Premium Preview: Eagles / Colts

The Eagles hoped to be 6-4 coming into a big matchup with Indianapolis. The thought was that if they could knock off the Colts, they could push themselves to a big late season run. Instead, they're 5-5 and without Donovan McNabb, leaving them with little hope for the rest of the season.

Philadelphia Eagles (5-5) at Indianapolis Colts (9-1)

GAME PLAN:
Especially since they don't have Donovan McNabb, the Eagles are expected to focus more on their ground game Sunday night. This would accomplish two things; It would take some pressure off of McNabb's replacement, Jeff Garcia. It also would keep the ball out of Peyton Manning's hands, assuming they are able to run the ball effectively.

Colts' head coach Tony Dungy said this week that he still expected the Eagles to throw the ball and stick pretty much to their game plan.

For the Colts, the plan is to cut out the mental and physical errors and play with more consistency.

While that bit of advice seems to be a rather simple prescription for the Colts this week, execution on both sides of the ball remains a primary key to success against Philadelphia.

Indianapolis must do a better job of holding on to the football and take full advantage of its scoring opportunities. Defensively, the Colts have to do a better job of stopping the run and force more turnovers.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

  • Colts RBs Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai vs. Eagles run defense
  • Rhodes (122-414) and Addai (131-618) have combined for 1,032 yards on 253 carries (4.1 yards per carry) so far this year. The Colts are averaging 104.8 yards on the ground as a team, 103.2 yards with Rhodes and Addai. Philadelphia ranks 26th in the league against the run, giving up an average of 129.7 yards a game.

  • Eagles RB Brian Westbrook vs. Colts run defense
  • Westbrook has rushed for 715 yards on 141 carries and has scored four touchdowns on the ground. Philadelphia is averaging 123 yards on the ground as a team. Indianapolis, meanwhile, is allowing 155.1 yards to opposing teams' running games. The Colts have the 32nd-ranked rushing defense in the league.

  • Colts QB Peyton Manning vs. Eagles pass defense
  • Manning remains as the league's top-rated passer at 100.5. He has never lost to Philadelphia in two previous regular-season meetings. The Eagles, meanwhile, have the NFL's fifth-ranked pass defense, allowing an average of 180.3 yards per game. Philadelphia has sacked opposing quarterbacks 29 times and have intercepted nine passes.

    INSIDE THE COLTS:
    Clean up the mistakes.

    That's been the goal of the Colts heading into Sunday night's nationally televised home game against the Eagles. The Colts turned the ball over four times in last week's seven-point loss to the Cowboys and had a pair of turnovers in a one-point win over the Bills.

    "We haven't been a big giveaway team and all of a sudden, we had two against Buffalo and four against Dallas. That's a lot for us," Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy said.

    It hasn't been one person who has been the cause of all the turnovers. Six fumbles were contributed by six players over the past two weeks.

    "And that's where it's disappointing," Dungy said. "It has to be our M.O to hang onto the ball and to not have whatever kind of breakdown it is, whether it is pass protection, whether it's not identifying something right and turning the guys loose, whether it's not carrying the ball right. Whatever it is, you have to get it eliminated."

    Not all of the mistakes have been physical. Misreads and not playing within the system, both offensively and defensively, have been the cause for some concern.

    "We've had situations where it's hard to understand some of the things that we do, not lining up right and not just doing really routine things, not playing defense the way it's designed. And when that happens, you begin to wonder a little bit," Dungy said. "But it's certainly nothing major that we have to do. It's not a matter of people catching up with us or figuring out how to play us. I think we just have to get back, in spite of the fact of being 9-1, and we can't lose sight of that. We have to get back to doing little things the way we need to do them."

    In past years, Indianapolis has played well the week following a loss. Dungy hopes that continues Sunday.

    "Hopefully we still have that mystique going. Usually, that's just hard work and doing a good job on those details, and hopefully we can bounce back and do that this week," he said.

    "I think it's going to be a task for our team to not fall in the trap that everyone is going to say, 'Well, (Philadelphia QB) Donovan McNabb is not playing, so Philadelphia doesn't have much of a chance.' They have a former Pro Bowl quarterback (Jeff Garcia) playing who knows their system, and they won't be any different. We have to come out and play much better. This is a (Philadelphia) team that handled Dallas pretty easily when they played them."

    KEYS TO THE GAME:
    With RB Brian Westbrook showing no ill effects from 59 combined touches the past two games, he can expect another heavy workload Sunday night. QB Jeff Garcia makes his first start in place of Donovan McNabb and while he lacks the strong arm the Eagles prefer for their passing attack, he has been very effective utilizing running backs and tight ends in the passing game throughout his career. Putting together long drives is never a bad idea against the Colts. While the Eagles have held three of their past four opponents under 100 net yards passing, that's highly unlikely to continue against Peyton Manning and Company. Still, look for Indianapolis to test the ground game early on in an attempt to set up play-action, and the Eagles practiced in pads this week for the first time since the season started following a pitiful tackling performance against Tennessee.


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