’re talking about Vick’s blind side, the Eagles may want to roll backs and tight ends to the right side to either help with or at least slow down the tackle’s assignment. Otherwise it could be a long day.

Trent Cole/Brandon Graham vs. Chris Clark

At least the Eagles are catching something of a break this week, as Denver as a Mile High injury report. A lot of the key players on the report were game-time decisions, particularly in the secondary, but one absence we can confirm is that of Ryan Clady, left tackle for Peyton Manning.

I watched Clady's replacement Chris Clark a little bit on Monday night against the Raiders, and he looked fine. Then again, Peyton was getting the ball out so quickly, often times it didn’t matter – that’s how a good quarterback can protect his offensive line instead of the other way around (hint hint).

Also, Oakland doesn’t necessarily have any pass rushers as good as Trent Cole or Brandon Graham coming off the edge either. True, Cole has looked a tad lost out there when trying to get after the QB both in the 3-4 this season and going back to last. Graham on the other hand has been very effective in rush situations – according to Pro Football Focus, his score is second on the team only to Fletcher Cox despite the fact that linebacker hasn’t played more than 19 snaps in a game yet.

If the Eagles can get Manning into obvious passing situations, I’d like to see what Graham can do against this Clark at left tackle. They need to throw the kitchen sink at this offense today.

Peyton Manning vs. Earl Wolff

Patrick Chung made the trip to Denver and is a game-time decision, but is listed as doubtful on the injury report. That means in all likelihood rookie Earl Wolff will get the start at safety opposite Nate Allen. I expect Peyton Manning to walk out on to the field with kitchen utensils and wearing a bib.

There is no place where Philly defensive coordinator Bill Davis can hide Wolff that Manning won’t find him. If the fifth-round pick is out of position, that’s where the ball is going. If he takes a bad angle against the Broncos’ fleet of 1,000-yard receivers, they will pop off for big gains. As far as first career starts go, this is not the ideal situation to make one.

Of course, Peyton is in such a zone and the Birds’ defense – especially the safeties – so questionable that I’m not sure he really needs to go out of his way to pick on Wolff. The plays may be there to be made all over the place regardless. That said, keep an eye out for how many balls go in the rookie’s direction, as Manning isn't usually one to let a good matchup go to waste.

Prediction

I really think the Eagles have a shot to win today if only based on some of the circumstances surrounding this encounter, but am much to lame to actually call it myself. I’ll put them down to cover the 11-point spread though, and make the game much closer than a lot of folks believe it has any right to be.

Broncos 41, Eagles 38 in a very entertaining back-and-forth battle.

TicketIQ: Affordable seats available to see Sixers face marquee opponents

TicketIQ: Affordable seats available to see Sixers face marquee opponents

Editor's Note: The following is sponsored content written by TicketIQ.

The improvements have been obvious for the 76ers this season. Just months removed from a franchise-worst 10-72 record, the Sixers have begun to see return on their rebuild with rookie Joel Embiid leading the charge.
 
December will be a big month for the team as it looks to rise in the Eastern Conference. Attending an upcoming game won’t come attached with big ticket prices, either. With several marquee opponents headed to Wells Fargo Center over the next four weeks, including the Lakers, Celtics and Raptors, fans can find relatively inexpensive ticket prices on the resale market all month long.
 
On TicketIQ, a ticket search engine that pools tickets and data from over 90 percent of the resale market, the average resale price for 76ers tickets in December is just $58. That makes December among the cheapest months to see the Sixers this season.

 
With the Lakers in town for a December 16 game, it will be the only 76ers home game this month that commands an average resale price above $100. On TicketIQ, 76ers vs Lakers tickets own a $112 average and the most inexpensive are listed from $27 each. It will be the Lakers’ sole visit to Philadelphia this season.
 
The Celtics will be the Sixers’ second most expensive opponent this month, but their December 3 visit is currently averaging nearly half the price the Lakers are seeing when they’re in town two weeks later. As it stands now the average resale price for tickets against the Celtics is $69 with a get-in price of $13.
 
The Nets, Pelicans and Raptors are all generating similar demand for their respective stops in Philadelphia later this month. With all three teams visiting over a six-day period between December 14 and 20, no game will average over $55 on the secondary market. Tickets start from as low as $7 each to when Anthony Davis and the Pelicans come to town on the 20th.
 
For those fans with interest in attending the most inexpensive games at Wells Fargo Center this month, the struggling Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets will serve as the most affordable opponents to see in action in December. The Magic play the Sixers on Friday night, where last-minute 76ers vs. Magic tickets are averaging $43. Their next home game against the Nuggets have an average resale price of just $35.

Instant Replay: Magic 105, Sixers 88

Instant Replay: Magic 105, Sixers 88

BOX SCORE

One way to try to win a game: Go up by six early in the first quarter and look to build on that lead.

One way to lose a game: Squander that advantage and give up a 16-0 run to the opponent. 

The Sixers' effort to beat the Magic ended almost as quickly as it began. The Magic outscored the Sixers 21-14 in the first and put the game out of reach in the third with a 21-point lead going into the fourth.  

The Sixers fell, 105-88, to the Magic in spite of increased playing time for Joel Embiid (26:56).

Inside the stats
Joel Embiid recorded a double-double with 25 points (10 for 21 from the field) and 10 rebounds, as well as four assists. Jahlil Okafor did the same with 16 points (8 for 10 from the field) and a season-high 13 boards.

Aaron Gordon led the Magic with 20 points (9 for 14 from the field).

Nikola Vucevic also had a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double with five assists off the bench.

The Sixers shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) from the field in the first quarter.

Embiid, Okafor play together
As anticipated, Sixers head coach Brett Brown paired Embiid and Okafor together against bigs Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo. 

They shared the court for 5:29 in the second quarter, during which the Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9. The duo scored all of the Sixers' points during that span and combined for five rebounds. This combination allowed the Sixers to stretch the floor; Embiid made two threes in this spurt. 

Brown gave them another look in the fourth for over seven minutes when the Magic already had put the game away. This time they totaled 12 points and four rebounds, as the Sixers and Magic both scored 19 apiece during this stretch. Toward the end, Okafor was matched up with swingman Jeff Green. 

Injury updates
Robert Covington left the game in the fourth quarter with a left knee sprain after colliding with T.J. McConnell in front of the Sixers' bench chasing for a loose ball.

Jerryd Bayless (left wrist soreness) missed his third straight game. He is questionable for Saturday against the Celtics.

Familiar competition 
Before Embiid and Biyombo faced off in the NBA, they got to know each other before Embiid entered the league. The two bigs became friends in 2014 when they met training in Los Angeles while Embiid was preparing for the draft.

“He’s still the same guy,” Biyombo said. “Nothing’s changed with his goofy personality.” 

Up next
No rest for the Sixers. On Saturday they will host the Celtics for the back end of a back-to-back. Two days later, they play the Nuggets at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday.