NFL Preview - San Diego (0-1) at Philadelphia (1-0)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Lost in translation surrounding sustainability within the Philadelphia Eagles offense is their defense.
Eagles linebacker Demeco Ryans said the defense was envious of the potent offense that shredded the Washington Redskins for 443 yards on 77 total plays in Monday night's 33-27 victory at FedEx Field.
"They (the offense) were driving for so long I was just wondering when we were going to get our opportunities. Seems like the offense was out there, they were having so much fun," Ryans told WIP Radio. "They were eating up a lot of the clock, just driving the defense, and as a defense we were sitting on the sidelines, like man when are we going to get our opportunity to go out there and have a crack at it."
Ryans and the defense will get their opportunity to shine in Sunday's home opener versus Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers.
Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis knew Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was coming back from knee surgery, had no action during the preseason and limited reps in training camp. Davis devised a game plan in which to attack the line of scrimmage and force a rusty Griffin to make mistakes, which he did with two interceptions. Griffin was sacked three times and his numbers of 329 yards passing and two TDs were skewed because Washington played from behind the entire night.
"It's just (that) we didn't know what they were going to show on defense, and they surprised us," Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon said. "They had a lot of looks that we weren't expecting and we just didn't get the hang of it until the second half, but that's football."
By the second half the Eagles were clearly cruising and gave up some easy scores to make the final score closer than what it really was. But overall the defense played aggressive and some new faces in new places shined through. Cornerback Cary Williams, a lightning rod for attention during training camp for several reasons, finished with a sack, an interception and two passes defensed. Trent Cole, a longtime defensive end used to playing with his hand in the dirt, forced a fumble and recorded four tackles.
Second-year linebacker Mychal Kendricks was all over the field, finishing with 10 tackles, a fumble recovery and a hard hit on Griffin. The Eagles had six players with six or more tackles.
"That's our mentality. We want to be an aggressive, attacking defense flying around to the ball and when your defensive coordinator calls an aggressive game plan it allows the players to fly around and make plays, the way we did last night," Ryans said Tuesday.
For how fast Philly's defense was Monday night, the offense was even faster. Eagles first year head coach Chip Kelly put an early stamp on the NFL with his new tactics and the offense owned the Redskins for 3 1/2 quarters. Michael Vick passed for 203 yards and two touchdowns, LeSean McCoy ran for 184 yards and a score on a career-high 31 carries and DeSean Jackson hauled in seven passes for 104 yards and a score. The Eagles racked up 263 yards rushing on 49 attempts, the most since running the ball 50 times back in 1997.
Kelly's offense implements a high-energy approach with players getting back to the line of scrimmage in a matter of seconds after each play. The Eagles worked on this technique for months and it came to fruition against the Redskins. Hiring a sports scientist and having players guzzle nutritional shakes seemed to pay off, but only for one game.
San Diego unveiled its new head coach in Mike McCoy on Monday night against the Houston Texans. McCoy's debut started off nicely with a 28-7 lead until both sides of the football imploded.
The Texans scored 24 points for the margin of 31-28.
"There's no time to stay down right now. We've got to focus on the positives of this game and not worry," Chargers center Nick Hardwick said. "We've got to move forward, get ready for Philadelphia and get our first win under our belt. There's no time to dwell on it."
Rivers shined for 3 1/2 quarters and finished with 195 yards passing with four TD passes and one interception. He spread the ball around to seven different receivers and not one of them had more than 49 yards receiving. The Chargers' anemic ground attack was led by Ryan Mathews' 33 yards on 13 carries.
The Chargers have a short week, much like the Eagles, and will travel across the country for Sunday's road bout in the City of Brotherly Love. They ended the 2012 campaign with two straight road wins and are 1-2 in the last three road openers.
The Eagles will be looking to start 2-0 for a second straight season. Before the 2012 campaign, the Eagles hadn't opened a season 2-0 since winning seven straight to start 2004, when they reached the Super Bowl.
Philadelphia and San Diego haven't met since Nov. 15, 2009, when the Chargers recorded a 31-23 victory. The Chargers, who haven't lost two in a row to start a season since 2008, lead the all-time series with the Eagles by a 6-4 count. The Eagles are 3-1 as the host in this series.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Chargers should have defeated the Texans Monday night, but gave up 449 total yards (329 through the air). They run a 3-4 scheme under defensive coordinator John Pagano and the unit has to apply more pressure up front after recording just two sacks on Texans quarterback Matt Schaub.
It didn't help the defense that the offense had four three-and-outs and one interception returned for a touchdown in the final five offensive drives.
"We've got to learn from it, not forget about it, but move on in a hurry," Rivers said of the offense in the second half. "This is the first game of the year. We have 15 more to go, and got one in Philly that's going to be here quickly, so we have to move on quick."
Linebackers Bront Bird (14 tackles) and Donald Butler (13 tackles) carried the load for the Chargers Monday and it won't get any easier for the duo this week. Perhaps rookie linebacker Manti Te'o will be healthy enough to play and he missed the season opener with a foot injury.
One of the keys to stopping the Eagles is pressing at the line of scrimmage; don't give the wide receivers too much cushion because every man needs to be accounted for in Kelly's offense. Pressure up front on Vick is key. Vick is not a typical pocket passer and tends to rush throws under pressure. Some corner blitzes could help in keeping Vick under control. In order to stop McCoy the Chargers have to stack the box.
If Monday's Eagles game has any bearing on this week, San Diego's secondary will be in for a treat. Talented safety Eric Weddle must not let anyone behind him or the Chargers will be down early and often. Hydration and stamina are two areas San Diego's defense should be concerned with this week. Texans wideout Andre Johnson burned the Chargers for 146 yards on 12 catches, but running back Arian Foster managed 57 yards on 18 touches.
Philadelphia put on an offensive show and proved plenty of doubters wrong that Kelly's scheme wouldn't work in the NFL. Top level conditioning for this break-neck tempo was asked of the players in OTAs because it will tire defenses and cause a build up in lactic acid. That's when defenders may go down with a mysterious cramp or strain.
One area of concern for the Eagles is the durability of the players. The ball will be spread around to a lot of different players and snaps have to be doles out accordingly. McCoy running 31 times in a game won't happen every time, so Bryce Brown or Chris Polk will see some time. Also, Vick must keep his body out of harm's way if he plans on playing an entire season. He was seen tugging at his groin after a long run at Washington.
"In this game you always have to be on alert. As a quarterback, guys are gunning for you and they want to hit you," Vick said. "You have to just keep your head on a swivel and understand that you can be hit at any moment, not take anything lightly, and give it 110 percent effort each and every down. Things are going to happen, but just leave it in the hands of the referees."
In one career start against the Chargers, Vick completed 12-of-21 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns as a member of the Atlanta Falcons. Vick, who added nine carries for 35 yards in a 21-20 victory over San Diego in 2004, has won seven of his past nine starts against the AFC.
Another aspect to take into consideration after Monday's win was that the players were not used to playing all four quarters following a limited preseason. The Eagles' offensive line, which is an area of concern conditioning wise, showed no signs of slowing down as evidenced by McCoy's performance. His shiftiness and elusiveness had a lot to do with his final numbers, too.
The Chargers will try not to make the same mistakes the Redskins did, but then again all Washington had to work with was Philadelphia's film from the preseason and perhaps some footage of Kelly's days with Oregon. At least now the Chargers have somewhat of an idea what's coming and that's why the game will be closer than most think. Plus, Pagano's defense doesn't want to climb out of a hole from the jump.
San Diego and Philadelphia did break down in their respective second half on Monday night, while the Eagles had good reason with a sizable advantage. The Eagles created a buzz leading up to Sunday's home opener after what they did to the Redskins and Kelly feels there's still room for improvement.
"I felt like it was slow to be honest with you," Kelly said. "I'm not joking. We have to do a better job. We left the ball on the ground too much. We didn't get the ball to the officials. We could have sped things up from a process in between plays, and that's something we need to continue to work on."
Get those oxygen tanks ready, San Diego.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 27, Chargers 20
09/12 14:30:52 ET