Foles' first half against the Jaguars was a quagmire of confusing blitz packages and expert edge-rushing, chiefly Chris Clemons. His hesitation and awkward mechanics indicated a passer not expecting the complexities of Jacksonville's pressure.
With halftime adjustments, the Eagles had no problem chopping up the Jaguars pass defense, with Foles going 15 of 21 for 183 yards and two touchdowns (129.66 rating) the rest of the way. The Jeremy Maclin wide-open bomb does enhance the stat-line considerably, but it's not Foles' fault the coverage was busted.
Most notable about Foles' game on Sunday was his downfield reliance on Zach Ertz, the blossoming tight end with raw athleticism and sizable agility. Ertz caught three balls beyond 25 yards, including a touchdown catch in a very tight window. Much of the mismatch stemmed from Jacksonville's weak mid-level coverage, and Foles was able to get ringers on Ertz in stride.
Ertz's play on Sunday presents an interesting scenario for Monday night, as Jaguars defenders struggled mightily to cover Julius Thomas, he of three second quarter touchdowns. This isn't to say that Ertz is at Thomas' level at present time, but defenders like Jerrell Freeman, D'Qwell Jackson, and LaRon Landry were torched by one tight end. Ertz is fast enough to exploit mismatches with the same group.
The offensive line for the Eagles remains a question. Evan Mathis is likely out until November, and fill-in right tackle Allen Barbre is out for the season with an ankle injury. Second-line wonders Andrew Gardner and David Molk filled in admirably, though Gardner struggled in the first half against interior pressure. There's little doubt Dennis Kelly will be active this week. Veteran free-agent signing Wade Davis is potentially penciled in at left guard.
The pass rush of the Colts has questions, with sackmaster Robert Mathis out for the year with an Achilles injury. Mathis would have missed this game anyway due to a PED suspension, but there has yet to be an emerging alpha male that can break into the backfield with his explosiveness. Erik Walden had the only sack for Indianapolis on Sunday, but Peyton Manning isn't exactly prone to giving up those negative plays.
Finding an adequate fill-in for Mathis will be a double-edged sword vs. the Eagles. Blitzing linebackers leaves Ertz and Brent Celek wide open, not to mention LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles in the flat. Dropping back in coverage only gives Foles time to let a route develop. A confident Foles with good protection will throw deep, and with confidence.
Four of Manning's throws on the Colts on Sunday went for 26+ yards, and three came in the first half. Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas are top-notch receivers, but with enough quickness, an up-tempo offense can burn the same secondary with Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper.
There's no telling which receiver Vontae Davis will be likely to cover. As the best player among the secondary, Davis (per Pro Football Focus), gave up only one catch for five yards, on five targets Sunday night. His press coverage is great, though it remains to be seen if the speed of the up-tempo could gradually wear him down. It'll be considerably more difficult with him.
LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles vs. Colts Run Defense
Take away Sproles' 49-yard touchdown dash, and the Eagles' backs averaged only 3.10 yards a carry Sunday against the Jaguars. Chris Clemons and Red Bryant did a dynamite job setting the edges, bouncing McCoy to the outside quite often, for him to find little real estate in front of him.
Of the Eagles' 145 rushing yards, 108 came in the second half, including the long Sproles TD, and a 19 yarder from McCoy. The Eagles ran 20 times in the half, showing a commitment to it despite first half troubles. About 42 percent of the called plays were runs, so even down 17 or 10 points, Kelly's offense still looked to establish balance.
As noted in my Colts summation on Tuesday, Indianapolis only allowed three runs of ten or more yards (and a couple more of seven and nine yards) against the Broncos, as starting back Montee Ball's two longest carries were for 15 and seven yards. Back-up C.J. Anderson had a pair for 13 and nine.
The Colts struggled against the run last season, giving up 4.47 yards a carry. They lose Mathis' underrated run-stopping capabilities, and could be without Freeman (hamstring) as well on Monday. This would put more pressure on Arthur Jones and Bjoern Werner, who struggled Sunday night with tackling and getting to the ball-carrier.
A year ago, the Colts were 26th in run-stuffing, per FootballOutsiders.com. That means they were seventh worst at stopping the run behind the line, so for a somewhat-depleted defense, McCoy and Sproles darting through middle could prove problematic. Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans are excellent second level blockers, so swing passes and quick pitches are employable as well.
The Eagles like to use unbalanced lines (stunting the linemen into irregular spots along the line) to set up customized blocking schemes, but that may be harder with Mathis out, and less-experienced back-ups in play. Whether the Eagles employ tricks or not, the Colts' 3-4 scheme will be counted on to minimize the running game, and keep Foles in third-and-long scenarios. Unlike Denver, the Eagles balance their offense a little more, and much of it goes through feet of their backs.
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