Key matchups to watch in Eagles-Broncos tilt

Key matchups to watch in Eagles-Broncos tilt
September 29, 2013, 1:00 pm

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.

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