Breaking down matchups the Eagles could potentially exploit against their upcoming opponent was often an exercise in futility during the Andy Reid era. It didn’t matter whether the Raiders had the 32nd-ranked run defense in the NFL or winds were gusting up to 60 miles per hour in Cincinnati. The Birds were throwing the football.
Chip Kelly on the other hand says he’s all about coaching to the personnel, which you have to think means attacking the opponent’s weaknesses – and in the case of the San Diego Chargers, there appear to be quite a few of them. Below we look at some of the key players in Philadelphia's home opener on Sunday and attempt once again to predict how it will all play out on the field.
Favorable: Trent Cole vs. King Dunlap
Remember last year when Jason Peters went down and everybody condemned the Eagles’ front office for not having quality depth at left tackle? Well, the guy who wound up replacing Peters is a starter in San Diego.
We all know what King Dunlap is. He’s somebody you’re just hoping to get by with at left tackle, preferably for only a game or two – not all season like the Chargers are resigned to doing. Godspeed, Philip Rivers.
Dunlap’s primary assignment will likely be Trent Cole, who looked rejuvenated in the Birds’ Week 1 win over Washington – not lost in the switch to outside linebacker like many people expected. The two-time Pro Bowler registered four tackles (1 TFL), a forced fumble and two hits on the quarterback.
Cole, 30, is coming off of his worst season in the NFL with just three sacks in 2012. He looked like his old self on Monday though, only at a new position. Dunlap and Rivers by extension should be in for a long afternoon at the Linc provided Cole's rebound continues.
Favorable: DeSean Jackson vs. Derek Cox
The Chargers’ best cornerback is Derek Cox, who they acquired from Jacksonville through free agency. So just to be clear, even the Jaguars – the Jaguars! – ultimately didn’t want the top corner now in San Diego.
Defenses could do worse than Cox, but he’s not a guy you can count on to shut down elite wide receivers. The fifth-year veteran was part of a crew that conceded 146 yards off of 12 receptions to Andre Johnson against the Texans in Week 1.
DeSean Jackson may not be Andre Johnson – who by the way is quietly building a Hall of Fame resume in Houston – but DJacc proved he can still be a huge threat against the Redskins. The two-time Pro Bowler caught seven of the nine passes intended for him, going for 104 yards and a 25-yard score.
It’s all downhill from there for the Bolts’ cornerbacks, so whoever is lined up on Jackson, the receiver should have the advantage. San Diego is better suited for stopping the run, and they might place added emphasis in that phase after the Eagles racked up 263 yards on the ground on Monday night. Look for Chip Kelly to exploit the Chargers through the air with Jackson as the go-to target.
Favorable: Brent Celek and Zach Ertz vs. Bront Bird
San Diego used their second-round pick on inside linebacker Manti Te’o in April’s draft, but he’s expected to be out with a foot injury. Standing in for Te’o is this Bront Bird character The Evster is so up in arms over, and aside from having a funny name, he’s not a very good football player. Here’s what John Gennaro of the Chargers blog Bolts From The Blue had to say about the backup’s performance in Week 1:
Hoooooo boy. Want to know why Bront Bird led the Chargers in tackles last night? It's because [Texans head coach] Gary Kubiak's gigantic playsheet had written "Throw/run at Bront Bird" in every box.
Bird is terrible. He was good last year, he was bad in 2011, he obviously does some things well....but he can not be a starter. Not for another game. Not ever.
Bird was beat badly in man coverage by tight ends on two touchdown passes inside the red zone against Houston – one by the respectable Owen Daniels, the other by a relatively anonymous Garrett Graham. Daniels caught another TD earlier in the same game in the area vacated by Bird on play-action.
Quite simply, Bront is a liability in coverage. He doesn’t have the speed or the instinct to keep up with Brent Celek or Zach Ertz, which means one or both of them should have a favorable matchup in the passing attack whenever No. 97 is on the field.
Unfavorable: Brandon Hughes vs. Vincent Brown
Cornerback Bradley Fletcher is out with a concussion, but don’t expect a huge drop-off from his replacement. Brandon Boykin will slide over from his usual position in the slot in two-receiver sets, and if training camp and preseason football are any indication, he’ll do fine on the outside.
The problem that arises is who takes Boykin’s place in nickel packages. Boykin told reporters that he will reprise his role in the slot when San Diego shifts to three receivers, making fourth-year veteran Brandon Hughes the likely candidate to take Fletcher’s place in those situations.
If Chargers head coach Mike McCoy sticks with last week’s lineup, it means Hughes would see a lot of Vincent Brown on the perimeter. A third-round pick in 2011, Brown remains a bit of an unknown for the Bolts. He had some decent outings in his rookie year, but missed all of last season with a broken ankle.
Brown wasn’t much of a factor against the Texans, catching just two passes – although one went for six points. If he and Rivers can get on the same page however, Hughes is a replacement-level player who can be beaten.
When I look at the depth chart for San Diego, I see a team that has far more numerous and glaring holes than the Eagles. Philip Rivers shoulders a lot of the blame for the franchise’s recent downturn, but he doesn’t get much protection in the pocket, nor does he have many weapons with which to work.
Meanwhile, one game in it looks as though it could be awhile before defenses figure out how to slow Chip Kelly’s offense down, and if they sell out to stop the run – or even if they don’t – big plays should be there in the passing game. It will come down to whether or not Mike Vick can hit them the way he was able to in Washington.
Throw in the fact that the Chargers are traveling across the country on a short week, coming off a demoralizing loss in which they blew a 21-point lead at home, and it could be a rough outing for the visitors. I like another convincing victory for the Eagles on Sunday.
Score: Eagles 41, Chargers 23