Thursday, December 25, 2014

Eagles-Broncos: What We're Watching

Each week, Daily News football writer Paul Domowitch explains what he'll be keeping his eyes on during the upcoming Eagles game:

Eagles-Broncos: What We're Watching

Each week, Daily News football writer Paul Domowitch explains what he'll be keeping his eyes on during the upcoming Eagles game:

1. The halftime score. The Eagles are 10-0 this season when they’ve led at the half. They’ve outscored their opponents 253-135 in the first 2 quarters and 89-43 during their current five-game win streak. The Broncos, meanwhile, have been outscored in the first half, 120-136. Their offense is not condusive to second-half comebacks. The more Kyle Orton has to throw the ball the less effective he is.

2. The return men. The Eagles’ DeSean Jackson and the Broncos’ Eddie Royal are two of the league’s most dangerous return men. Jackson leads the league in punt returns (17.3) and already has taken two back for touchdowns. Sunday, he’ll be facing a leaky Bronco punt coverage unit that is ranked 26th in the league. Royal also has two return TDs – one PR and one KR. Eagles have the league’s third-ranked punt coverage unit, but their kickoff coverage unit has struggled (24th in the league).

3. Broncos’ run game. The Broncos’ ground game is the lead horse in their offensive attack. They need the run game to make their pass game go. They’ve averaged half a yard less on the ground in their 6 losses (3.87) than they have in their eight wins (4.37). In their losses to Oakland and Indianapolis the last two weeks, they averaged just 3.02 yards per carry. If the Eagles can shut down their ground game early in the game, it’s going to force the Broncos to throw the ball more than they want to.

4. Balancing act. During their five-game win streak, Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg have done an excellent job of mixing the run and the pass. One hundred forty-two of the Eagles’ 310 offensive plays in the last five games, or 45.8 percent, have been run plays. They’ve had at least 24 rushing attempts in eight of their last nine games. Ran it six times on that big 12-play, 91-yard fourth-quarter drive against the Giants. Ran it 6 times on last week’s game-clinching 8-play, 89-yard fourth-quarter TD drive.

5. The DeSean show. In his last five starts, DeSean Jackson has 30 receptions for 557 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Broncos know they’ve got to keep the second-year wideout under control if they hope to win Sunday. It remains to be seen what approach they’ll take. Champ Bailey is one of the league’s best corners, but it’s unlikely they’ll match him up against Jackson full-time since the Eagles move Jackson all over the formation. A more likely approach is double-teaming or bracketing.
 

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For a special Thursday edition of the Eagles Playbook, click here.

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Paul Domowitch Daily News NFL Columnist
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