This is a very good matchup for the Eagles; they should win this game.
I’d have said that (and did) before last week, so now I’m even more confident. I’ve seen a few articles and commentators talking about the danger of being "overconfident", and it’s a valid concern. However, the Chargers just do not match up very well with the Eagles. Outside of one specific vulnerability, which I’ll get to in a minute, I’m not seeing a lot to be concerned about.
- The Chargers run game isn’t very good. Last year, the team ranked 28th in the league according to Football Outsiders’ rushing DVOA stat. Ryan Mathews, the Chargers’ #1 RB, averaged just 58.9 rushing yards per game in 2012. It’s always tricky when comparing a team’s performance year-over-year, so these stats should be taken with a grain of salt. The team does have 3 new starters on the O-Line (though one is King Dunlap). The point, however, is that San Diego doesn’t have anywhere near the rushing attack the Redskins do. As a result, we should see the Eagles focusing mainly on pass defense, at least until the Chargers prove they can threaten with the run. Last week, Ryan Matthews had just 13 carries, and I don’t see any reason to believe he’ll be a larger focus this week.
- The Chargers passing game is just OK. Similar caveats apply (year-over-year comparison, roster changes, etc…), but Football Outsiders had the 2012 Chargers ranked 16th overall in Passing DVOA. Philip Rivers is obviously the key here. He’s a very good QB. It seems like people are down on him, but look at his stat line from last season:
Now he only threw for 225 yards per game, but if the Eagles are going to lose, it’s going to be because Philip Rivers beat them (or they beat themselves).
- The Biggest Vulnerability for the Eagles. The shallowest position on the Eagles team is CB. Bradley Fletcher, a starter, will not play. That’s a problem. Brandon Boykin will start in Fletcher’s place, and I’m confident he can fill in adequately. However, behind Boykin and Williams, the Eagles don’t have anyone I trust. Further, if Boykin or Williams goes down with an injury, we could see some fireworks (not good ones). That brings me to…
- The Key to the Game (the only one). As I just explained, the Eagles CBs might have trouble defending the Chargers passing attack. How does the team counter? With a disruptive D-Line. Given the lack of rushing threat, I expect to see Trent Cole in full pass-rush mode for most of this game. I hope Vinny Curry will be active, that would help. I also expect to see Kendricks on multiple blitzes and Brandon Graham for more than 16 defensive snaps. Basically, Bill Davis will do everything he can to get to Rivers before Rivers can get to the CBs.
Did I mention that King Dunlap is starting at OT for the Chargers?
I did? Good. Then you’re already smiling.
As I mentioned in the week 1 post-game notes, I’d like to see Davis use a 4-3 alignment more often. It allows the team to get its best pass-rushing line-up on the field and will help keep offenses off balance. I don’t think he’ll do it, but it makes a lot of sense to me, so I’ll be keeping a eye out for it.
- Vick’s accuracy. He needs to be better. He left a lot on the field in game 1, on throws that shouldn’t have been difficult to complete. For the offense to truly "take off", he needs to hit those consistently. As I explained in the Rewind, Chip Kelly’s packaged plays will scheme receivers open. That works as long as Vick can get them the ball. If he can do that consistently, the team will be extremely difficult to defend.
- Where’s Damaris? Good question, I’m hoping we’ll see him soon.
- More Bryce Brown. Brown had 9 rushing attempts in game 1. I expect that number to climb into the 10-15 range as the season progresses. It’s tough to get him on the field when the offense is moving at warp-speed, but Kelly has to know that keeping Shady healthy is vital to making a playoff run. Given Brown’s talent, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take the RB role for entire drives, but that might not happen until later in the season. Still, expect to notice him more this week, with a few more touches, and more importantly, more effective running.
- Kelly Challenges. A minor issue, but given how horrendous last week’s challenge was, it bears watching. This is such a simple part of the game, it’s astonishing so many coaches/teams struggle with it. It won’t come into play often, but losing a TO on a foolish challenge is an unforced error. That holds for both unwinnable challenges (last week) and low reward challenges.
- Guys I’ll be focused on: Sopoaga, Logan, Johnson, Boykin.
- Prediction: Eagles 31 – Chargers 20
Lastly, from ColdHardFootballFacts:
See that second line there? There’s obviously more to this data than just the time/location of the games, but the fact remains: it’s very tough for anyone to play a road game on the opposite coast.
Rest assured, the Eagles will “come down” at some point this season. However, it’s very unlikely that it happens this week.