Key Mismatches Favor the Eagles in Week 2 Versus the Chargers

Key Mismatches Favor the Eagles in Week 2 Versus the Chargers

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.

Prediction

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

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

The Eagles are 3-0. They’re alone atop the NFC East and have been the biggest surprise of the young NFL season.

Doug Pederson’s message to his team: You haven’t done anything yet.

Although the Eagles are riding high, Pederson doesn’t want his team to change its outlook or hard work. That’s what teams have to worry about once they’ve found some success.

“The biggest thing is complacency,” Pederson said Monday. “You think you've arrived. You think you are all that. When that creeps in, that's when you get beat. It's my job not to let that creep in. I've got to keep the guys focused and grounded. I told them this week they're going to travel and go home and people are going to pat them on the back and say how great they are.

“But next Monday, I'm going to tell them, ‘Hey, we're back to work. We're 0-0. This is Game 1 and let's go.’ That's just the way it has to be. You are building for one ultimate goal and that's a few weeks down the road. That's what you are trying to get to. But you can't get there unless you take care of the next opponent. It's my job to keep them focused that way.”

Being 3-0 (they’re one of five 3-0 teams) gives the Eagles a head start, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee them a playoff spot. This is the ninth 3-0 start in franchise history. They’ve made the playoffs just five times in the previous eight. And they recently missed the playoffs after starting 3-0 in 2014 under Chip Kelly.

In NFL history (before this season), there have been 276 teams to start with 3-0 records. Of them, 200 (72.3 percent) have made the playoffs.

“We just have to approach it the same, one day at a time,” Pederson said. “That's the way this business goes. You are on top of the world one minute, and you can be at the bottom of the heap the next. Just got to keep things even-keeled and can't get too high, can't get too low. Approach it the same. Like I mentioned earlier, you can't substitute for hard work. That pays off on Sundays. We just have to stay the course. Again, a lot of football left.”

While the Week 4 bye comes pretty early, the Eagles have a couple key players who will use the time to get healthy. And Connor Barwin pointed out that the bye is coming about closer to the halfway point between when the team started its tough training camp and the end of the season.

Pederson told his players to use the week to get away from football and free their minds. Meanwhile, Pederson and his coaches will use the extra time to self-scout and prepare for the final 13 games of the regular season.

With a first-year head coach and a rookie quarterback who was thrust into action a week before the opener, expectations outside (and perhaps inside) the building were tempered.

The Eagles aren’t an underdog anymore.

“We kind of enjoyed flying under the radar, but obviously a win like this against a team like the Steelers will open some eyes around the league,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “For us, nothing different. We’ll keep our preparation the same. We’ll stick our heads down and focus on the work day to day and understand what’s gotten us to 3-0.”

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Ivan Provorov displays durability, versatility in Flyers' preseason loss

Ivan Provorov displays durability, versatility in Flyers' preseason loss

BOX SCORE

NEWARK, N.J. — How much of a horse is Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov?

Well, consider this:

The 19-year-old logged a game-high 28:48 of ice time Monday night during the Flyers' 2-0 split-squad loss to the Devils in which he also quarterbacked the first-unit power play (8:03) and had the most penalty kill time (3:58) (see story).

“I thought I played well,” Provorov said. “It took me a few shifts to get into the game. I competed as hard as I could.”

He said he was used to playing more than 25 minutes in Brandon (WHL), anyway.

“Of course, this is a better league, high pace and it will take a few games to adjust,” Provorov said.

Because the Flyers have yet to work on power play, the results aren’t there. They were 0 for 7 in the game.

“We haven’t done anything on the ice, but have done some video on the PK on the board but nothing on the power play,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s other priorities now with so many players (64) in camp.”

Provorov worked both points on the power play and had just one official shot in the game.

“We didn’t get to do much power play [in camp],” he said. “It will get better as the preseason goes on.”

Rookie forward Travis Konecny worked the low slot on the top power play. He logged 18:34 of ice time, including 6:01 PP time. Konecny had two shots in the game.

He was on Andy Miele’s line with Scott Laughton. Konency had the only shots on his line.

Hakstol said Konecny and Provorov each “settled in” as the game went on. Hakstol isn’t sure if one or both will play Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center against the Islanders.

Konecny’s body language in camp exudes confidence unlike a year ago when he was skittish in his first-ever Flyers training camp. Now he sits back, takes it all in and has that look on his face of been there, done that.

In fact, he was trying to calm down some of his buddies, Anthony Salinitri and Connor Bunnaman, who were seeing the lights before the game.

“Me and [Ivan] Provorov were just talking,” he said. “We feel a lot more comfortable this year.

“I’ve been in this position here. I have my guys Salinitri and Bunnaman, we all hang out together and it’s their first year.

“They’re excited for their first preseason game just like I was last year, but I’m not thinking, ‘Wow, it’s an NHL arena.’ I’m thinking about the game and getting ready to play.”

Konecny was impressive last fall as an 18-year-old and Hakstol said he takes everything into account with more emphasis on the now than the past.

“Your body of work includes your season last year,” Hakstol  said. “Includes everything. The most important information is what you do right now. No question in my mind. I take everything into account.”

Take this into account: Alex Lyon is going to be a contender with Anthony Stolarz for the starting job in goal with the Phantoms this season. He was outstanding with 28 saves on 29 shots.

“They spent some time in our zone and had their big guns out there,” Lyon said of being under siege for two-thirds of the game. “They had a few shots but we did a good job keeping them to the outside. No super grade A opportunities.”

Lyon stopped two breakaways by Beau Bennett, one within three minutes of play.

“I felt like a newborn deer and could barely stand up,” quipped the former Yale goalie. “I was so nervous. It felt good to stop the first one.”