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.


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.

Best of NBA: Dwyane Wade hits dagger 3-pointer in Bulls debut

Best of NBA: Dwyane Wade hits dagger 3-pointer in Bulls debut

CHICAGO -- Dwyane Wade scored 22 points in a triumphant Chicago debut, Jimmy Butler had 24 and the Bulls won their season opener, beating the Boston Celtics 105-99 on Thursday night.

Wade nailed a 3 from the corner in the final minute to make it a five-point game. Taj Gibson added 18 points and 10 rebounds, and the new-look Bulls got off to a winning start after missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008.

Isaiah Thomas led Boston with 25 points. Avery Bradley had 16, and Jae Crowder 14 points, but the Celtics came up short after opening with a win over Brooklyn the previous night.

The Bulls remade their roster in the offseason, jettisoning one hometown superstar and welcoming another when they traded Derrick Rose to New York and signed Wade to a two-year deal worth about $47 million in a move that stunned Miami.

The three-time NBA champion and 12-time All-Star is off to a good start with the Bulls after 13 seasons with the Heat.

Wade hit 4 of 6 3-pointers in this game after making just seven all of last season (see full recap).

New-look Hawks roll past Wizards
ATLANTA -- Dwight Howard dominated the boards in his Atlanta debut, Paul Millsap scored 28 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. ignited the new-look Hawks to a 114-99 victory over the Washington Wizards in their season opener Thursday night.

Howard grabbed 19 rebounds to go along with 11 points, just what the Hawks expected from their new center, and it certainly wasn't unusual for three-time All-Star Millsap to lead the way in scoring.

But Hardaway's performance was totally unexpected given the way he struggled in his first season with the Hawks, when he was largely confined to the bench and even forced to spend time in the D-League.

He scored 21 points, matching his high in an Atlanta uniform, and broke open a close game with back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth. The Hawks, who led only 81-80 heading to the final period, outscored the Wizards 33-19 over the final 12 minutes (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Canadiens rally past Lightning for 6th straight win

Best of NHL: Canadiens rally past Lightning for 6th straight win

MONTREAL -- Max Pacioretty scored the tiebreaking goal in Montreal's three-goal third period as the Canadiens beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 Thursday night for their sixth straight win.

Alex Galchenyuk and Torrey Mitchell also scored to help Montreal improve to 7-0-1. Carey Price made 29 saves to win for the fourth time in four starts this season.

Alex Killorn scored the lone goal for the Lightning, who lost against an Eastern-Conference opponent for the first time this season. Ben Bishop stopped 23 shots.

With the scored tied 1-1, Pacioretty got the go-ahead goal at 10:23 by beating Bishop glove-side. Blown coverage by the Lightning left the Canadiens' captain all alone on the edge of the face-off circle, and Bishop couldn't see the shot with Andrew Shaw posted firmly in front of goal.

Montreal remains the only NHL team still undefeated in regulation (see full recap).

Crosby's late goal gives Penguins win over Islanders
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby scored the tiebreaking goal late in the third period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night.

Patric Hornqvist, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel also scored -- each getting his third of the season -- to help the Penguins win for the third time in four games and improve to 5-0-1 at home.

Crosby, playing for the second straight game after missing the first six with a concussion, scored with 2:25 left as he caught a pass from Scott Wilson at the top of the crease and quickly turned to his forehand to put the puck behind Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak.

Kessel added a power-play goal to cap the scoring 32 seconds later.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 35 shots while starting for the eighth straight game.

Travis Hamonic and Shane Prince scored for the Islanders, and Halak finished with 31 saves (see full recap).

Streaking Red Wings win marathon shootout vs. Blues
ST. LOUIS -- Henrik Zetterberg scored in the eighth round of a shootout to give the Detroit Red Wings a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Zetterberg's goal gave the Red Wings a six-game winning streak.

In the shootout, St. Louis' first shooter, Alexander Steen, scored but then Vladimir Tarasenko, Kevin Shattenkirk, David Perron, Nail Yakupoc, Robby Fabbri, Patrick Burgland and Dmitrjij Jaskin all came up short.

Gustav Nyquist scored on Detroit's second attempt but Frans Nielsen, Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheehan and Darren Helm all missed.

St. Louis had the better chances in overtime. Center Jaden Schwartz missed a wide-open net early in the extra session. Jori Lehtera was stopped on a breakaway midway through the period by Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek (see full recap).