In week 11, our Indianapolis Colts will host the Philadelphia Eagles. Knowing the party was coming to town I sat down with Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation. You can find him on Twitter (for now) @BrandonGowton. We swapped questions about the Colts and Eagles and what follows is what I learned about this week’s enemy. You can check out my answers to his questions here.
CS- After getting off to the first 8-0 start in Philadelphia Eagles history, the team lost on Monday Night Football to the Washington Commanders. Given that Philly fans are known to be some of the most fickle fans in the sport, are you guys ready to give us back Nick Sirianni? Donovan McNabb is available to take over so it shouldn’t be a problem. But seriously it’s been almost 15 years. I’ve forgotten, what’s it like to root for the best team in the NFL? Kinda serious on the Sirianni thing...
BG- After the Colts hired Frank Reich away from the Eagles in 2018, there was a lot of “Reich was the mastermind behind the Super Bowl!” sentiment going on from 2018-2020. While I always felt it was silly to discredit Doug Pederson, one can acknowledge that the brain drain that went on with Philly’s coaching staff probably contributed to some post-championship struggles. I bring this up because it’s a bit funny how Sirianni is now ‘the one who got away’ in Indy.
To address your kinda-serious question, Sirianni isn’t the one catching a lot of heat following the Eagles’ loss to the Commanders. It’s actually another former Colts assistant … Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. In short, his game plan wasn’t aggressive as it shouldn’t been against a team that was content to possess the ball on long drives. He should’ve challenged Washington more.
As for what it’s like rooting for the best team in the NFL, well, it’s kinda strange. It’s not totally unfamiliar since it’s not like the first time the Eagles have been really good. But it’s odd in part because the Eagles are usually not great at living up to high expectations … and many were hyping up this year’s team prior to the season.
Of course, starting the season 8-0 for the first time in franchise history is pretty cool and all. But the sights are set higher than regular season accomplishments at this point. It’s all about being able to go on another title run. The focus is on finishing the season strong and getting the No. 1 seed.
CS- If you were designing an offense specifically to beat the Eagles defense what would it look like?
BG- The Eagles are the worst tackling team in the NFL. So, I’d design an offense that forces them to make a lot of tackles.
Philly’s last two opponents have utilized this approach to some extent. Much has been made about the Eagles’ inability to stop the run.
That characterization isn’t totally true, though. There’s some nuance to note.
The Eagles certainly don’t have a good run defense by any means; they rank 28th in run defense DVOA. And they’re missing one of their best run defenders due to the Jordan Davis injury.
But the Birds were able to keep the Commanders to just 3.1 yards per carry. The longest run they surrendered was 11 yards.
The problem with the run defense is that the Eagles weren’t able to generate negative plays. They had just three tackles for loss on 49 Washington rush attempts. The Commanders were consistently able to get into 3rd-and-manageable. From there, they converted 12 of their 21 third down attempts.
This approach cannot be considered as a magical blueprint that allows any team to beat the Eagles. The Commanders also benefited from three uncharacteristic Philly turnovers.
But there is something to be said for lesser opponents trying to eat up clock and keep the Eagles off the field. It’s a good approach to trying to pull off an upset.
Note: Colts fan translation: The Colts should try to give the Eagles the old Peyton Manning treatment and just keep Jalen Hurts off the field.
3. How will the Eagles offense look to attack what has been a good Colts defense?
BG- Considering the Colts have allowed the second-fewest yards per rush attempt, it might not be a week where the Eagles are looking to pound the rock.
Then again, they’ve previously put up some impressive performances against top run defenses. The Eagles ran all over the New Orleans Saints’ No. 1 run defense in both 2020 and 2021. The Jacksonville Jaguars are only allowing 110 rushing yards per game this season and the Eagles put 210 on them.
So, the Eagles’ run game might not a non-factor. Especially as the team adjusts their offense in the aftermath of Dallas Goedert.
But I would expect there to be more of a reliance on the remaining top two receiving options: A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. Brown got banged up early in Week 10, which contributed to his unusual quiet night with just one catch for seven yards. The Birds will be looking to get him back on track. Smith is also more than capable of having a big game if the Colts are going to try to put extra attention on Brown to take him away.
Note: Colts fans know far too much about A.J. Brown. At least Indy only plays him once this year.
CS- On either side of the ball what player has been a positive surprise this season? What player has been a disappointment?
BG- Many expected Jalen Hurts to improve this season. But I don’t think most expected him to improve to the extent that he has. He’s been in the MVP conversation all season long. He’s made real significant strides as a passer. After utilizing the middle of the field less often than any other quarterback last year, he’s now able to navigate that area. He’s more accurate passer on the whole; his 80.6% on-target throw percentage is tied for the NFL lead (per Pro Football Reference). Hurts is also very good at making good decisions and not turning the ball over. Two of his three interceptions this year bounced off his target’s hands.
Hard to find too many disappointments but I’d go with Fletcher Cox. Many were not on board with the Eagles’ decision to re-sign him to a $14 million contract. And he’s hardly been proving his doubters wrong. Despite carrying the highest cap number on the team, Cox has zero sacks, one tackle for loss, and two quarterback hits in his last six games. He has just 6.5 sacks in his last 27 games. Contrast that number with fellow Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave logging six in his last THREE games. Anecdotally, there are too many times when it looks like Cox is getting pushed around out there. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Eagles signing Ndamukong Suh had to do in part with Cox not being anything close to the elite player he once was.
Note: If the Colts play Matt Pryor in place of an injured Braden Smith, the Eagles pass rush will magically be amazing. Fletcher Cox might earn all $14 million on Sunday.
CS- As of right now DraftKings Sportsbook has the Eagles as 6.5-point favorites. Is that a fair line? Are you taking that bet? And how do you see this game going? What’s the final score?
BG- Feel free to throw this back in my face if the Colts win but I took the Eagles as my lock of the week for Friday’s episode of The SB Nation NFL Show.
I think there’s an overreaction on both sides here. People are making too much of an uncharacteristic loss by the Eagles. I also think people are making too much of a Colts win over a dreadful Las Vegas Raiders team.
If the Eagles don’t lose to the Commanders on Monday night, they’re probably double-digit point favorites in this matchup. They did not win, of course, but they did not look so bad that all confidence in them should be shot.
The feeling here is the Eagles bounce back and win by at least eight points. Final score: 27 to 17.
Note: pretty bold of him to assume the Colts are capable of scoring 17 points if they start Matt Pryor.
This game should tell us a lot more about Jeff Saturday than what we were able to glean last week against a bad Las Vegas Raiders team, after just six days on the job. Win, lose or draw we’ll have more information than before and that’s always good. No matter what, I’m pulling for no injuries and I really hope both teams have fun.