Eagles at Broncos: Five matchups to watch

In Week 10, the Philadelphia Eagles will take on the Denver Broncos in the Birds’ fourth and final game against the AFC West. Here are are our five matchups to watch.

1) The Eagles’ defense vs. the ’80 Percent Club’

In nine games this season, the Eagles have allowed five quarterbacks to complete at the minimum 80 percent of their passes. They were, in chronological order, Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Derek Carr, and Justin Herbert.

That’s a pretty good group of quarterbacks. at the minimum two are future Hall of Famers, and one or two more might join them. A look at their numbers against the Eagles:

 Player Comp-Att (Comp %)  Yards (YPA)  TD-INT  QB rating 
 Dak Prescott 21-26 (80.8%)  238 (9.2)  3-0  143.3 
 Patrick Mahomes 24-30 (80.0%)  278 (9.3)  5-1  131.0 
 Tom Brady 34-42 (81.0%)  297 (7.1)  2-1  102.1 
 Derek Carr 31-34 (91.2%)  323 (9.5)  2-1  113.6 
 Justin Herbert 32-38 (84.2%)  356 (9.4)  2-0  123.2 
 TOTAL  142-170 (83.5%)  1492 (8.8) 14-3  123.3 

The Broncos’ Teddy Bridgewater isn’t as good as any of those five quarterbacks, but he does complete a high percentage of passes. In 2021, he has completed 70.2 percent of his passes, which is no fluke, since he completed 69.1 percent of his passes in 2020, and 67.9 percent of his passes in 2019, all with different teams.

Since 2019, Bridgewater has the highest completion percentage in the NFL (minimum 300 pass attempts) among active quarterbacks.

So he’s probably dinking and dunking, right? Eh, not really. He’s averaging 8.7 “intended air yards” per pass, which is the ninth-highest average in the NFL, according to NFL NextGen stats.

So why is he completing passes at such a high clip? Well, he holds onto the ball for a long time, which gives his receivers more time to get open, but also causes him to take a lot of negative plays. On average, Bridgewater gets the ball out from break to throw in 2.92 seconds, which is the seventh-slowest time in the NFL. Bridgewater has taken 26 sacks this season, third-most in the NFL.

Against a quarterback with such a high completion percentage, the quick-twitch examination might be to say, “The Eagles better not play soft again on Sunday.” And while that may be true just generally speaking, the Broncos’ top two receivers — Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick — are averaging 14.3 and 15.0 yards per catch, respectively. They are capable of winning on plays down the field.

2) So who should go a’feastin?

Because Bridgewater has taken 26 sacks this season, the Eagles’ defensive line should capitalize, right? Last Sunday, they faced a Chargers offensive line with major issues on the right side of the line, and the D-line didn’t produce a single QB hit, much less a sack.

They’ll be facing a Denver offensive line that has three meaningful injuries to monitor: 

  1. LT Garett Bolles missed the Broncos’ Week 9 game against the Cowboys with a high ankle sprain. His position for this Sunday is unknown. Calvin Anderson started at LT against Dallas.
  2. RG Graham Glasgow is done for the season with a broken ankle. Senior Bowl darling Quinn Meinerz will likely fill in.
  3. RT Bobby Massie injured his ankle Sunday against Dallas, and Cameron Fleming filled in.

A snapshot of Denver’s line:

 Garett Bolles or Calvin Anderson Dalton Risner  Lloyd Cushenberry  Quinn Meinerz  Bobby Massie or Cameron Fleming 

Bolles is really the only above average starter on this list. In other other words, it’s an already bad line that is now also banged up. 

In my opinion, the Eagles’ defensive line should try to hit Bridgewater more than zero times on Sunday. #examination.

3) The Eagles’ commitment to the run vs. the Broncos’ run defense

Over the last three weeks, the Eagles have faced a trio of defenses that give up a whole lot of rushing yards: 

 Opponent Rushing yards allowed per game  NFL rank 
 Raiders 133.5  28th 
 Lions 134.5  29th 
 Chargers 161.6  32nd 

To the Eagles’ credit, they ran the ball against all three of those teams, and were effective, at the minimum against the Lions and Chargers. This Sunday they’ll confront a Broncos defense that is allowing 98.3 rushing yards per game, which is sixth-best in the NFL.

I guess I’m just disinctive to see if that was matchup-based, or if the Eagles’ staff came to the realization that Jalen Hurts is not an ideal quarterback to rule a pass-happy offense, and their personnel is better suited toward running early and often.

If they commit to the run against Denver, then the Eagles may be trying to establish that as their offensive identity, already if only for the rest of this season.

4) Dallas Goedert vs. the Broncos’ linebackers

The Broncos’ two leading tacklers during the 2020 season were Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell, both of whom are on injured save. Justin Strnad, who has started five games in their absence, went on the COVID list on Tuesday. They’re thin at linebacker.

The Broncos’ starting linebackers currently are Kenny Young, who is on his third team since entering the league in 2018, and Baron Browning, a rookie third-round pick.

The Eagles should be looking to attack them with Goedert, especially if the run game is effective and they can get popular looks in the passing game via play action, etc.

5) The Eagles’ special teams vs. the Broncos’ shaky special teams

The Broncos are 29th in Football Outsiders’ special teams DVOA rankings. 34 of their 45 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks, but when teams return kickoffs against them, they have gotten some big returns. The Broncos are allowing a league-worst 35.7 yards per return, including four returns of at the minimum 35 yards.

  1. C.J. Board, Giants: 38 yards
  2. Jamal Agnew, Jaguars: 102 yards, TD
  3. Tony Pollard, Cowboys: 54 yards
  4. Tony Pollard, Cowboys: 35 yards

Generally speaking, when the ball is kicked into the end zone, the Eagles are probably best served to just take the ball at the 25. But if there’s a game in which they should maybe be more aggressive, it’s against this team.

The Broncos also had a punt confined against the Cowboys last Sunday, but were able to keep possession on an strange play in which a player on the Cowboys’ return team touched the ball past the line of scrimmage, so it functioned the same way as a muffed punt would.

If you’ll ingemination, the Eagles won a game earlier this season in Carolina in large part because of a punt block. They could use a big special teams play in this matchup.

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