What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear Eagles vs. Colts? Do you think about the Eagles being favored by 3 according to Vegas lines? Do you think about Andy Reid having an 11-0 record following a bye week? Do you think that it is still not entirely certain who will start at QB, RB, WR, TE, CB and LB for the Eagles? Do you think that Peyton Manning is 3-0 against the Eagles? Perhaps. I think about the visual of Peyton “Maestro” Manning, orchestrating his symphonic offense with interchangeable and constantly moving parts – resulting in the scoreboard lighting up like a broken pinball machine.
Manning is all about obsessive compulsive control, micromanaging receivers and running backs, reading defenses while readjusting on the fly. He uses timeouts and fake formations in order to read the defense, devise a counter-scheme, communicate with his linemen and receivers and deconstruct the best laid plans of defensive coordinators. The nightmare specter has Manning looming in the shotgun, barking out a few signals, scanning the defense, he turns left then right, and then he barks out a few more signals…& then he scoots up to the line of scrimmage and whispers something to the center, who passes the info down the line to the guards, who pass it along to the tackles. He drops back into the shotgun, then waves frenetically for the tailback to line up as a flanker and for the tight end to line up as an H back. He points at an opposing cornerback, cups his hands to his mouth, and shouts something out to his wide out, who immediately goes in motion… He yells something else seemingly to no one in particular, and with the play clock ticking down, everybody on the entire field shifts into a completely different formation
Peyton Manning – a true living legend who is still writing his epitaph – is simply the best quarterback in the game. Harkening back to days of quarterbacks calling their own plays but this magician doesn’t draw it up in the dirt and tell you to run to the Pontiac. Manning studies photos and game film, identifies formations and schemes live and adjusts with the calculating aplomb of a veteran field general. He is peerless.
“It’s freaking annoying,” Eagles CB Asante Samuel said. “I freaking hate it. But, you know, that’s what makes him one of the best players ever. Some of the young guys look at him, get a little star struck. Yeah, that’s him, now let’s go play ball!”
Samuel is the only member of the Eagles’ secondary that’s faced Manning. He went up against Manning 8 times while with the Patriots, 5 times during the regular season and 3 times in the playoffs. The Patriots won 5 of those 8 games, including 2 of 3 in the postseason. Samuel has one career INT of Manning, which he returned 39 yards for a TD in the 2006 AFC Championship Game – won by the Colts, 38-34.
Manning, by any definition, is one of the best players in NFL history. He’s the league’s only four-time MVP and ranks among the top three QB ever in yards, TD, completion percentage and passer rating. On Sunday, he’ll make his fourth career start against the Eagles when Colts visit Philadelphia for a 4:15 p.m. game. In his first three starts against the Eagles, the Colts are 3-0, winning by an average of 24 points per game.
Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott has his work cut out for him. All he has to do is come up with a plan to neutralize the most effective offensive weapon in the game. McDermott loves to blitz. Peyton Manning eats blitzes alive. To Blitz or Not to Blitz? Do you stick to your guns, send everybody after Manning, risk leaving receivers open down the field and hope that your blitzes will somehow arrive before Manning spots the hot read? Or do you scrap your entire defensive philosophy, drop everybody back into coverage and hope your front four can disrupt Manning enough that he doesn’t have all day to stand in the pocket and tear you apart? Pick your poison. So… the post-game press conference should begin with an easy question such as… “How was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”
Manning has been as good as ever this year. Despite missing Austin Collie, Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai for varying amounts of time, Manning has an NFL-best 101.4 passer rating – 15 TD, 2 INT and 312 yards per game. Plug in anybody in you want, tell them, “Go to this spot, I’ll hit you right between the numbers.” He may be the greatest pure passer in history, but Manning isn’t unbeatable. He’s actually lost 25 games since 2003. (won 94.)
“That’s why he gives defensive coordinators fits and headaches and keeps them up at night,” McDermott said. The answer is somewhere in between Jailbreak Blitz and cover everybody. Neither works. McDermott knows Manning is as good as anybody at turning blitzes into opportunities. Manning’s ridiculously quick release and ability to see the whole field make him dangerous when teams send extra pass rushers. McDermott also understands that he can’t let Manning get too comfortable, and he has to try to affect his timing and rhythm. Good luck with that!
“Man, you know, there’s a fine line,” McDermott said Thursday. “You try to play aggressive. Some teams change a lot when they go in there and see Manning at QB.” Although the Eagles will send some blitzes Manning’s way Sunday they should be careful not to overblitz. McDermott believes the Eagles can get good pressure in many cases just with the defensive line. “We can’t go into the game thinking negatively. We have to go in being confident - which we are.”
The Eagles are fifth in the NFL in sacks (per pass play), with 17 of their 21 sacks coming courtesy of the front four. That leaves four sacks by the linebackers and secondary – one each from Quintin Mikell, Nate Allen, Stewart Bradley and Ernie Sims. Allen is one of three rookies in the Eagles secondary, and with Ellis Hobbs out with a hip injury and Trevard Lindley expected to be in uniform, there’s a chance all three – Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Lindley – could find themselves on the field facing arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Allen said a big part of preparing for somebody like Brett Favre, Brady or Manning is getting beyond the hype and just approaching the guy with the football like any another QB.
“It comes with being a pro and realizing everybody’s human,” Allen said regarding preparation for somebody like Brett Favre, Brady or Manning. “It is Peyton Manning, he’s a Hall of Fame quarterback, but you’ve got a job to do now and you’ve got to go out and play, no matter who he is. It won’t take a series or a number of snaps. You have to go in there and immediately be ready, because you don’t have two snaps to wake up. You have to be on it the whole game. Who he is and what he’s done, you just put it behind you.” The Eagles will be facing Manning with Allen making his 7th NFL start and CB Dimitri Patterson making his first.
Clearly there are questions on the Eagles offense as Michael Vick spent the bye week recovering from injury along with Brent Celek, DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy. Read that again please. Four of the Eagles Top 5 offensive weapons are recovering from injury, missed playing time and reps. Coming into town is a powerful machine of an offense along with a crushing front four on defense. Do the Eagles really want to encourage a shootout? Only if they think they can win one – and they can’t!
The timing of the Colts game is a little scary. The Eagles are coming off one of the worst quarters in franchise history, giving up 27 fourth-quarter points to the Titans in their 37-18 loss before the bye. They’ve allowed an NFL-high 63 fourth-quarter points. If Kerry “Grandma” Collins could light up the Eagles like he did, what can Manning do?
“Start from the beginning, fundamentals,” Samuel said. “We definitely should be a top-five defense right now, but in the fourth quarter we break down. We have to figure it out and fix it.” This defense doesn’t really have a go-to blitzer. Omar Gaither has the most career sacks among non-linemen (five), but he isn’t currently in McDermott’s defensive rotation. Other than Gaither, the Eagles’ leading sackers among linebackers and DB are Mikell (four), Bradley (3) and Joselio Hanson (2½).
Plus, the Colts are rarely hurt by the blitz. Not only is Manning uncanny at getting the ball out quickly and accurately, his offensive line is among the NFL’s best. Manning has been sacked only 7 times in 7 games – averaging once every 44 times he drops back – best in the NFL. Look for McDermott to blitz here and there but not constantly. Maybe not even frequently. It just doesn’t make sense.
Special Teams Rides the Short Bus
It’s been a tough year for special teams coach Bobby April, whose coverage units are ranked 28th in the NFL in punt return average and 21st in kick return average.
“I was hoping and projecting that we would be better than we are right now, that we would make more of a contribution to (the team),” April said. “I think there is improvement. It’s gradual. Small increments.
We have to eliminate the gaffe that comes up on a weekly basis. We played pretty good against Tennessee. We probably played our best game. But we put the ball on the ground (Jorrick Calvin’s fourth-quarter fumble) when we had to secure the ball and give our offense a chance to do something. ”
“Our mission is to enhance the probability of offensive and defensive success. I have faith that we are going to keep moving and as these games get more and more critical we’re going to continue to improve. We’re going to fight to improve. We’re going to be pretty good at the end. We’re going to be pretty good. … I don’t know if we (can be great), but that’s certainly going to be our ambition.” Half the season is gone. Does this mean they’ll be really good just in time to miss the playoffs????
Caldwell on Vick
Colts coach Jim Caldwell said preparing for Eagles QB Michael Vick is a “unique challenge.” Vick’s start against the Colts Sunday will be his first in more than a month, since he hurt his ribs in the Oct. 3 loss to the Redskins.
“He is a totally different entity than anybody we’ve seen play the position at this point,” Caldwell said. “There are quarterbacks that can run. He can extend plays. He does it with power. You hit him, he bounces off of you. He’s a big guy. In this particular case, Michael Vick can extend plays, but he does it with speed and not only that, he can hurt you down the field.
“Once he gets out in the open field, he’s a handful, difficult to handle. So, yes, preparation for him is a lot different than anybody we’ve faced.”
MASH REPORT: injuries
Offensive tackle King Dunlap (hyperextended knee) and CB Ellis Hobbs (hip flexor strain) both sat out Thursday’s practice, which was held indoors because of rain and wet field conditions. Dunlap was out on the field but didn’t participate. Neither is expected to play against the Colts Sunday. The Eagles added DE Juqua Parker to the injury list with a hip injury, but Parker was a full participant. Brodrick Bunkley (elbow), Nick Cole (knee), Brandon Graham (ankle), DeSean Jackson (concussion), Jason Peters (knee) and Vick (rib) were also full participants.
SIMS FINED $50,000 FOR HIT
Ernie Sims has no plans to change the way he plays football.
“People know me by now,” Sims said. “I’ve been playing this way a long time. Just throwing myself around and trying to hit as hard as I can. That’s just the type of player I am. Aggressive. I like hitting. It’s fun to me. That’s just the way I play football.” And the way he’ll continue to play football.
Sims, the Eagles’ starting weak-side linebacker, spoke Thursday for the first time since learning Wednesday evening he had been fined $50,000 for a hit on receiver Lavelle Hawkins during the Eagles’ 37-19 loss to the Titans in Nashville on Oct. 24.
“I’m not going to sacrifice my technique and my effort and my tenacity on the football field for being fined like that,” he said. “I’m just going to stay true to what I always say – go out there and play football. I really, really hate the fact that I got fined $50,000. I don’t care how much money you make, that’s a ton of money, money I worked hard for my whole life. Just for anybody to take it away from me for something that I do on the field, I just think it’s crazy. But this is the league that I play in and I’ve got to respect that, so I’m just going to go out there and keep playing football.”
Colts are 5-2, Eagles are 4-3. Colts offense vs. Eagles defense is key to this game. Also Colts pass rush vs. Eagles offensive line could have Vick running for his life. However, Colts played Monday night and Eagles are coming off a bye. Eagles have home field advantage and the 12th Man noise level could limit Manning’s ability to audible at the line of scrimmage. Weather will be colder with a 4:15 start and Indy is a “dome” team but what it really comes down to is ball control. If the Eagles can successfully run the ball, eat up the clock and keep the ball out of Manning’s hands, they can limit the damage of the Colts aerial assault. Should be one helluva fun game to watch.
PREDICTION: COLTS 35, EAGLES 23
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