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How close to perfect does Vick need to play for the Eagles to win?
In three games this season, Michael Vick has thrown for 832 yards and five touchdowns. (AP)
Sizing up the Eagles' offense vs. the Broncos' defense ahead of Sunday's showdown in Denver ... (and here's Eagles' defense vs. Broncos' offense)
Inconsistency is an issue for the Eagles’ offense, and that can’t be a problem Sunday in Denver. They need to match the Peyton Manning-Broncos point for point, so the entire offense needs to click for 60 minutes.
That hasn’t happened yet. The dynamic unit that scored four touchdowns in the first 31 minutes of the season has scored just five TDs in the 149 minutes since.
In each of their three games, the Eagles have amassed more than 400 yards of total offense thanks to Chip Kelly’s spread formations and up-tempo offense. But they haven’t consistently punched the ball into the end zone since the first half of the season opener against the Redskins (who, by the way, have the NFL’s 32nd-ranked total defense).
The problems are familiar: third-down inconsistency, turnovers and protection problems.
Against the Chargers, the Eagles converted just five third downs and committed nine penalties. Against the Chiefs, they managed just three third-down conversions and turned the ball over five times.
Denver’s defense isn’t as imposing as Kansas City’s, but Broncos coordinator Jack Del Rio is one of the league’s brightest minds and routinely churns out defenses that play aggressively up front and maintain discipline.
The Broncos have the league’s top-ranked rushing defense (43.3 yards per game) mainly because opponents get behind quickly and resort to passing, but they also have three athletic, downhill linebackers led by strong-side ‘backer Nate Irving.
Denver likes to position Irving at the line of scrimmage to create a five-man line, one reason the Broncos are holding opponents to just 2.3 yards per carry. The Broncos are stout inside with twin 330-pound tackles Kevin Vickerson and Terrance Knighton, the former Temple standout. For guys that size, these two run extraordinarily well and have been nightmares for guards and centers.
The Eagles will get Irving and one of those mammoth DTs off the field by operating out of their “11 personnel” (three wideouts, one tight end), which forces teams to get into nickel (five DBs, two LBs) from the start. The no-huddle prevents opponents from subbing in bigger bodies and fresher personnel.
So expect McCoy, the NFL’s rushing leader by a mile, to keep piling up yards. But the Eagles won’t be able to keep pace with Manning if they can’t throw the ball, and that’s where they struggled against Kansas City.
For Michael Vick to rediscover his touch, he needs better protection up front. Jason Peters is dealing with a finger dislocation that prevents him from grabbing edge rushers by the shoulder, his bread-and-butter maneuver. He really struggled against Chiefs outside linebacker Tambi Hali. Right tackle Lane Johnson is going through rookie growing pains and right guard Todd Herremans just doesn’t look like the same guy.
Right now, the Eagles should be thankful that an agent’s clerical error led to Elvis Dumervil's becoming a free agent and signing with the Ravens and for the six-game suspension Von Miller is serving for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Those two combined for 29.5 sacks last year.
This year, Denver’s pass rush is anchored by Robert Ayers, who has three sacks, and veteran Shaun Phillips, who came over after some very productive seasons in San Diego and has 2.5 sacks. The Broncos use every opportunity to get Ayers, Phillips and defensive tackle Derek Wolfe on the field at the same time. Del Rio isn’t crazy with blitzes, but his linemen twist and stunt frequently, using any possible technique to get offensive linemen out of their rhythm.
The Chiefs succeeded against the Eagles by playing man coverage against DeSean Jackson and getting their pass rush on top of Vick before he could look downfield. They proved that you can beat the Eagles without stopping McCoy, who rushed for 158 yards and averaged 7.1 yards per carry.
Denver is another heavy man-press team and will guard Jackson with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a familiar face. DRC, who flamed out in his two seasons with the Eagles, has great speed and size for the position. He’s also flaky and can make several mistakes if the offense can successfully pick on him.
If the Broncos get 12-time Pro Bowl corner Champ Bailey back from a foot injury that sidelined him for the first three games they’ll be even tougher to move the ball against. They also seem to have struck gold in third-round rookie corner Kayvon Webster, an excellent cover corner and instrumental part of their sub packages.
Denver’s coverage will make it tough for Vick to find open receivers, unless he’s well protected. If Denver’s pass rush gets to Vick, it’ll be a long day for the Eagles.