- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Speed first, mistakes second.That's the order of things for the NFL offenses that want to go faster, run more plays, and push the pace against the defenses facing them.
“That’s what those offenses want to do," said Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard. “They want you to mess up. They want you not to get lined up, not to get your calls, not to be where you’re supposed to be, then they hit you with a big play."
So, as the Broncos and Eagles -- two of the fastest offenses in the league -- gather Sunday in Sports Authority Field at Mile High, here are some things to consider:
Get moving: The Broncos can’t waste time on defense. That whole "stroll to the line of the scrimmage" thing isn’t going to work. Neither will being slow with the calls or sluggish in their alignments. When the play finishes the Broncos defenders simply have to get over the ball and be ready to go. The Chiefs were able to limit the Eagles last week, at least in part, by consistently getting themselves over the ball and ready to go, even as the umpire is placing the ball. Because if you snooze, you lose. And lose big.
Mind the gap: Like most of the pick-up-the-pace attacks, Eagles coach Chip Kelly is looking to spread out the defense’s resources and then run though the gaps. The Eagles currently lead the league in rushing, at 209 yards per game. With their offensive alingments, Kelly often creates situations where the defense only has six players in the box and then quarterback Michael Vick or running back LeSean McCoy only have to make one defender miss before they are at the second level with big plays on their minds. One of the more effective formations the Eagles have run is a “double stack" look where Kelly takes four receivers and lines two out wide on each side of the formation with one receiver right behind the other on each side. That pulls four defensive backs outside the numbers and six defenders in the tackle box. It makes tackling a premium and a single missed tackle can turn into a 50-yard run. Vick had a 61-yard run out of the formation against the Chiefs. Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio knows the deal: “It’s all about leveraging and tackling ... always has been, always will be."
Air mail: The Eagles, in Kelly’s first season, have taken a page out of the Seahawks’ playbook. They opened the checkbook in free agency to get bigger at cornerback, signing the 6-foot, 200-pound Bradley Fletcher (Rams) and the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Cary Williams (Ravens) in the offseason. Essentially the Eagles were hoping Fletcher, who started more than four games in just one of his four seasons in St. Louis, could make the transition to front-line starter. But they’ve been spotty at times -- their three opponents have found enough room to attempt 49, 47 and 35 passes over the first three weeks of the season -- and all three opposing quarterbacks have completed at least 61 percent of their passes. Philip Rivers connected on 77 percent in a Week 2 Chargers win. Defensive coaches in the league say they believe Peyton Manning is as dialed in as he’s ever been. And Manning will get a secondary that is starting a backup safety. Earl Wolff is expected to start for the injured Patrick Chung and the other safety, Nate Allen, has struggled mightily at times this season. In the three-wide look, the Eagles will have a difficult choice over who they will put in the slot on Wes Welker. The Eagles have struggled to tackle well much of the time, so the catch-and-run opportunities have been there for opposing receivers.
Could be a special day: In the Eagles’ loss to the Chiefs, the game was just a few minutes old and the Eagles had already surrendered a 57-yard kickoff return and fumbled a punt. Philadelphia, like any roster in the transition that comes with a new coaching staff, has shown some bobbles in special teams. The Broncos’ Trindon Holliday will have some opportunities to make a play in this one. Also, from the Eagles’ perspective, Kelly will try some things on special teams to shake things up. He attempted a fake extra point out of a swinging gate look with the kicker and holder lined up. The attempt failed, but the Broncos will need to be aware.
Get heat on: Vick has been sacked 11 times this season -- he was tied for second-most in the league after three games -- including six by the Chiefs last week. It means, given the Eagles’ read-option look on offense, the 33-year-old has taken his share of punishment already. The Broncos will have to be disciplined in their rush lanes as they move up the field. And they’ll have to live by the basic rule of rushing a mobile passer -- don’t get deeper into the backfield than the quarterback so you don’t leave an escape route. The Eagles may move to more two-tight-end looks at times to give a little help up front. But the Broncos should be able to get some pressure and keep Vick hemmed in.