The Eagles defense has endured plenty of criticism this week and with relatively good reason. Ryan Fitzpatrick moved the chains with ease in Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay, picking apart a secondary that insisted on giving lethal wideouts an 8-10 yard cushion on each and every play. Andrew Luck and the Colts come to town this weekend and the defense could either see a complete resurgence or ring yet more alarm bells.
On the surface, the Colts offense seems to have new life under the guidance of Frank Reich, but it’s very much a tale of two halves. Andrew Lucks ridiculous 71% completion rate coming into this weekend is every bit as staggering as it sounds and it’s something Jim Schwartz isn’t taking lightly.
“Well, I know this: He’s completing 71 percent of his passes, and I think they’re the first 3rd down team in the NFL.” Schwartz said authoritatively on Tuesday. “You’ve got to check my math on that. I don’t know where the stats were after last night. But those are two pretty good signs for a quarterback. He’s completing passes. He’s still remained a very accurate passer, and he still has very good mobility. He hasn’t been afraid to scramble around. He’s taken some hits on his shoulder. That tells me he’s feeling pretty good. He’s not shying away from those kind of things.”
Schwartz is absolutely correct, but what stands out is the shockingly low 4.3 yards average depth of target. Luck’s ‘air yards’ (a phrase all Eagles fans love, I’m sure) is even lower at 2.7 If this doesn’t define a ‘dink and dunk’ offense, I don’t know what will. The Colts make most of their ground on YAC, averaging 5.9. Reich has done a great job of molding a relatively weak receiving corps into a strong one, by relying on Luck’s decision making. Not afraid to set up 3rd and 5, it instills fear into a defense, which again, all Eagles fans will know by now.
This could be absolutely nightmarish for Jim Schwartz, whose cornerbacks were plucked apart by Fitzpatrick just a few days ago. If the Eagles give a cushion to players like T.Y Hilton, Jack Doyle and Chester Rogers, they can expect very similar results; comebacks and curls galore.
Completely contrasting that however is the Colts complete lack of success on the ground. Ranking 24th in the league through 2 weeks, the Colts walk into one of the most hostile environments in the NFL knowing that moving the ball on the ground is tricky, let alone against the top ranked run defense in the league that’s giving up under 3 yards per carry.
“I think when you look at their stats, they’re a little bit sneaky in their run game.” Schwartz said later in his press conference. “I already mentioned third down. They haven’t had the greatest stats in the world, but they also haven’t had very many turnovers. They haven’t taken very many sacks, and as a result, they’ve been hanging in, and I think that’s a big part of what you do. They’ve completed 71 percent of their passes. They’ve been good in the red zone. [There are] enough challenges there. They have a big-play wide receiver in T. Y. Hilton and obviously a very smart veteran quarterback. They’ve got some weapons at tight end: both [Jack] Doyle and [Eric] Ebron. There’s enough — there’s certainly plenty to get our attention this week.”
The Eagles are going to force Andrew Luck to throw the ball and get into a shootout scenario. The problem there, despite the fact that the Colts offensive line is undoubtedly going to be far less efficient at stopping the pass-rush than Tama Bay was, is that Luck has been asked to do that time and time again and found ways to win time and time again. If the Eagles secondary refuses to budge and Luck is able to pick and choose his dinks and dunks, it spells trouble.
The combination of a Head Coach who coordinated the Birds’ offense for two years, a veteran quarterback and flurry of underrated playmakers is not a good one for a defense who will be tasked with somehow catching Reich, who played against this defense every single week in practice, off guard.
Conversely, if the run defense can come up large and the Eagles can find a way to overcome their secondary setbacks, this is a very winnable fixture against a defense that is used to being battered and bruised. If it’s a shootout Luck wants, it’s a shootout he will get…but it will make or break this defense.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon