The return of Andy Reid to Lincoln Financial Field will ultimately be overshadowed by a close game that should come down to the last minute. The Eagles and Chiefs are evenly matched, but Chip Kelly’s offense is more flexible and will adapt to Kansas City’s sure-to-be-blitzing-Michael-Vick defense.
The Chiefs may be ranked No. 2 in the NFL against the run, and they may stack the box in an effort to stop LeSean McCoy and force Vick to the air, but I see Kelly sticking with his running game more than he did last week. The up-tempo didn’t help a defense that was ineffective and by the end of Sunday’s loss to the Chargers taxed. But neither did the pass-run imbalance, even if the Eagles air attack was virtually unstoppable. McCoy needs more than 11 carries and backup Bryce Brown needs more than three.
One key matchup to watch in the trenches will be between 350-pound nose tackle Dontari Poe and center Jason Kelce. Poe has had an impressive start to his second season. Kelce has been the Eagles’ most consistent blocker on the offensive line. But he injured his thumb against the Chargers and has struggled against behemoth-sized nose tackles.
The Chiefs could be down a cornerback with Brandon Flowers questionable with a knee. DeSean Jackson, who is off to the best start of his career, was likely to see a lot of Flowers. He’s also going to be tailed by safety Eric Berry. The Chargers made the error of hardly doubling Jackson, and even when they did, didn’t have a safety of Berry’s speed.
On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs offense has been lukewarm, but could get hot against an Eagles unit that was reeling from the Chargers loss. Reid is back to calling plays and has a new wrinkle to his scheme, adding the “Pistol” formation to his offense. Quarterback Alex Smith is a threat to run out of the Pistol and has gained 82 yards on the ground. The Chiefs’ best weapon remains running back Jamal Charles, but he has only 132 yards on 32 carries through two games. He’ll be the best running back the Eagles will face in the first half of the season.
Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis had his lunch handed to him last week by Phillip Rivers. Smith isn’t of the same caliber, but he’s efficient enough to pick on an Eagles secondary that is worse than suspect, especially if Davis’ pass rush is once again stagnant. The Birds do get Bradley Fletcher back at cornerback, allowing Brandon Boykin to move back to the slot. But Nate Allen will start again and rotate with rookie Earl Wolff. And those two should see plenty of action if Reid is wise enough to attack the middle of the field with receiver Dwayne Bowe.
Prediction: Eagles 28, Chiefs 27
What goes right: Jackson opens things up underneath for tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz.
What goes wrong: Tamba Hali sacks Vick twice.
The home team has won 21 of the last 30 Thursday night games after the season opener. This is a noteworthy number, because a four-day turnaround is hard enough -- especially on the road.
However, the Chiefs will make it tough for the Eagles. Their defense is considerably better than anything the Eagles have seen this season, and Andy Reid has a good understanding of the Eagles’ personnel -- particularly on offense.
The Eagles will still need to approach 30 points to win. Even if the Chiefs offense is not dynamic, the Eagles aren’t the type of team to win games in the teens. Look for the Chiefs to focus on stopping DeSean Jackson, although that’s considerably harder to do if Brandon Flowers is not on the field. When inactives are announced, pay attention to Flowers’ name. The Chiefs cornerback is questionable. If he doesn’t play, Jackson can have a big game.
Look for LeSean McCoy to get more carries than last week. I can see McCoy with 20+ carries and Bryce Brown nearing 10 carries. There will be more balance than one week ago, unless the Chiefs start stacking the box. The player who looks great on the Chiefs defensive line is Dontari Poe. He’s huge in the middle and will challenge Jason Kelce.
Look for Zach Ertz to have his best game yet. I’m impressed watching him run in the first two games, and I think his role will continue to increase.
On the other side of the ball, expect a lot of Jamaal Charles. You’ll wonder why Reid didn’t call so many rushing plays as the Eagles coach. He’s going to try to slow the game down and control the tempo. That can happen if the Chiefs convert on third downs. The Eagles were dreadful on third downs last week. If the Chiefs are above 50 percent on third downs, the Eagles could lose again.
The Eagles defense will struggle this season against tight ends, although Kansas City is weak in that area. Anthony Fasano is doubtful and Travis Kelce is questionable. This is an advantage for the Eagles. But Dwayne Bowe is too talented to be as quiet as he’s been. I see a few big catches from him.
Make sure you stay awake, because this game goes to the fourth quarter. The Eagles win with a late field goal.
Prediction: Eagles 31, Chiefs 28
What goes right: Zach Ertz catches a touchdown pass. The secondary looks better. (Although can they look much worse?) The fans cheer Reid when he first takes the field, before appropriately treating the Chiefs like any other opponent.
What goes wrong: Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe both have their best games of the season. Vick throws his first interception of the season.