Does anyone really have a clue what is happening with the Philadelphia Eagles? They lose when they should win, they win when they should lose. Their offensive line leaks live a sieve and then plays a solid game with patchwork players. Their defense is suspect one week and then devastating the following week. Heading into Week 7 of the NFL season, there is no way to tell whether the Eagles are even a good team playing over their heads or a bad team who occasionally tends to get lucky against inferior competition. The term “Any Given Sunday” has never seemed more appropriate.
Kevin Kolb was NFC Offensive Player of the Week after his strong performance against Atlanta. In two starts since replacing the injured Mike Vick, Kolb has completed 73 percent of his passes and compiled a 118.7 efficiency rating. He gets the ball again Sunday as Vick (ribs) continues to mend and the Eagles take on the Tennessee Titans. What happens after Sunday is anyone’s guess – unless you’re Andy Reid. The Eagles have a bye the following week, so presumably Vick will be healthy enough to practice with the first team and then start against Indianapolis on Nov. 7. Andy Reid is on record saying Vick will return to the lineup as soon as he is cleared to play but he also assured us Kolb was his quarterback a month ago, so who knows?
Tennessee has a tough defense although you wouldn’t know it by the stats. The Titans rank 16th overall (8th against the run, 23rd against the pass) but that’s deceiving. They are very good in the areas that win games: sacks, red zone defense, third down efficiency and takeaways. The Titans have 24 sacks led by ex-Eagle Jason Babin who has 6. Tennessee has been best at stopping teams in the red zone, allowing just 6 TD on 26 red zone possessions. They are second on third down, allowing opponents to convert just 24 of 83 third downs (28 percent). They are also second in NFL in takeaways with 14 (10 INT, four fumble recoveries). So the Eagles have to be very careful with the football and take advantage of their scoring opportunities – areas of success so far. They have turned the ball over just 5 times (third best in the NFL) and they are 7th in red zone offense, scoring 10 TD on 16 opportunities. Kolb has just 2 INT in 105 pass attempts.
Playing without DeSean Jackson (concussion) will be a challenge. Not only will Philadelphia’s offense miss his big plays averages 20.8 YPC), but they will miss the space he creates. When Jackson is doubled, he creates one-on-one matchups for Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek and Jason Avant. With Jackson out of the mix, Titans coach Jeff Fisher will have a lot more flexibility in how he plays his secondary to attack the remaining weapons – and the quarterback.
Maclin stepped up big (seven catches, 159 yards, 2 TD) when Jackson went down last Sunday. He will have to do the same this week. Avant will assume Jackson’s spot and Chad Hall will inherit Avant’s slot role. Riley Cooper should be back from his concussion so he will play some snaps as well. I still look for Celek to slip underneath the Titans zone coverage and open up opportunities for Maclin to break loose. If not Maclin, Avant or Cooper could have a big day.
Even without Jackson, Reid probably will throw the ball more than run it (shocking of course to any Eagles fan). Titans are stout against the run and Eagles do not offer a strong power running game (they did do well running the clock down against Atlanta and do now feature ). Teams have success completing passes against Tennessee (65 percent), but the Titans do a good job of getting pressure on the QB with just four rushers leaving 7 men in zone coverage. That makes for tight windows and accounts for the high number of INT. Safety Michael Griffin leads with three.
King Dunlap will make his second start at left tackle. He played well last week against Atlanta’s John Abraham. Left guard Todd Herremans and center Mike McGlynn have formed a solid team in the middle.
Listening to Eagles Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg describe Tennessee’s defense, you would have thought he was talking about the unit his offense faces every day in practice. From a distance, the Titans (4-2) are very similar to the Eagles (4-2).
“Another slightly undersized, disruptive, fast, quick, physical, defense,” Mornhinweg said. “They have some excellent cover men and outstanding linebackers. They have seven, even eight, pass rushers that do a heck of a job. They roll them in there and try to keep them fresh.”
Eagles Overall vs. Titans:
Slightly undersized … check. Disruptive … check.
Fast … check. Quick … check.
Excellent cover men … check.
Seven or eight pass rushers that shuffle in and out of the game … check.
Outstanding linebackers … OK…well… Six of seven isn’t too bad.
On the surface, there are a lot of similarities between the two defenses. Which is exactly what makes the cases of linebacker Will Witherspoon and defensive end Jason Babin so perplexing. Witherspoon and Babin were little more than serviceable in their roles last season with the Eagles. They have excelled the first six weeks with the Titans. Babin, whom the Eagles let walk this offseason after declining to match the Titans’ offer, leads Tennessee with six sacks. That’s more than any Eagle, including Pro Bowler Trent Cole (five). Witherspoon, who had his only sack in his first game after being traded mid-season to the Eagles, has taken down the opposing quarterback three times this year. The Birds’ entire linebacking corps has two sacks.
“[Babin] and [Witherspoon] fit perfect in that defense and what they’re asking them to do,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “And I’m happy for both of them. I think they’re both great guys and very good football players.”
Vince Young sprained his knee and ankle in Monday night’s win over Jacksonville and he limped around all week. Kerry Collins practiced with the first unit, but Jeff Fisher has not ruled out starting Young against the Eagles. It is VERY likely that Kerry Collins will start as Young’s biggest threat is his mobility. Collins is an experienced, capable pocket passer but the Eagles pass rushers will attempt to tee off on the immobile grizzled veteran. In essence, an immobile Young is no better than 37-year-old, Collins. Legs of Stone is still an effective pocket passer. He has completed 28 of 41 attempts (68 percent) this year.
No matter which QB starts, his primary job will be handing off to All-World RB Chris Johnson, who is second in the league with 596 yards rushing, a 4.3 average, and tops all running backs with 7 TD. Last season, “The Blur” rolled up 2,509 yards in total offense, an NFL record, and finished the year with 11 consecutive 100-yard games. The 5-11, 200-pound Johnson is a speed back, but he is not afraid to run inside. He has deceptive power and will run through arm tackles and punish defenders who take a bad angle. He is also patient and will let a hole develop then hit it with a burst. Last season, he had three scoring runs of 85 yards or longer.
The Eagles run defense ranks 22nd in the league, but seems to be improving. The Eagles held the 49ers’ Frank Gore and Atlanta’s Michael Turner to a combined 97 yards on 33 rushing attempts – less than three yards a crack. Johnson, however, is more explosive than either Gore or Turner. A team can shut him down for a quarter or a half, but one missed assignment or one missed tackle and he can take it to the house.
The Eagles front seven has played better with Antonio Dixon starting at tackle in place of Brodrick Bunkley. The 6-3, 325-pound Dixon does a good job taking on double teams and forcing ball carriers to redirect. Against Atlanta, his ability to hold the point against two blockers allowed Trent Cole to make plays from the backside and helped middle linebacker Stewart Bradley flow to the ball unimpeded. Cole finished with nine tackles, Bradley with a dozen.
The Titans have a “Give Everybody Some” passing attack. WRs Nate Washington and Kenny Britt and TE Bo Scaife each have 16 receptions. Chris Johnson has 15. Britt, the former Rutgers star, leads the team with four receiving TD and at 6-3, 215-pounds, he has the size to give the Eagles smallish secondary problems, especially in the red zone. The Titans did not re-sign veteran center Kevin Mawae, but they have good depth across the line. Fernando Velascdo (center) and Ryan Durand (guard) have stepped up and played well.
David Akers missed 3 FG attempts last week, but the Eagles won. They need him to be better than that this week because this figures to be a close game. Tennessee kicker Rob Bironas is very good – notching 11 of 12 FG this season and 5 of 6 on attempts beyond 50 yards last season.
Sav Rocca (46.8 average) gives the Eagles an edge in punting over Brett Kern (43.5).
Jorrick Calvin will replace Jackson on punt returns and may handle kickoffs as well. Rookie Marc Mariani does both for the Titans. He ranks ninth with a 10.3 yard average on punt returns and he has a 28.0 yard average on kickoff returns, including a 98-yard touchdown.
Players to Watch:
Eagles RB LeSean McCoy has rushed for 429 yards and 5 TD on 89 carries this season – 4.8-YPC average; Kolb has passed for 804 yards and 5 TD while Vick has passed for 799 yards and 6 TD. They are the No. 2- and No. 1-rated passers in the NFC, respectively; Eagles Jeremy Maclin has 25 receptions for 416 yards and 6 TD; Vince Young is the AFC’s fourth-rated passer with a rating of 98.8, and has completed 62 of 101 passes for 745 yards and 7 TD with 2 INT; Titans RB Chris Johnson is the NFL’s second-leading rusher with 596 yards, 7 TD and a 4.3-YPC average; Tennessee defensive end Jason Babin is tied for the AFC lead with six sacks.
This looks like a tight, low-scoring game. With Jackson out, give a slight edge to Tennessee.
Titans 20, Eagles 16.
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org