So you may have heard of this Peyton Manning guy. He’s been known to throw a touchdown here and there, and you also may have seen him in the occasional TV commercial.
Everything the Colts offense does well starts with him. And here are the Eagles who, in their last game, gave up 276 yards passing and three touchdowns to Kerry Collins. How do they prevent a repeat -- or worse? What weaknesses can the Eagles exploit? And what key match ups could determine the game's outcome?
Kevin Kolb. Michael Vick. Kevin Kolb. Michael Vick. It’s Vick’s turn to drive again, but whoever has been behind the wheel, the offense has moved. The Eagles rank ninth in the NFL in points per game and in the top 10 in rushing, passing and total yards per game.
With Vick they regain another weapon to go along with Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson. They can throw, run, and, with so many playmakers, use a variety of formations to confuse defenses.
Vick’s running adds an element few teams can prepare for.
The defense -- and particularly the secondary -- spent the bye week as a local whipping boy. But the defenders have excelled at creating quarterback pressure and are able ball thieves, with at least one interception every game and 11 total. Led by Trent Cole, the Eagles 21 sacks are tied for eighth best in the NFL. Pressure and turnovers might be the best ways to slow down Manning.
The run defense has been strong lately, though the Colts don’t rely on that phase as much as other teams. Andy Reid is 11-0 after bye weeks. He gets his teams ready, and these Eagles are eager to erase the memory of the Tennessee loss.
Anyone who saw Kenny Britt’s outburst knows the first place to look for weakness: the secondary. Regular starting cornerback Ellis Hobbs is hurt and will be replaced by Dimitri Patterson, who has never started in his five years in the league.
Rookie safety Nate Allen is coming off his first big down moment and will have to show he can rebound.
The offensive line appeared to stabilize for a few weeks, but allowed steady pressure to the Titans and face a tough pair of defense ends this week. Jason Peters has missed the past two games with a torn meniscus and Vick, who suffered a rib cartilage tear, hasn’t played since week four. Do they have rust to kick off? And if the Colts sit back in their typical Cover-2 defense -- as the Redskins did -- can Vick find the holes?
It all comes back to Manning. The Colts rank second in the NFL in passing yards per game and touchdown passes. Despite their reliance on the pass, they have given up a league-least seven sacks and Manning has thrown just two interceptions.
They are among the best in the red zone and on third-down.
Basically: the offense rolls.
The Colts wide receiver corps is banged up and tight end Dallas Clark is out for the season, but Manning has still thrown for plenty of yards and completions. Case in point: with Clark out, third-year backup Jacob Tamme caught six passes last week, doubling his career total. He was one of five players who caught at least three passes last week
Defensively Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis provide a menacing pair of defensive ends.
At least the Eagles don’t have to worry about the run. The Colts rank 23rd in the league in rushing yards per game and are picking up less than four yards per carry. The Colts backs, though, do factor into the passing game.
The Colts defense is only OK. They rank 12th in points allowed per game and the rushing defense is soft: 28th in the NFL. They are giving up 4.9 yards-per-carry. LeSean McCoy might have some openings. If so, the running game could increase the Eagles’ time of possession and help keep Manning off the field.
Key Match Ups
CB Dimitri Patterson vs. QB Peyton Manning
The first start of Patterson’s career comes against the best passer of this generation. It doesn’t matter which receivers are healthy: Manning will find them and you can bet he will find Patterson. The special teams ace plays a physical style and had an interception while covering Michael Crabtree earlier this year. He will need to show his cover skills for the Eagles to slow down the Colts receivers, whoever they are on Sunday.
Sean McDermott vs. Manning
Manning is so important to the Colts he figures into two of our pairings. The Eagles defense will try to throw different looks at Manning to keep him from dissecting the game plan. As great as the quarterback is, he’s even better in the fourth quarter: his passer rating in the final 15 minutes is among the best in the league and he’s thrown five of his 15 touchdowns in the quarter. If the Eagles have a late lead, can McDermott’s D finally slam the door?
DE Trent Cole vs. LT Charlie Johnson
The Colts have allowed seven sacks, fewest in the league. Tough to stop Manning when he’s that comfortable. The Eagles will need Cole -- with his six sacks -- to create pressure. Expect them to move Cole around the defense, but his primary obstacle should be the Colts left tackle, Johnson. The Eagles will be hoping the front four can force pressure themselves, since blitzing extra men could leave the secondary vulnerable to another strafing.
LT Jason Peters and RT Winston Justice vs. DE Dwight Freeney and DE Robert Mathis
The Colts don’t blitz much, but with these two ends, they don’t have to. Mathis and Freeney are numbers one and two in the league in strip-sacks over the past eight years, according to offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Freeney has five sacks this season and faces Peters, who is returning from knee surgery. Welcome back. Mathis has 5.5 sacks. With the lefty Michael Vick quarterbacking, Justice will be protecting the blind side, making his play even more crucial.
RB LeSean McCoy vs. LB Clint Session
McCoy has been the Eagles most reliable weapon and is averaging 4.5 yards-per-carry while adding a team-best 38 catches. The Colts defense, meanwhile is fifth worst in rushing-yards-allowed per game. If the Eagles want to keep Manning off the field, running behind McCoy makes sense. If he’s healthy, expect Session, the Colts’ active outside linebacker, to try to contain McCoy. Few have.