We all watched as Nick Foles struggled in vain to navigate the Jaguars' pass rush in the first half. His hestitation was evident, and his mechanics were rustier than old scrap. Once adjusting in the locker room, the offense came out swinging, and took away Jacksonville's aggressive attack, despite having filler along the offensive line (more on this later).
Andrew Luck is a notorious slow starter as well, making his name as a ruthless closer that turns the tables in the bleakest moments for the Colts. Foles has some comebacks under his belt, most recently Sunday, but he's at this stage further away from Elway than Luck is.
The nature of the up-tempo offense in Chip Kelly's words is 'f***ing score points', and the Eagles, at their very best, piled up two or three touchdowns on their earlier drives last season. Sunday against Jacksonville was the antithesis of that, and against a scorned 0-1 contender like the Colts, Foles needs to be sharper earlier.
ERTZ AND CELEK, TAKE NOTICE
Julius Thomas rumbled through the Colts linebackers and safeties to a fee of three touchdowns (all in the second-quarter) and 104 yards on seven total catches. The likes of Jerrell Freeman and D'Qwell Jackson found it onerous to cover the breakout tight-end.
Zach Ertz had himself a nifty day Sunday, hauling in Foles' passes in stride, and culminating with a 25-yard touchdown grab in traffic. For the day, Ertz caught three balls for 77 yards, while Brent Celek caught three passes for a pedestrian 15 yards, serving mostly as an additional blocker to aid the thinned-out line.
With a precedent set, I look for plenty of double-TE sets to test the durability of the Colts linebackers, who will certainly miss Robert Mathis' ability to gate-crash. Foles loves to stretch the field, and the speedy offense would be well-served to wear down the linebacking corps by sending Ertz streaking downfield. Celek proved in the Steelers preseason game that he's no slouch when hurtling downfield, either.
QUESTIONABLE OFFENSIVE LINES
The Eagles will be without Evan Mathis, Allen Barbre, and the suspended Lane Johnson for at least a few weeks longer each. Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, and Todd Herremans (who can flex out to right tackle) are being counted on to get the likes of Andrew Gardner and Dennis Kelly through an entire game, although Gardner played favorably down the stretch Sunday.
The Colts have their own injury questions, with center Khaled Holmes questionable for Monday with his own ankle injury. A.Q. Shipley, at one time an Eagles camp attendee, had to anchor the line in his place. Shipley managed to hold up his end, despite minimal practice, not allowing any middle pressure on Luck.
With rookie Jack Mewhort filling the left guard spot, Bill Davis will have his avenues for sending pressure. Luck's difficult to sack, but he will throw ducks under pressure. Even with the Colts' pass-defense depleted, Foles will have to remain composed behind his stitched-together line as well.
WHO PASS RUSHES FOR THE COLTS?
The million-dollar question centers on what the Colts will do with Mathis lost to his Achilles injury. Mathis' 19.5 sacks last year were a major boon to an improved Colts defense, but nobody on the roster today has proven to be such a menace.
Bjoern Werner, a 2013 first round pick that struggled against Denver, is an ideal pass rusher out of the 3-4, while Jerrell Freeman is a weakside linebacker used to exploit space where there is no tight-end help. Both will be counted on heavily, as will the blitzing capabilities of safety LaRon Landry, who hasn't garnered a sack since 2011.
Josh Chapman made his first career start at nose tackle on Sunday, and assuming he remains in the line-up, he's tasked with bull-rushing Kelce in the middle of the line. If Kelce neutralizes Chapman, it will be extremely difficult for the Colts to get any kind of pressure on Foles without resorting to risky blitzes, and that only allows the routes to develop to a patient QB's liking.
EAGLES SECONDARY TO BE TESTED
If the Eagles pass rush struggles, they could be in trouble. Luck has plenty of weapons at his disposal, and needs just the time and patience to hit them all. Allen Hurns creating confusion between corners and safeties in terms of help over the top is nothing compared to the proven veterans in Indy.
Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, and Hakeem Nicks comprise perhaps the best 1-2-3 receiving corps in the NFL today, especially with Wes Welker suspended for the time being. Brandon Boykin saw minimal use against the Jaguars and their two-WR sets, but he'll be employed frequently against Indianapolis' trio, with any of the receivers capable of playing the slot.
The tight-end combo of Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen will also stretch out linebackers and safeties alike, and this is where the cracks can form in Philly's coverage. A safety picking up either tight end halves the safety help on an over-the-top receiver. If Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, and Nolan Carroll don't play their brand of press, these could be long touchdowns waiting to happen.
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