Welcome back to the Quadruple Option, where the upcoming game is narrowed down to its four most relevant points of focus, as arbitrarily chosen by the author. This week, the QO focuses on the Indianapolis Colts, who the Eagles are visiting on Monday Night Football to round out Week 2 on the NFL calendar.
1- Eagles Offensive Line vs Colts Pass Rush
The Eagles entered this season with one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, by any measure. Less than 30 minutes into their season opener, it became one of their biggest question marks. Evan Mathis and Allen Barbre were lost to injury within 5 plays of each other. Barbre is now done for the season, and Mathis is on Injured Reserve with the designation to return (he is eligible for the Nov. 10 game vs Carolina). Filling the two holes in the line will be Andrew Gardner at right tackle and Dennis Kelly at left guard. This state of flux for the offensive line is worrisome, but not so much when considering the absence of a Colts pass rush.
Robert Mathis, the key to the Colts’ pass rush, is out for the season with a torn achilles (and would have missed this game for a PED suspension anyway). Expected to fill his role is second year player from Germany via Florida State, Bjoern Werner. He hasn’t adapted particularly well to the NFL thus far, as became very evident to a national audience last weekend in the Sunday night game at Denver. Erik Walden, their other pass rushing linebacker, doesn’t produce at a fear-warranting level either. Jerrell Freeman, an inside linebacker, had the second-most sacks on the roster last season with 5.5, is also out for this game, and will be replaced by Josh McNary, who will be making his first start.
The Colts have no pass rush to speak of, and the Eagles’ offensive line has had a week to settle into place, as opposed to Gardner and David Molk being thrown into their roles in the middle of a game. Barring the unforeseen coming out party for Werner or Walden, this part of the game will end up being advantageous for the Eagles. Foles will have more time to throw (and second guess himself, maybe), and it opens the gameplan to longer-developing plays if necessary.
2- Colts Pass-Catchers vs Eagles Coverage
This matchup is a little more dicey for the Eagles. The Jaguars’ passing attack got on the Eagles early through creative route design and miscommunications and mistakes in the Eagles’ secondary. This is expertly detailed by Sheil Kapadia of Birds 24/7 here. The Colts will use T.Y. Hilton in a way that attempts to confuse the deep safety in an attempt to get him open for big gains.
This has been successful against some of the better defenses in football in the past (Seattle, San Francisco), and should make Eagles fans at least a little wary, since the secondary has yet to inspire very much faith. As for the rest of the Colts’ weapons, they have Reggie Wayne, a perennial Pro Bowler who looked fine in his first game back from a torn ACL against Denver, Hakeem Nicks- who needs no introduction to Eagles fans, and tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. In Pep Hamilton’s west coast scheme, Eagles fans will see their fair share of the top three receivers and each of those tight ends. The Eagles’ linebackers aren’t the best in coverage, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for those two.
If the Colts are going to beat the Eagles, it will be this way–as they surely aren’t going to drown them in the sweet, terrible molasses that is Trent Richardson and the rushing attack. Ahmad Bradshaw could make some noise out of the backfield, but the Eagles have been pretty strong against the run under Billy Davis (4th lowest YPC in NFL last season).
3- Andrew Luck vs Everyone
There is (arguably, I guess) no skill-position player more responsible for his team’s offensive success or failure on a week-to-week basis. You will notice this when plays inevitably break down for whatever reason, and Luck is forced to make something out of them. He appears to thrive on chaos in those situations. The Colts, while not completely bereft of talent, rely on Luck a ton.
He is one of a handful of quarterbacks who adds a great deal of value in the running game too. He also has the tendency to make some absurdly ill-advised throws, on which the Eagles will need to capitalize, because he has the habit of digging the Colts out of all different kinds of deficits.
4- Nick Foles vs Himself
Bad Foles appeared again last week. He stared into empty spaces while open, eligible receivers ran free, and would then get hit or get sacked or overthrow someone. It was like last season’s first Dallas game all over again. The offense succeeded almost in spite of Foles in the 2nd half. It’s really important not to mistake him improving on a first half of masochistic performance art as him playing well. He still missed a ton of throws and was partially bailed out by playing a terrible defense.
We know that Nick Foles can be great. We’ve seen him look rough too. The real Nick Foles is in there somewhere. If he’s going to have a bounce-back game, he’ll have plenty of time to do so against a weak Colts pass rush. Despite the fact that LeSean McCoy is the engine in this offense, Nick Foles is still the conductor. If he flounders early again, the Eagles are going to have a much harder time recovering than they did against Jacksonville.
Eagles 41, Colts 20
In the simplest reduction of this, the Colts are still the worst “good” team in the AFC. There are gaping holes along the offensive line (two rookies at the guards and the center the Ravens didn’t want–all starting). Their defense can’t rush the passer. They have good corners that are at times made to look better against terrible quarterbacks. The offense has talent, and they will probably score at least two touchdowns tonight–but the Eagles operate on a different wavelength right now. I think they end up taking the Colts for a walk.