A young football team led by a rookie head coach is about to travel to face the Super Bowl champions on the road. By any measure, this game marks a real test for a team going through a major transition and the opportunity to make an early season statement.
Frank Reich heads back to Philadelphia to take on his former team. He will see many familiar faces on his former coaching staff and he will know many of the players who take the field against him. His familiarity with the team, its offense, and tendencies he may have seen from its defense could certainly have an impact on the outcome. Of course, then again, Doug Pederson and the Eagles coaching staff are certainly familiar with Reich and his tendencies so maybe no team will gain an advantage here.
After watching the Colts beat up the Washington Redskins in Week 2, it became at least somewhat clear that having new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is a real value add when you play teams in the NFC East. These are division games for Eberflus who has become quite familiar with these opponents after meeting them two times per year from 2011 - 2017. Will that provide an edge for the Colts this week?
All of these stories tend to suggest that this game may be more competitive than some might expect. Injuries for both teams could certainly slow things down a bit and rain might slow things down even more. When two teams are familiar with one another, the outcome can be quite unpredictable. It is the reason division games are so interesting. Even bad teams in any division can draw up game plans to defeat their betters when they see the team so often.
Let’s take a look at some of the keys to a Colts victory in Philadelphia.
Keep Carson Wentz uncomfortable
Football players are tough. They fight back through minor injuries and physical pain on a weekly basis. Even those who suffer season-ending injuries often set the curve on how quickly a human being is able to heal and return to peak physical condition.
All of that said, two things are also absolutely true. The first, players rarely fully recover from an ACL injury after only a year. They can return to the field and start making an impact but getting back to full speed often requires a full year of health after recovery is complete. The second, it’s impossible for any player to not have the injury in their mind. Hesitation, doubt, and apprehension are all traits you can see in players who are returning from an injury that just cost them a year.
If the Colts want to shock the Eagles, they should do everything they can to keep Wentz off-balance and make his return to the NFL as uncomfortable as possible. If they can pressure him, hit him, and make him move or try to make plays with his legs more than he would like at this point, it could get into his head and keep him from having a triumphant return. Against the Eagles offensive line that is asking a lot so we’ll see how Mike Phair and Matt Eberflus can scheme pressure in Wentz’s face.
Limit Zach Ertz
Indianapolis did a nice job of keeping Jordan Reed in check for much of the game a week ago. Darius Leonard forced a fumble against Reed that effectively ended the game. The Colts will need to do something similar against the Eagles.
Philadelphia’s offense is arguably more depleted than the Colts. They will be without Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles in the backfield. They will be without Alshon Jeffery again and will have to rely on Nelson Agholor, Kamar Aiken, and Jordan Matthews — who just rejoined the team.
When you throw in the Wentz is also just returning to the field after an ACL injury, you’re left with one big match-up to shut down. Don’t allow Wentz to pick you apart with Zach Ertz. If you force Wentz to beat you throwing passes to Agholor all game, you drastically improve your changes of pulling off an upset.
Win the turnover battle
This can be a key to the outcome of any game. If your team gets more opportunities to score, especially if you can give your team a short field, you have a better chance to win.
Given the players who will be missing for Philadelphia on offense, and given what we have already seen from quarterbacks who take the field a bit rusty, there are opportunities to create big plays on defense. When Wentz goes to his safety blanket in Ertz, pick him off and take it the other way. Stay active breaking up passes and trying to strip the ball away. Keep your hands up to deflect passes and allow your linebackers to make plays on the ball.
Hopefully Andrew Luck will settle back into a groove and not make silly mistakes as he gets back into game shape. On the flip side, hopefully the defense can take advantage of Wentz who will be taking live reps for the first time in awhile.
Stay balanced on offense
The Eagles may have the most talented and deepest defensive line the Colts will face all season. This group can turn the outcome of football games and create confusion and disruption if the offensive line doesn’t keep them at bay. Expect to see Luck takes some shots today and expect to go through periods where it is really difficult to get things going offensively.
One way to slow this group down as to find a way to get something going on the ground. They are the best run defense in the NFL through two games, so this isn’t going to be an easy task, but if Quenton Nelson can lay some punishing blocks that allow the running backs to pick up back-breaking yards — even if it is only on a few drives — it could be key to the outcome.
If the Colts get behind and are forced to put the ball in Luck’s hands exclusively, this defensive line can start to tee off. You want a defensive line that can come at you in waves? You’re looking at it with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Hit Field Goals
If the game is a slug-fest in the trenches and if the familiarity between the teams does play a prominent role in the product on the field, hitting field goals could be the key to the game. Adam Vinatieri is particularly well known for clutch kicks and single-handily winning football games with his leg. This could be one of those games that comes down to a field goal one way or the other — especially if rain becomes a big factor.
On the flip-side, the Colts have two of the more dominant players in the NFL at blocking kicks. Stealing away an opportunity to score from Philadelphia could be the type of play the team needs to seal the upset.
1 PM ET on Sunday, September 23, 2018
Lincoln Financial Field - Philadelphia, PA
Fox – Chris Myers (play-by-play), Daryl Johnston (color commentator), Laura Okmin (sideline reporter)
WFNI (107.5FM/1070 The Fan) and WLHK (Country 97.1 Hank FM)