The Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles will collide in high-speed fashion Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in a 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff.
The 3-0 Broncos feature the league's highest-scoring offense -- their 127 points are 31 more than any other team this season after three weeks -- and quarterback Peyton Manning has thrown for more touchdowns (12) than 29 teams have scored overall.
The Eagles, at 1-2, lead the league in rushing and yards per play (7.0), so this one could have the look of a drag race, think Mile-High Nationals, a summer staple for race fans on the Front Range.
Eagles team reporter Phil Sheridan and Broncos team reporter Jeff Legwold break down the game.
Legwold: Phil, you have been around the Eagles for a long time and have seen the organization go through many changes. Coach Chip Kelly's offense was certainly the talk of the offseason around the league, as most teams discussed wanting to join the fun, to go faster, to get more snaps, to stress defenses with speed. But given what the Broncos have done on offense this season, how fast does Kelly really want to go in Denver? Is there a risk of exposing his defense if he gives the Broncos too many possessions?
Sheridan: There is enormous risk, Jeff, but my sense of Kelly is that he'll want to put the pedal to the metal anyway. He's trying to build a culture, with an aggressive approach to every aspect of the sport. I don't see him easing up for one game, no matter the specific challenges. Besides, I think the Eagles' only chance is to try to match the Broncos score for score and take their chances with a close, high-scoring game. As the Eagles learned the hard way the past two weeks, their defense is not good enough to shut down an opponent at crunch time.
That leads me to this question: Doesn't Denver's up-tempo offense put stress on the Broncos defense? Oakland seemed to move the ball as the game wore on. Doesn't that suggest the Broncos will be vulnerable to Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and the rest of the Eagles offense?
Legwold: I think that is the risk overall with the move toward up-tempo offenses around the league. It's all well and good to be fast on offense, snapping the ball at light speed, but those 45-second possessions that end in a three-and-out are just about the worst thing for any defense that just got to the sideline. That's one of the most interesting items about the Eagles so far: They have had just one three-and-out that ended in a punt in 38 possessions.
The Broncos were aggressive against the Raiders defensively last week, and linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Danny Trevathan did a quality job keeping Terrelle Pryor hemmed in. The Broncos are a speed defense overall, up and down the depth chart, so the teams that try to run out of open formations, like the three wide, tend not to do as consistently well as the teams that keep them in the base defense and pound away a bit. But McCoy and Vick will easily be their toughest challenge in the run game of the young season. In terms of defense, how would you expect the Eagles to approach the Broncos -- come after Manning a bit or drop into coverage and hope they can fill the gaps?
Sheridan: The Eagles' best bet might be to close their eyes and just pray Manning fumbles the snap. Don't think that's in the game plan, though. Seriously, they know their only hope is to generate some pressure from unexpected sources, be incredibly disciplined in their gap and coverage assignments and be exponentially better at tackling than they have been. They're not going to outsmart Manning, but if they can make him a little uncomfortable and get a break or two -- a fumble, a tipped pass that gets picked off -- they can keep the Broncos from running away with the game. Denver thrives on yards after the catch, which is what killed the Eagles in their two losses.
I was interested in your comments about getting the Broncos into their base defense, because the Eagles have used a lot of three wide receiver sets to get defenses into nickel personnel. So much depends on the corners, so let me ask A) If Champ Bailey is playing, and B) Why Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is so much better than he was in Philadelphia for two lost seasons?
Legwold: Bailey has not played since injuring his left foot in a preseason loss to the Seahawks in mid-August. He certainly wants to play, keeps saying he's "close" and even upped to it "very close" last week. The Broncos would like him out there, especially in this one, but he's going to have to move around better than he did a couple of hours before kickoff Monday night when it was pretty clear he was going to miss his third consecutive game. But if he shows a little better movement this week, especially Thursday and Friday, I think he'll be in uniform.
On DRC, the Broncos gambled a bit on tough love. They essentially, and Rodgers-Cromartie has said this as well, told him what was wrong with him on his visit. They told him why he wasn't playing as well as he should and that they could fix it if he was willing to be coached hard. He said he was and has been. A gifted athlete, Rodgers-Cromartie has been the saving grace with Bailey's injury and has played like a No. 1 guy. I won't be surprised if the Broncos try to work out a little longer deal at some point in the coming months.
I know we've spent plenty of time on offense, but I am wondering if Kelly sees Vick as the long-term future at quarterback -- or as long term as a 33-year-old can be -- or does Kelly have bigger plans at the position?
Sheridan: I would love to know the answer to that one too. The Vick situation is fascinating. If he has a great year and somehow gets the Eagles into the playoffs (not as far-fetched as it sounds in an NFC East where half the teams are 0-3), it would be awfully hard to let him walk. But can you re-sign a guy at his age, with his injury history, and expect him to be the guy when you're really ready to contend in one or two or three years? My hunch is that Kelly would love to get one of the quarterbacks in next year's draft, that this year is about getting as much of the rest of the program in place as possible. But that would make much more sense if he had gone with Nick Foles or even rookie Matt Barkley than with Vick, who is just good enough to keep you from drafting high enough for a franchise quarterback.
Since it's a subject of discussion, let me ask you about the altitude. Do the Broncos believe it gives them a physical advantage, or do they see it more as a psychological thing? Is their home-field advantage about thin air or having good teams with loud, passionate fans rocking the stadium?
Legwold: The Broncos believe it gives both a physical and mental advantage. Objectively, for an elite athlete to work for three or so hours in Denver likely has minimal impact on performance. But who's to say even a sliver of impact isn't enough to tip the scales at times. The Broncos' record at home over the decades is well over .600 since 1960, and in September games, they are over a .700 winning percentage at home. The Olympic Training Center is in Colorado and many of the world-class cyclists on the planet train in the area, so it means there's some athletic benefit for the Broncos to work in the altitude. The Broncos particularly feel it's an advantage when they go fast on offense. Watch the Ravens defense in the second half of the opener and it was pretty clear that group didn't enjoy Manning at 5,280 feet.
Phil, great stuff and that should cover it. It could be a long night for both defenses with these two high-powered offenses going at it.