Eagles-Bills: scouting report, matchups, and prediction | Paul Domowitch
Can the Eagles passing game get going? Will Buffalo gouge the Eagles run defense like the Cowboys did?
The Eagles will look to avoid a three-game losing streak, all on the road, when they travel to Buffalo to play the surprising 5-1 Bills at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Here’s an in-depth breakdown of the game.
When the Eagles run
The Eagles’ ground game essentially has become a one-man show. While rookie Miles Sanders has been productive in the passing game, he has struggled as a runner, missing holes and too often trying to hit a home run. Eight of his 63 carries have lost yards. He had just nine carries in the last two games. Jordan Howard doesn’t have splashy numbers. He’s only 19th in the league in rushing with 347 yards. But he averaged 4.8 yards per carry in the last four games. Against the Cowboys, he rushed for 36 yards on seven carries in the first quarter, but had just four more carries the rest of the game because of the lopsided score. He has just three negative runs in 52 carries and is averaging 4.24 yards per carry on first down. The Bills are 10th in opponent rush average (3.9). But they’ve faced only one team that’s ranked higher than 24th in rush average. That was the Giants (6th), who averaged 6.5 yards per carry against them in Week 2. Defensive tackle Star Lotulei is a 315-pound load, but rookie Ed Oliver’s quickness might be a bigger challenge for the Eagles’ interior offensive linemen.
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When the Eagles throw
Carson Wentz is 19th in passing (92.9). But in six games without DeSean Jackson, he has completed just 59.2% of his passes and is averaging only 6.6 yards per attempt. Most of Wentz’s passing numbers are down from last year. He failed to throw for more than 200 yards in three of the last four games. His completion percentage on zero-to-10-yard throws has plummeted from 75.8 last year to 68.2 this year. His third-down numbers have remained solid, however. He’s fifth in third-down passing (104.3), and 47.6% of his third-down passes have produced first downs. Tight end Zach Ertz, who had 116 receptions last season, had just one catch in the first half against the Vikings and didn’t have a catch until the fourth quarter last week in Dallas. His 59.3 catch rate is the lowest of his career, and he has just one TD. The Bills have an excellent pass defense. They are third in opponent passer rating (70.3), third in yards allowed per attempt (5.9), and fourth in opponent completion percentage (58.7). Cornerback Tre’Davious White is a solid cover corner who has three of the defense’s seven interceptions.
When the Bills run
Thirty-six-year-old Frank Gore keeps blowing through holes. He has missed just two games in the last nine years. He needs just 133 yards to move ahead of Barry Sanders into third place on the NFL’s all-time rushing list. In his first season with the Bills, he’s averaging 4.5 yards per carry on 14.3 rushing attempts per game. Quarterback Josh Allen is a big part of the Bills’ ground game. He already has 45 carries and is averaging 4.2 yards per carry. The only quarterback in the league with more rushing attempts is Arizona rookie Kyler Murray (49). Allen has 13 rushing first downs. Devin Singletary has just 17 carries, but the elusive rookie is averaging 9 yards per carry. The Bills are sixth in first-down rush average (4.9 yards per carry). The Eagles had held their first six opponents to 72.8 rushing yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry, both the second-best marks in the league. But Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys rushed for 186 yards against them last week as the Eagles had their worst tackling performance of the season. An ankle injury to Nigel Bradham and the decision to release Zach Brown has left the Eagles undersize at linebacker. In their last two games, the Eagles gave up 18 rushing first downs. They had allowed 15 in their first five games.
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When the Bills throw
Josh Allen is 27th in the league in passing (80.2). But he bounced back from a horrible three-interception performance against the Patriots in Week 4 with two solid games. He has a 104.2 passer rating with four TDs and a 67.2 completion percentage in back-to-back wins over the Titans and Dolphins. He’s facing an Eagles pass defense that is struggling. The Eagles have given up 14 TD passes and 91 passing first downs, both tied for the sixth most in the NFL. Their pass-rush, the lifeblood of the defense, has been inconsistent, particularly inside. The Vikings’ Kirk Cousins and the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott combined for 43 completions in 56 attempts the last two weeks and averaged 10.2 yards per attempt. The Birds got one of their starting corners, Jalen Mills, back last week, and should get the other, Ronald Darby, back this week. But they still need to find a way to get pressure on the mobile Allen. The Bills QB has a 76.4 third-down passer rating and has been sacked nine times on third down, which is tied for the third most in the league. Wide receiver John Brown is a deep threat with sub-4.4 speed. He has a team-high 33 catches, including eight of 20 or more yards.
Jake Elliott has converted all eight of his field goal attempts, though just one of them has been longer than 41 yards (53 against the Vikings). Elliott had just 5 of 29 kickoffs returned in the last six games, though that likely will change this week playing outside in windy Buffalo. Cam Johnston is first in the NFL in net punting average (44.6). In the last four games, the Eagles held opponents to 5.0 yards per return on 15 punts. Darren Sproles still is sidelined with a quad injury, so former practice-squadder Boston Scott will return punts for the second straight game. He has averaged 8.0 yards per return on three attempts. Bills kicker Stephen Hauschka has an 86.2 career FG accuracy rate, which is the 10th best in NFL history. He has made 7 of 9 this season. Punter Corey Bojorquez is last in the league in gross (42.6) and net average (34.4) and had one punt blocked. The Bills are giving up 13.0 yards per return on his punts. Andre Roberts handles both punt and kickoff returns for the Bills. He led the league in punt returns with the Jets last season (14.1) but is averaging just 5.4 per return so far this season.
The Eagles have lost back-to-back games by a total of 45 points and the locker room finger-pointing has begun. Meanwhile, in Buffalo, everything is sweetness and light at the moment for the 5-1 Bills.
Domowitch’s prediction: Eagles 24, Bills 20
Eagles LBs Kamu Grugier-Hill/Nate Gerry/T.J. Edwards vs. Bills QB Josh Allen: Allen is averaging 7.5 rushing attempts per game and already has 13 rushing first downs. His running will be a bigger concern than his passing, particularly if Nigel Bradham’s injured ankle keeps him out of a second straight game.
Eagles TE Zach Ertz v. Bills S Micah Hyde. Ertz was a non-factor in the passing game the last two weeks, and that needs to change, particularly with the Eagles playing so much 12-personnel. Hyde is a seven-year veteran with solid cover skills.
Eagles C Jason Kelce/RG Brandon Brooks vs. Bills DTs Ed Oliver/Jordan Phillips: Pro Bowlers Kelce and Brooks are the key to the Eagles’ run game. Oliver is an undersize DT with exceptional quickness. Phillips, who rotates with Oliver, is a 341-pound sun-blocker.
Keys to the game
In the beginning: The Eagles have to stop playing catch-up. They’ve given up 51 first-quarter points this season. The only team in the league that has allowed more is the winless Dolphins (54). The good news is the Bills have scored only 21 first-quarter points, which is the sixth fewest.
Ball security: Turnovers hurt the Eagles the last two weeks. They had three giveaways in their 18-point loss to the Vikings and four in last week’s 27-point defeat to the Cowboys.
Bring ‘em down: The Eagles are coming off their worst tackling performance of the season against the Cowboys. Against Frank Gore and Josh Allen, the Eagles need to limit the missed tackles, both in the run game and the pass game.