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Key matchups in Eagles-Broncos focuses on a huge test for defense originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The Eagles (3-6) are back on the road this week as they head to Denver to face the Broncos (5-4) at Empower Field at Mile High.
Here are five key matchups to watch:
Teddy Bridgewater vs. Jonathan Gannon
The Eagles have been allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete an astounding percentage of passes against them. For the season, opposing QBs are completing 75.5% of their passes against Gannon’s defense; that’s by far the highest percentage in the NFL. And five of the last seven quarterbacks to face the Eagles have completed over 80% of their passes.
We bring that up to tell you this: Bridgewater is a very accurate quarterback. He’s third in the league this season, completing 70.2% of his passes. In his career, Bridgewater is at 67.03%, which ranks fourth in NFL history among QBs with at least 1,500 passing attempts.
Judging by Bridgwater’s accuracy numbers this year, you’d think he’s dinking and dunking like Jared Goff, but he’s not. Bridgewater is 11th in yards per attempt at 7.6 and he’s seventh in intended air yards per attempt at 8.6.
Broncos OL vs. Eagles pass rush
Because Bridgewater isn’t dinking and dunking, he holds the ball. He is averaging 2.84 seconds before his passing attempts, which is one of the higher numbers in the league. And because his offensive line isn’t great, he has been sacked 26 times this season. Only Ryan Tannehill and Justin Fields have been sacked more.
So this is a big game for the Eagles’ high-priced defensive line coming off an underwhelming performance against the Chargers. They didn’t register a single sack against Justin Herbert last week — it was hist first career game without getting sacked — and the only QB hit in that game came from Steven Nelson.
Sure, Gannon can help out his defensive line by changing up coverages and not allowing quarterbacks to get the ball out quickly. But in a game against a QB that hasn’t been getting the ball out quickly, this DL needs to feast like it did against Goff in Detroit. If they do, then the Eagles have a good chance at winning this game.
Javonte Williams vs. Eagles’ run defense
It looks like the Broncos found a stud when they drafted Williams with the 35th overall pick out of North Carolina this spring. Williams, 21, has played well all season but is coming off the best game of his young career in Dallas.
Last week, Williams had 17 carries for 111 yards. On the season, he’s averaging 4.9 yards per attempt. That ranks eighth in the NFL among running backs with at least 50 carries.
But what has made Williams’ rookie season so impressive is how he’s found success. The 220-pound running back is tied for the league league in missed tackles forced with 35. Nick Chubb has also forced 35 missed tackles but has 25 more attempts.
Javonte Williams leads the NFL with a 37% forced missed tackle rate
Nobody else is above 30% 😳 pic.twitter.com/WUPaM5V0sn
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) November 8, 2021
In recent weeks, since inserting T.J. Edwards into their starting lineup, the Eagles have gotten much better play out of their linebackers. Edwards might be somewhat limited athletically but he’s a smart instinctive player who is always in the right spot and adds an element of physicality to the Eagles’ defense.
But overall this season, the Eagles have struggled with some missed tackles and they still have the NFL’s 20th-ranked rushing defense. But they’ve been much better recently, holding their last two opponents under 100 yards for the first two times this season.
Broncos receivers vs. Eagles’ secondary
The Broncos have a pretty good trio of receivers and the Eagles are coming off a game where Darius Slay (hamstring) and Avonte Maddox (knee) missed time. So this will be something to watch.
Denver’s top receiver this season has been Courtland Sutton, who has 41/588/2. He had just 1 catch for 9 yards last week but has had a couple mega games this season. Last week, Tim Patrick went off for 4 catches, 85 yards and a touchdown. On the season, he has 34/509/4. And then there’s Jerry Jeudy, the 2020 first-round pick. Jeudy missed several games with an ankle injury and has been quiet in the two games since his return but the Broncos would clearly like to get him involved more.
Eagles OL vs. struggling Broncos pass rush
We talked about the Eagles’ defensive line already but they need another big performance from their offensive line. The Eagles’ OL has done a very nice job the last two weeks as Nick Sirianni started to run the ball at a very high rate. But the Chargers came into last week as the NFL’s worst rushing defense. This Denver defense is ranked sixth in the NFL against the run. So the Eagles will need to pass protect in this game.
While the Broncos have 22 sacks (t-9th), they haven’t been great as a pass rushing team. And the Broncos player with the most sacks, Von Miller (4.5), now plays for the Rams.
The Broncos rank as ProFootballFocus’s 28th pass rushing defense. The Eagles’ OL will need to keep it that way on Sunday.
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