With the Colts facing the Philadelphia Eagles Monday night on primetime, Stampede Blue's Josh Wilson talked with Bleeding Green Nation's Brandon Lee Gowton about the Eagles and this Monday's matchup. The questions are in bold and then Brandon's responses follow.
1. Last year the Eagles defense ranked 29th overall in total yards and 17th overall in total points. The perception was that they were carried by their offense. How much improved is the defense this year and what should we expect from them going up against this Colts offense?
It's only been one game, and it was only the Jaguars, but I'd say the Eagles defense has definitely shown some signs of improvement. The Eagles completely shut out Jacksonville in the second half after allowing 17 points in the first half. Two of those touchdowns were assisted by bad field positioning (for the Eagles defense) due to a pair of Nick Foles fumbles. The Eagles' third down defense was a major weakness in 2013. It felt like they were always bound to give up the first down. It was a pleasant surprise, then, to see Philadelphia hold Jacksonville to 0-9 on third down at one point. To be determined how that holds up against an offense that doesn't feature Chad Henne and Toby Gerhart. The Eagles run defense is definitely legitimate. They excelled at that last year and they look to be good again in that area this season. I don't think the Eagles have to worry about the Colts there. The pass defense is still questionable. It won't be surprising to see Andrew Luck move the ball through the air. Though, I will say the pass rush has looked better than I expected.
2. Nick Foles had a great year in 2013 but a very rough opening game this year. What are the expectations for Foles this season?
Foles was indeed very bad against the Jaguars. Despite finishing with decent numbers, he way too often missed wide open receivers. Moving forward, Foles will probably bounce back. He's had bad games in the past where he's been able to fix his mistakes. Foles' seven touchdown performance against the Raiders came just two weeks after his terrible outing against the Cowboys in 2013. Foles will probably end up being OK in the long-run but these occasional games where he struggles to make easy plays can be awfully concerning.
3. What is the biggest strength and the biggest weakness for the Eagles?
The Eagles' biggest strength is their explosive offense. Philadelphia moves at a fast pace, generates big plays, and scores a lot of points. The Eagles can attack on the ground or through the air because they have a number of weapons on the offensive side of ball including 2013 NFL leading rusher LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Jeremy Maclin, Zach Ertz, and so on. Of course, it remains to be seen how effective these skill players are if Foles struggles and the Eagles' injured offensive line doesn't hold up.The biggest weakness is their pass rush. This is an area where the Eagles actually looked good against the Jaguars but weren't impressive in 2013. Philadelphia struggled to generate pressure on a consistent basis and that made life difficult on an average (at best) secondary.
4. Who is an Eagles player on offense and defense that Colts fans should watch out for?
Second-year tight end is the Eagles offensive player to watch. Simply put, Ertz is a stud. He had a great 2013 season as far as expectations for rookie tight ends go. He's off to a strong start in 2014 with 3 catches for 77 yards and one touchdown. I noticed that Broncos TE Julius Thomas had 7 catches for 104 yards and 3 TD versus the Colts in Week 1. It wouldn't surprise me to see Ertz be successful in the middle of the field as well.On defense, defensive end Fletcher Cox is the player to watch. He's very good against the run and he can get after the passer as well.
5. What's your prediction for this game?
I think this is going to be a really good game. I've had that feeling ever since the schedule came out. I think it'll be a relatively even-matched affair that comes down to the wire. I'm taking the Eagles in this one because I don't Foles could be as bad as he was last week. I see him bouncing back like he's done in the past. I'll say Philadelphia wins with a score of 30-27. Former Colts kicker Cody Parkey delivers the game-winning dagger from 50+ yards as time expires.
Thanks again to Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation for taking the time to answer these questions!