NFL Week 3 Thursday Night Preview

Last week’s game between the Patriots and the Jets was a good reminder that Thursday nights will showcase a lot of sloppy play due to the fact that teams are working on a short week. Instead of 6 days to prepare for the next opponent, teams are now working on 3 days. The away team of the matchup just played on Sunday, is in the facility Monday and Tuesday for meetings and walk-thrus. There’s a walk-thru Wednesday and then they fly out. So really they’re working on 2 and a half days of preparation with very little recovery time from the previous game.

I developed the theory last year that when evaluating the matchups for the Thursday night games, it’s always good to lean to the team with the better coaching staff. That team is likely to be better prepared, and barring a vast gap in talent, they should win.

The problem with that theory for tonight’s game is that it’s hard to know what to make of Chip Kelly after 2 games and how he adjusts to the short week for the first time. He could have his team very well prepared because of the variable schedules he dealt with in college football, or he could not be prepared because I’m not sure he’s ever played on 3 days prep before.

One the other side, Andy Reid now only has 3 days to prepare for an offense and tempo that only 2 teams in the league have seen. By some players’ comments, it seems like this is an offense that is tough to gauge how fast they go until you’re actually on the field trying to line up.

It’s hard to discern who has the coaching advantage. I want to lean towards Andy Reid & Co. but I’m not positive on it. It’s really a push.

The basic principles of the high-octane offense that Kelly runs:

  1. Force defenses to be reactive rather than attack.
  2. Force defenders to think quickly and while gasping for air.
  3. Spacing in everything they do by using entire width of field as well as short and deep areas.
  4. Numbers advantages via personnel matchups (e.g. moving TE around formation as h-back, in-line, slot, or outside WR) after no-huddle to make defense adjust on the fly.
  5. Scheme advantages via formations to make defenses adjust to placement of personnel on the fly.
  6. Tempo can be adjusted to fit the matchup – not in high gear all the time.
  7. Bury the opponent in points.
  8. Never out of any game.

How Andy Reid and Bob Sutton have prepared the defense based on those principles will tell a lot about how this game goes early on. After the 2nd half, the game plans become reactionary to the game situation.

Personnel

In terms of straight up personnel matchups, tonight will be a really good test for this Eagles offense and Michael Vick. This is by far the best defense they’ve faced thus far.

Vick hasn’t had a tremendous amount of pressure in his face to this point and he’s certainly going to face it tonight from Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, and Dontari Poe. The Eagles offensive line is pretty solid but the front seven of KC is a hard group to handle for any team. While Poe is getting a lot of the credit, next to him, Mike DeVito is having a phenomenal season as well. He can anchor and penetrate. He gets out of his stance a little high at times but stacks and sheds really well. Derrick Johnson is still a great player and has looked rejuvenated in this new defense. He’s a ball-seeking missile and can plug a gap and rack up tackles as well as anyone in the game. He’s smooth in coverage and has an incredibly high football IQ. Akeem Jordan has looked good as well and really benefits from Johnson’s presence.

The left side of the Eagles line is rock solid with Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, and Jason Kelce. The right side isn’t as solid with Todd Herremans and rookie Lane Johnson. Johnson is still adjusting to the NFL and will be good in time but lapses along the offensive line are often crucial mistakes, especially since he’ll be seeing a lot of Justin Houston tonight.

The Eagles have a couple of versatile tight ends in James Casey and Brent Celek. They’re receiving threats who aren’t terrible at blocking. Zach Ertz is a guy that I liked pre-draft and is in the same mold as Casey and Celek. At receiver, Desean Jackson has looked remarkable this season. The scheme fits his skill set so well. He’s had a ton of opportunities downfield and has found space when in the middle of the field. Vick’s improvisational skills will always help Jackson get open by extending the play. Beyond Jackson, the Eagles will rely on Riley Cooper, Jason Avant, and Damaris Johnson as Vick’s other targets. While they may not be big names, Cooper is an above average WR who is good at finding gaps in the defense and Avant seems to be eternally underrated. There’s a reason the Eagles have kept him around so long.

For the Chiefs secondary, this is a very good group. Brandon Flowers is one of the best cornerbacks in the league and plays tight in man coverage. Sean Smith had a little trouble last week against Dallas but most corners do. He’ll see a mix of Avant and Cooper tonight and that should be a very interesting matchup. Eric Berry looks back to form after a lackluster 2012. Next to him, Kendrick Lewis has been average so far and that’s really all the Chiefs need him to be. Don’t make mistakes and make tackles. If he does that, it allows the Chiefs to be very multiple in what they want to do.

LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown are both immensely talented. McCoy is the shiftiest back in the NFL and so hard to get a hand on. He’s strong enough to get out of the arm tackles that many defenders are left to resort to when trying to bring him down. Bryce Brown is a remarkable athlete and has a special size/speed combo. He doesn’t get a lot of touches but he’s a more than suitable backup.

On offense, the Chiefs rely on Alex Smith to keep the ball moving downfield. Smith has a good understanding that his role in this offense is to keep the chains moving. If he does that, they’ll waltz into the red zone and then they can get creative to get guys open or in favorable matchups. Against Dallas, Smith was Steve Young-esque on the first drive by using his athleticism as much as his arm to get past the first down marker. I also liked his dive on 3rd down that left him vulnerable but showed that he’s committed no matter the consequences.

Jamaal Charles is an explosive back who covers a lot of ground in a hurry, hits the hole hard, and has the agility to change gaps in a hurry or make a defender miss in space. If the Eagles’ defensive line doesn’t string out the run, Charles on the edge is a bad matchup for them. Knile Davis is a big back with really good speed. He hasn’t seen a ton of carries but the rookie seems capable of handling the rock when called upon.

Dwayne Bowe is clearly the best receiver on this team. His size makes him a great red zone target. Donnie Avery has played fairly well so far but hasn’t seen a ton of targets. Smith is the type of QB to take what a defense gives him and he’s had plenty of other options to go to. Slot receiver, and really the movable chess piece, Dexter McCluster has seen an increased workload. Even when he’s not getting the rock he’s being used in multiple ways that opens up space for the other players on offense.

At tight end, the Chiefs sound like they’ll be without Anthony Fasano, who has played well so far this season. Rookie Travis Kelce may also be out. Kelce was one of my favorite TEs in this year’s draft and is a very good receiving threat. He’s not the best in line blocker but will see time there as well as in the slot. If he’s out, that leaves Sean McGrath and Kevin Brock – neither of which provide KC with a chance to create matchup advantages.

The offensive line of the Chiefs seems to be solid enough. Brenden Albert struggled at times against DeMarcus Ware last week against Dallas, but that’s to be expected. He’s a good pass blocker that could use a little improvement in his leverage in run blocking. Guards Jeff Allen and Jon Asamoah have looked very solid and backup Geoff Schwartz even looked good in significant snaps. Rookie Eric Fisher is still in his adjustment period. He’s made some mental mistakes but the talent is evident.

For the Eagles, defense is where there weak link is. I was impressed with their showing in week 1 against Washington. Their performance against San Diego is more of what I expected out of them from my evaluations in preseason. Fletcher Cox appears to be the only superb player that stands out. Isaac Sopoaga has been pushed around more than I expected while Cedric Thornton appears to be better than I expected. The defensive line looks pretty average.

The linebackers is a group of names that I like but haven’t played like it. Mychal Kendricks flashed against Washington but it didn’t overshadow a poor game against San Diego. Demeco Ryans, Connor Barwin, and Trent Cole are all names that I want to like but the film says they’re average at best as a unit. Cole had a great game against San Diego and that’s the only thing saving me from saying this unit isn’t very good. It’s early and I’m interested to see how they progress after another week or two in this system.

On the back end, the Brandon Boykin has turned into a very good corner. If he’s on Bowe a lot tonight, I think that’s a bad matchup and he’ll get beat but he’s shown he can cover decent receivers. Beyond Boykin, the secondary has been poor. Cary Williams hasn’t looked good enough to be a #2 CB. Patrick Chung has been, well, Patrick Chung. He’s slow and has issues in coverage. He’s a decent tackler and that’s really about all he offers. Nate Allen hasn’t been much better but is still young and has time to improve.

Scheme/Gameplans

The Chiefs are running on a very familiar west coast offense. Everything is quick and timed. There aren’t a whole lot of downfield shots in the offense right now. The Philly defense may be the cure for that. I don’t expect Andy Reid to break from the previous two gameplans. He’ll let the offensive design be the advantage and let Alex Smith use his athleticism when necessary. Jamaal Charles may be incorporated a little more early on than against Dallas. The Chiefs came out gunning but I don’t expect that due to the tempo of the Eagles’ offense.

On offense, the Eagles will also stick to the gameplan but they’ll have to find a way to protect Vick. Peters can handle Hali but Justin Houston might wreak havoc. The Chiefs would probably like to get pressure in Vick’s face to keep him from rolling out that way. By putting pressure in his face, it forces him to roll to his right side where he’s supremely less apt at throwing on the run.

The Chiefs weren’t afraid to play a lot of single-high safety against Dallas which tells me they probably won’t be afraid to do it against the Eagles either. KC doesn’t typically move Flowers all over the field to chase receivers so Philly could dictate that matchup. KC will have certain plays they like based on those matchups and it will be interesting to see that reveal itself as the game progresses. Jackson poses the biggest threat beyond LeSean McCoy.

The Eagles were able to create great spacing along the line of scrimmage for McCoy in both games this season. Derrick Johnson is phenomenal at making sure that doesn’t happen and even if it does he’s a great tackler in space. Jordan and Johnson are the 2 best ILBs the Eagles have face so I wouldn’t expect McCoy to have as big of a night unless the Eagles can scheme ways to get him outside of Houston or Hali on the edges.

Verdict

The more I think about it, the more I think the Philly defense suffers because the Philly offense doesn’t spend much time on the field. The Chiefs offense uses space well and causes defense to run all over the field. They should dominate time of possession and that could really take a toll on the Eagles’ defense. Jamaal Charles should have himself a heck of a game tonight because he’ll find some big holes between the tackles. Once he’s to the second level, the Eagles are doomed.

Alex Smith doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. Vick will be prone to them tonight because of the pressure he’ll see from the KC fronts. They’re multiple and attack from many different directions and many different ways. If Philly wants a chance to win this game, they’ll need 4 or 5 big plays. With the poise that the Chiefs’ defense has played with so far, I don’t expect the tempo of the game to cause them to lose it.

I want to say the Chiefs win by two touchdowns but the Eagles’ offense means they’re never really out of a game. So I’ll go with the Chiefs by 8.

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