As the week's substantial drama melts and we focus on Sunday and the Buffalo Bills, it's very clear that the defense faces a substantial task. Buffalo has major weapons, a scheme that introduces a lot of options and the ability to score points in bunches.
In other words, defensive coordinator Bill Davis has his hands full.
Davis has had a roller coaster season. The Eagles defense kept the team in most games through the first half of the season, doing a good job stopping the run and ranking among the league leaders in takeaways. Then it all fell apart in losses to Tampa Bay and Detroit before a rebound game in New England last Sunday.
Davis played it pretty straight against the Patriots, blitzing minimally - he said about 20 percent of the snaps - and running some games up front and working off the individual battles won by lineman Fletcher Cox and linebackers Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin to shut down New England's running game, to sack Tom Brady four times and to register critical takeaways. New England played without some of its key pieces, which certainly allowed Davis to have some matchup advantages against the Patriots.
That's not going to be the case on Sunday. Buffalo has the dynamic Sammy Watkins at one wide receiver spot and after a slow start he's rolling with 9 catches, 267 yards and 3 touchdowns in the last two games. Watkins averages 18.7 yards per reception. He goes up and gets the football. He's super athletic. And he's a tough matchup for both Byron Maxwell and Eric Rowe, who have to get their hands on Watkins at the line of scrimmage and take him out of his routes.
Tight end Charles Clay came to Buffalo after four years in Miami and has 50 receptions and 3 touchdown grabs. He's another athlete who is going to force the Eagles to account for him in the passing game. Wide receiver Robert Woods can get down the field, but he's more of a possession receiver, and a good one at that. His sharp route-running skills will be a challenge, particularly if he is matched up against Rowe, who still needs to improve his change of direction at the top of routes.
LeSean McCoy is a premier talent, of course, a cutback-nightmare for a defense that lacks discipline. That's been the key word all week in the locker room: Discipline. The Eagles must stay at home, must respect McCoy - and fellow back Karlos Williams, who averages 5.7 yards per carry with 5 touchdowns and 367 rushing yards - and must tackle as well as they've tackled all season.
Then there is the quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, who has developed into a major threat in his first year as a full-time NFL starter. Taylor has thrown only four interceptions in 271 passing attempts. He has a big arm and a big game. He runs extremely well on designed plays and when he breaks the pocket.
So what does Davis do? Does he mush-rush Taylor? Does he stack the box to take away the run and then go after Taylor on passing downs? Does he shadow Taylor? Is the focus on the Buffalo passing game or on the running game?
This is a game that tells a lot about Davis and about a defense that at times has looked so good and at times -- particularly against Tampa Bay and Detroit -has played so poorly. I see a high-scoring game here. I see the defense on the spot to win one with some takeaways and key red-zone stops. The Eagles must attack an offensive line that is only so-so to handle a Buffalo offense that has a lot of dangerous weapons.
I hope the Eagles fans cheer McCoy prior to the game. He deserves it. He's the leading rusher in franchise history. As with every former-Eagle-returns-to-play-in-Philadelphia story, the fans are a big focus. And they've been great in previous experiences with Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid and Brian Dawkins and so many others. Philadelphia fans understand the big picture. Should be an emotional day. And then when the game starts, it's all Eagles vs. Bills.
Kiko Alonso says he's 100 but he has struggled in space and that makes me think he's really battling with the knee. This is not the same player the Eagles traded for. Right now, the Eagles need to think about what they're doing at inside linebacker. Buffalo can spread you out and force you to play in space. Big challenge for Alonso.
How many touches for running back DeMarco Murray on Sunday? Could be 15. Could be more. It all depends on the effectiveness of the offense, which hasn't been overly effective this season. Buffalo has a talented front that has been off-and-on effective this season. I think Murray could have some success here with the offensive line leading the way. It will be good to have Ryan Mathews back, but I don't expect him to get more than 8-12 touches.
Critical last quarter of the season for Nelson Agholor, the team's first -round draft pick who had zero receptions on two targets last week. Would love to see him running away from the line of scrimmage and down the field on some routes. Why do I think that newcomer Jonathan Krause is going to be a factor in these last four games?
Good starting debut by Rowe last week, but he's going to continue to get challenged. Expect some bumps for the kid, but he has a chance. Rowe impressed with the way he battled last week.
Sam Bradford continues to improve. This is the most important big-picture story for the Eagles, the quarterback position. Who is the "franchise" quarterback moving forward? There is no answer for that question right now, but Bradford has made good strides. The key on Sunday: ball security. Bradford hasn't thrown an interception since the Carolina game. If he pitches another shutout on Sunday, the Eagles win.