COMMENTARY | As of Wednesday, they were 11- or 12-point underdogs, depending on which betting line you choose to trust. They are going against a team many pundits consider the best in the NFL this year in a place Wikipedia cites as one of the best home-field advantages in pro football history - a league-best home record of 191-65-1 between 1974 and 2006 according to the community portal encyclopedia.
In short, the Philadelphia Eagles face a daunting task on Sunday afternoon against the undefeated Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. After an impressive victory in Week 1, the Eagles enter this exceptionally tough challenge coming off two home losses where they were especially inept, defensively the second week and offensively last week.
Now they have to face Peyton Manning, arguably the very best quarterback of the 21st century. I say arguably because many people believe Tom Brady holds that distinction and there are others likely headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame like Brett Favre, Drew Brees and Manning's brother, Eli, you could mention as well. Suffice to say, Peyton Manning is really, really good.
Let's also remember the Birds will be playing this game a mile above sea level against a team that is used to playing half of its games in that thinner air. Philadelphia wants to play offense at warp speed, which among other things is supposed to have the opposing defense gasping for breath. Because of the environment alone, one would expect this won't be an advantage the Eagles have this week.
On the surface, there doesn't seem much reason for Eagles Nation to tune in Sunday afternoon, at least not for very long. This certainly smells like a rout is ahead. But some numbers suggest this may not turn into quite the old-fashioned beat-down many might expect.
Thus far this season, Denver has stuffed the Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants and Oakland Raiders, averaging 42 points per game while giving up 23. Philadelphia beat the Washington Redskins before losing to the San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, scoring 26 points per game and yielding 29.
According to NFL statistics, Denver leads the league in total offense. The Eagles are second. Denver is 19th in total defense. The Eagles are 30th.
The Eagles have moved the ball consistently in all three games, even gaining 431 yards last week against a good Chiefs defense last Thursday night. But five turnovers limited production and kept the defense on the field for almost 40 minutes. The Eagles defense did play much better than the previous week against San Diego, when Philip Rivers just decimated the secondary with 419 yards passing and three touchdowns. The Chargers had the ball in that win for more than 40 minutes as well. Still, the Eagles were just 28 yards short of matching San Diego's total for the afternoon.
Denver leads the league in rush defense, but is second to last in pass defense. This week, they face the NFL's top rusher in LeSean McCoy in atypical schemes designed to get him to open space. Denver has eight sacks in three games, one less than Philadelphia. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was sacked five times by the Chiefs and must have better protection against the Broncos.
The Birds will have had nine days preparation for the Broncos entering this game. Conversely, Denver played on Monday night. Manning is virtually impossible for any team to contain for very long. If the Eagles hope to compete, it will likely come down to how well they can answer Denver's offense.
Aside from the first half of the Washington game, the Eagles have offered three uneven efforts in the first three weeks of the season, which probably is understandable considering the new regime and new approach on both sides of the ball under Chip Kelly. It's hard to get a read on what this team can do with all cylinders clicking.
If they can manage that this week, it would be a good barometer for the rest of the season. Anything less could be embarrassing. And with Peyton Manning playing on the other side, even Philadelphia's best effort may not be good enough.
Ted Williams lives in Emmaus, PA and is a lifetime Eagles follower. He spent 20 years in print journalism, winning state and national awards.
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