Under the late Jim Johnson, the Eagles had a reputation as a blitzing team. Johnson's legacy is alive and well in Philadelphia, but they also have some talented pass rushers on the front four. Right end Trent Cole has six sacks through the first seven games, but he has also been the beneficiary of stunts and combination blitzes that try to get him free or isolate him on a more favorable matchup.
Charlie Johnson will be responsible for blocking Cole for most of the game, but he has to be prepared to recognize the stunts and combinations when he sees them developing so that Donald Brown or Jamey Richard does not end up blocking Cole. On the other side of the line, Juqua Parker has four sacks to his credit, so Ryan Diem — who had two false starts and a holding penalty against the Texans and Antonio Smith on Monday night — will have his hands full. Out of the two offensive tackles, Diem might be the one that needs help.
The Eagles have a very similar rotation on the defensive line to what the Titans deployed in recent years. They have seven solid linemen and rotate them in and out of the game to keep them fresh for the fourth quarter. As a result, every man in the rotation except starting under tackle Mike Patterson has a sack. Philadelphia has 21 sacks as a team, with 17 sacks going to defensive linemen. They will often blitz a linebacker or a safety to free up one of their linemen, so the fact that their linemen have recorded the majority of sacks does not mean that they won't blitz.
Two linebackers and both safeties have one sack and they could come free at any moment. Though defensive coordinators have learned over the years that blitzing Peyton Manning is a foolish proposition, Eagles defensive coordinator will reach into his bag of tricks on occasion and pull something out, so Manning needs to be ready.
Indianapolis has been surprisingly effective running to Johnson's side this season, with a 6.3 yard per carry average behind left tackle. Cole's side of the field has been vulnerable, with teams averaging 5.35 yards per carry when they right outside Cole's right shoulder. Cole has a great motor — he's second on the team with 36 tackles, which is very rare for an end — but he makes most of those plays chasing down a running back that he allowed to get past him.
Donald Brown has the speed to get to the edge and the Colts will need to lean on him to get the running game going. Philadelphia has been surprisingly soft up the middle — almost a half yard per carry softer than the Indianapolis run defense — allowing 4.4 yards per rush. Jeff Saturday, Richard, and Mike Pollak did an excellent job creating seams up the middle for Mike Hart on Monday night and they will need another strong effort on Sunday.
This group declined when Stewart Bradley missed time with a concussion earlier this season, but they are back on track now that he has returned to the line-up and are a solid group. Bradley has tremendous range, is an adequate blitzer, and is a ferocious hitter. He tends to run around blocks instead of taking them on, though, which may help to explain Philadelphia's poor stats against runs up the middle. If the Colts can catch Bradley cheating or out of position, they can strike in the short and intermediate area of the passing game, as well as possibly springing Brown for a big gain up the middle.
Will linebacker Ernie Sims was once a highly-touted first round pick by the Lions who failed to live up to expectations. A few years of playing in obscurity have done wonders for his perspective, though, and he has turned into a fine two-way player that also has a sack to his credit. Sims is a quick twitch athlete that makes solid contact when he collides with another player, but he suffers from the same affliction that many of the Colts defenders do — he often tries to cause a collision instead of making a tackle. He will therefore also get caught out of position, can be juked, and running backs have been known to bounce off one of his collisions to keep running.
Moise Fokou will be making his fourth start of the season on the strong side of the formation. The Sam linebacker position has been in flux for the Eagles this season and Fokou is just starting to get his sea legs. If Philadelphia decides that Jacob Tamme can be covered by a linebacker because he isn't Dallas Clark, Tamme could see some excellent opportunities come his way in the passing game, even down the deep seam.
Star cornerback Asante Samuel usually covers the opposing team's flanker, but the Eagles will probably move him over to keep tabs on Reggie Wayne. Samuel is an aggressive cornerback and Wayne should be able to head fake and double move his way into some opportunities. However, Samuel is also a master of covering the out and slant routes that Wayne likes to run so much, which means that Manning should either proceed with caution on those routes or ignore them altogether.
Austin Collie put in a full practice Thursday, well ahead of schedule. He has been very effective this season at all depth levels and is still second on the team in receptions, only five behind Wayne. Where he might be particularly useful is operating in the deep seam with Tamme, as he will most likely be covered either by fifth-year man Dmitri Patterson or rookie Trevard Lindley.
Starting cornerback Ellis Hobbs missed Thursday's practice with a hip injury, so Patterson may need to shift over to the left side of the defense to cover Pierre Garçon. If he does, that will leave Collie with Lindley and a whole lot of open field in front of him with only rookie safety Nate Allen to stop him.
Allen or fellow safety Quintin Mikell could be coming on the blitz at any point. If that happens, that will leave either Collie or Tamme with single coverage up the deep middle, where the Eagles have yielded 12.53 yards per attempt his season and Manning has averaged 12.8 yards per attempt.
Garcon should be productive against either Hobbs or Patterson, but will definitely be more productive if Hobbs is not able to go. Hobbs is more disciplined than Patterson and will not be caught flat-footed on any stutter steps or double moves that Garcon will throw at him. Patterson could get caught on an island — again with no safety help — which will prove disastrous for Philadelphia if Garcon manages to hang onto the ball.
The Eagles are right around the middle of the pack in terms of yardage numbers in every category, but they are giving up 22.4 points per game, which is all the more shocking when you consider that they held Jacksonville to three points in Week 3. They tend to give up yardage in big chunks that end in touchdowns, so Manning needs to go for the throat and attempt to strike on as many big plays as possible. The more opportunities the Colts allow to slip through their hands, the better the odds that Philadelphia is able to pull out a win on Sunday.
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