Eagles-Broncos scouting report
What to watch when the Eagles host Denver on Sunday.
What to watch when the Eagles host Denver at 1 p.m. Sunday.
When the Eagles have the ball
The Eagles offense will face its toughest test yet – and perhaps its toughest test of the entire season. The Broncos enter with the NFL's top-ranked defense, limiting opponents to 261 yards per game. Carson Wentz will have a challenge against a Denver pass defense that keeps quarterbacks to only 188.1 passing yards per game. Aqib Talib and Chris Harris form one of the NFL's top cornerback duos and will cover Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Bradley Roby will cover Nelson Agholor in the slot, so there's no easy matchup with the wide receivers. The Eagles will have opportunities with tight end Zach Ertz. He's questionable, but is expected to play. That could be the matchup the Eagles exploit Sunday. Right tackle Lane Johnson will be tasked with blocking pass rusher Von Miller, one of the NFL's elite players. Miller has seven sacks this season. The Broncos could also move Miller to the other side to try to get him matched up against Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Shane Ray returned from injury last week and is the other edge rusher. Defensive end Derrick Wolfe will be a handful for guard Brandon Brooks.
The Eagles run offense will be in the spotlight after acquiring Jay Ajayi this week. It's not yet known what kind of role Ajayi will play in Sunday's game, but it likely won't be a big one. Even with Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount will still be a factor. Wendell Smallwood's role could be reduced – and he might even be inactive. Denver's rushing defense ranks only second to the Eagles in yards per game, but it is limiting opponents to only 3 yards per carry and has not allowed a rushing touchdown. So whoever rushes for the Eagles could have trouble Sunday. Inside linebacker Brandon Marshall is the Broncos' leading tackler. They are the best in the NFL on third downs, allowing conversions on only 25 percent of the attempts. The Eagles offense ranks second with a 47.8 percent conversion rate.
Jake Elliott has been effective on field goals since becoming the Eagles' kicker — especially on field goals of 50-plus yards — although he missed two extra points last week. Watch how Elliott kicks after the Eagles score touchdowns.
When the Broncos have the ball
The Broncos made a quarterback change this week, going from Trevor Siemian to Brock Osweiler. Although he's known for failing to live up to a big contract in Houston, the 6-foot-7 Osweiler has a big arm and 21 career starts. He'll be tasked with taking care of the ball, the biggest problem with the Broncos this season. The Broncos' 17 giveaways have led to 58 points. If they can take better care of the ball, they'll be one of the tougher teams to play in the NFL.
It will help Osweiler that veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders is set to return to the lineup, pairing with Demaryius Thomas for one of the NFL's best receiving duos. It's unlikely that Ronald Darby plays for the Eagles this week, so Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson will again be the top cornerbacks. The Broncos rank No. 18 in the NFL with 218.3 passing yards per game. Osweiler will be protected at left tackle by rookie Garrett Bolles, and the Eagles defensive line will try to have another big day after dominating last week's win. Fletcher Cox will be blocked by former Cowboys lineman Ronald Leary.
Denver has been effective running the ball this season, averaging 123.4 yards on the ground. The top running back is C.J. Anderson, who has 107 carries for 469 yards. Veteran Jamaal Charles, a former star in Kansas City, is averaging 4.7 yards per carry. It also sounds as if Devontae Booker will take on a bigger role. The Broncos will try to find space against an Eagles run defense that ranks No. 1 in the NFL by allowing only 70.4 yards per game. They have not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season. Look for the Eagles to focus on taking away the Broncos' running game and forcing Osweiler to try to beat them through the air. The Eagles have been most effective when they make teams one-dimensional.
In the kicking game, the Broncos rely on Brandon McManus, a North Penn and Temple grad. The strong-legged kicker has been inconsistent this season (66.7 percent on field goals) after building a strong track record in his first three seasons with the Broncos.
11: The Broncos are minus-11 in turnover differential this season, which ranks 31st in the NFL. The Eagles have a plus-5 turnover differential, ranking sixth in the NFL. Turnovers will be a big area to watch in Sunday's game. The Broncos' defense is good enough to pull off the upset over the Eagles, but not if their offense is giving away the ball. The Eagles are an opportunistic defense that has forced a turnover in all but one game this season. The only game without a takeaway? Week 2 in Kansas City, the Eagles' only loss of the season.
Zach Berman: Eagles 23, Broncos 21
Jeff McLane: Eagles 20, Broncos 17
Les Bowen: Eagles 20, Broncos 10
Paul Domowitch: Eagles 20, Broncos 17