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Eagle Eye: Eagles-Chargers predictions
DeSean Jackson, seen here during a game against the Chargers in 2009, caught seven passes for 104 yards and a TD in Week 1. (AP)
Sizing up Sunday's matchup between the Eagles and San Diego Chargers at Lincoln Financial Field.
When Eagles have the ball
Last week, LeSean McCoy feasted off Washington’s nickel defense and took advantage of linemen frequently out of position (see story). The Eagles, who ran for 263 yards, did most of their rushing damage out of three-wide formations that spread the defense and created wide open lanes. Don’t expect another 31 carries for McCoy. If Chip Kelly wants to run upwards of 80 plays, or more possibly, he’ll have to feed more handoffs to Bryce Brown and Chris Polk.
San Diego’s defensive line did a decent job Monday night against Texans running backs, holding the star duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate to a respectable 112 combined yards. Houston’s zone-blocking scheme is similar to the Eagles’ scheme, so the Chargers will see the same kind of lateral movement for the second straight week. Houston also ran frequently out of three-wide formations, but the Chargers’ front six filled gaps and did a nice job slanting to limit the big runs and cutbacks that Foster thrives on. The longest run against them went 14 yards.
Problem for the Chargers is they’ve got some beefy guys on the interior line, including nose tackle Cam Thomas (6-4, 330) and defensive end Corey Liuget (6-2, 300), and a 33-year-old rush linebacker in Dwight Freeney. If the Eagles’ offense functions at the pace it did Monday night, those guys will be sucking wind by the midpoint of the first quarter.
In general, the Chargers are strong and athletic up front. If they keep McCoy from going crazy and tackle well on the outside screens, they’ll have a better chance to slow down Kelly’s tempo and tee off against Michael Vick. Freeney is still an imposing pass rusher. He caused fits for Texans Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown.
Look for Vick to establish an early rhythm with Brent Celek and Jason Avant. The Chargers are still missing second-round inside linebacker Manti Te’o and have nobody better to man the slot than veteran Richard Marshall, so there should be to make across the middle. San Diego struggled against Texans tight end Owen Daniels, who caught two touchdowns.
When the Chargers have the ball
For the second straight week, the Eagles’ run defense will get an early test, especially nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and the inside linebackers. Under new coach Mike McCoy, the Chargers are more run-minded than they were under Norv Turner, whose West Coast offense asked Philip Rivers to make too many plays behind a shoddy offensive line.
McCoy, a branch from the John Fox coaching tree, used Ryan Mathews often on first down against Houston to set up favorable passing downs for Rivers. Mathews, a between-tackles runner, didn’t have an effective night against Houston’s excellent front seven, but he lined up in the slot on the opening drive and caught a 14-yard TD. With wideouts running shorter routes and moving the ball methodically, Rivers looked more comfortable. He threw four TDs against Houston, all four coming inside the red zone.
San Diego’s offensive line problems haven’t gone away. Left tackle King Dunlap looked like a turnstile against Houston’s pass rush and delayed blitzes. Trent Cole, who played very well against the Redskins, should have no problems getting his chances on Rivers. The key is to make sure he wraps him up. There might even be a Brandon Graham or Vinny Curry sighting in the Chargers’ backfield.
Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown aren’t blazers, but Floyd’s size (6-5, 225) presents problems for corners, especially on the deep ball. The Eagles are going with 5-foot-10 corner Brandon Boykin on the outside in place of an injured Bradley Fletcher (concussion), so the Chargers might move Floyd from the left to right side to take advantage of the height difference.
Rivers’ favorite weapon is Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates, who floats around from in-line to spread. He’s potent from anywhere he’s lined up as long as he’s healthy. The Eagles could try to use second-year linebacker Mychael Kendricks against Gates, but Kendricks’ size (6-0) could be an advantage for Gates. DeMeco Ryans isn’t fast enough to keep pace and safety Patrick Chung is an inch smaller than Kendricks. The Eagles may have to take a committee approach on Gates or just hope the pass rush gets to Rivers first.
Two X-factors are slot wideout Eddie Royal and third-down back Danny Woodhead. Royal isn’t big, but he’s lightning-quick across the middle and has a good rapport with Rivers. The two connected twice inside the Houston 10 for TDs. Woodhead is Rivers’ safety valve against the blitz. The former Patriot is quick and shifty and gets extra yards by shaking out of tackles.
Donnie Jones proved to be a major upgrade in the Eagles’ punting game. Four of his six punts were downed inside the Washington 20, three inside the 10. Brandon Boykin didn’t get any kick-return opportunities against the Redskins and probably won’t against the Chargers if he’s playing more than 70 snaps at corner.
San Diego’s journeyman kicker Nick Novak comes off an impressive 2012. He nailed 18 of 20 kicks, including all 18 from inside 50 yards, a 90-percent make clip that marked the third-highest success rate in franchise history. The Chargers weren’t especially dynamic in the return units against Houston. On a kickoff or punt, their best field position was their own 38. On their last four returns, they didn’t start beyond their own 20.
After some down years, Philip Rivers bounced back nicely in the opener. He’s a good quarterback and playing in a system better designed to limit his turnovers and capitalize on his accuracy. The Chargers should present more problems for the Eagles than Washington did, but they’re coming off a heartbreaking loss in which they blew a three-touchdown lead and fell at the buzzer in Mike McCoy’s debut. Factor in that they’re flying across the country for a 1 p.m. Linc opener. That’s too much going against them.
Eagles 26, Chargers 20