Eagles' defense up for challenge of slowing Chiefs' high-octane offense

Eagles' defense up for challenge of slowing Chiefs' high-octane offense

Not all that long ago, Andy Reid presided over an explosive offense featuring running back LeSean McCoy, receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin and a guy who back then was a big-play tight end in Brent Celek.

Today, Reid's offense comes at teams with tight end Travis Kelce, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and running back Kareem Hunt.

Fast, young, explosive. All that's different is the uniform.

The Eagles' defense, coming off an impressive debut in Washington last weekend, will have its hands full this weekend with a star-studded Chiefs offense (see 5 matchups to watch).

"You want games like this," Eagles safety Rodney McLeod said. "That's why we play this game.

"We're both coming off somewhat big wins. For us, a division opponent. For them, the Super Bowl champs. It's going to be a good matchup. They have great skill players, but we have skill players on our side of the ball that they have to worry about, too."

Reid has always had an eye for skill players, and in Kelce, Hill and Hunt — along with QB Alex Smith — the Chiefs have a nucleus that could bring Kansas City its first top-10 offense since Dick Vermeil was head coach.

"Obviously they have a lot of speed on the field, a lot of formation shifts, motions, some things we'll have to prepare for," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said.

"Guys who are well-established in this league who have made plays and obviously, you've got some rookies that are playing well. Really good quarterback, really good coach. They're very, very impressive."

The Chiefs opened the season with a 42-27 win over the Super Bowl champion Patriots a week ago Thursday, so not only are they explosive, they'll be well-rested going into their intriguing matchup with the Eagles at 1 p.m. Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

In Foxboro, Hunt put together the greatest debut by a rookie running back in NFL history, with 246 yards from scrimmage (148 rushing, 98 receiving, three TDs). Hill, who had 860 scrimmage yards last year as a rookie, added seven catches for 133 yards. Kelce had 5 for 40 but was over 1,100 yards last year.

"They do a lot of things to get your eyes going one way to create miscommunication within the defense to get somebody open," McLeod said.

"You see a lot of that. That's a big part of their scheme, so our biggest thing is communication is going to be key, discipline is going to be another, trusting that everybody's going to do their job and has that responsibility and not to do another person's job.

"We [have to] do that early and show that we can stop those plays that they scheme up. Because it seems like every team they play they have a set number of plays that they direct just for that specific team, so I think that's going to be the game plan early. Stop that and they'll get back into their regular offense."

With the 23-year-old Hill and the 22-year-old Hunt, this is only the fourth time in NFL history teammates 23 and under both surpassed 130 scrimmage yards on opening day.

In 1966, Dan Reeves and Bob Hayes of the Cowboys did it. In 1973, it was Jim Bertelsen and Lawrence McCutcheon of the Rams, and just last year it was achieved by Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks of the Saints.

Probably the only way Hunt and Hill won't be making plays for the Chiefs for the next five or six years is if Chip Kelly replaces Reid again and trades them.

"They are both talented guys and I think what stands out about it is if you pay too much attention to any one guy, that another guy can make you pay," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said.

"That 87 (Kelce) demands a lot of attention, also. They have a lot of talent across the board and the quarterback can get the ball to all of them.

"If you want to spend too much attention on Tyreek than Kelce, then the running backs, all those guys can make plays. You have to play good, sound defense. You have to be good across the board. It's not just about taking one guy out of this offense. If you try to do that, I think there's a lot of other guys that can [hurt you]. We can't overplay one person at the expense of the other guys."

The Eagles' defense opened the season by limiting the Redskins to just 10 points and 264 net yards of offense.

But the Chiefs have a much higher-octane offense than the post-DeSean Redskins.

"There's not really that many teams that have one guy that you can stop and feel good about," Jenkins said.

"This league is too filled with talent. We know for a fact that there's going to be matchups that each guy is going to have to win. Whether it's on their receivers or the speed they've got in the backfield, or it's their tight end or it's their quarterback getting rid of the ball.

"Everybody's going to have to match up to win and we're going to need everyone to win those 1-on-1s. That's the beauty of having a team sport. Everybody's going to have to contribute. So we're looking forward to that. We're not trying to take away just one or two guys. We're going to see if we can match up."

Stefen Wisniewski heads Eagles' inactives vs Giants

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Stefen Wisniewski heads Eagles' inactives vs Giants

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Eagles will be without their starting left guard Sunday afternoon against the Giants. 

Stefen Wisniewski (ankle) is officially inactive. Either Chance Warmack or Isaac Seumalo will play in his place. 

Wisniewski came into the weekend listed as questionable after he injured his ankle during the first half of last Sunday's game in Los Angeles. After Wisniewski came out against the Rams, he was replaced by  Warmack and then Seumalo. Both struggled against L.A. and Aaron Donald. 

Since joining the Eagles as a free agent, Wisniewski had played in all 29 games with the team. He earned the starting left guard job earlier this season. 

Joining Wisniewski among the Eagles' inactive players are Rasul Douglas, Wendell Smallwood, Marcus Johnson, Steven Means, Elijah Qualls and Dannell Ellerbe.  

Nick Foles will obviously get the start at quarterback and Nate Sudfeld will be the backup. This is the first time Sudfeld will be active for an NFL game. 

With Wiz out, offensive tackle Will Beatty is active for the first time as an Eagle. Douglas, the third-round rookie who played well when given a chance this season, is inactive for the first time since the season opener. 

Bryan Braman, who was brought back this week, is active and should immediately play a role on special teams. 

For the Giants, safety Landon Collins, who came into the weekend listed as doubtful, is active. 

Eagles-Giants thoughts: Intrigue surrounds Nick Foles' 1st start

Eagles-Giants thoughts: Intrigue surrounds Nick Foles' 1st start

1 p.m. on FOX
Eagles -8

A game that until recently looked like a speedbump on the Eagles’ path to the playoffs has all of a sudden become a matchup of intrigue and mystery.

NFC East rivalry or not, the 11-2 Eagles were expected to dispatch the 2-11 Giants with relative ease, and still very well may. However, the season’s second meeting between the two teams has taken on a decidedly different feel now that it will feature Nick Foles under center for the Birds.

It’s become appointment viewing for an Eagles fan base collectively holding its breath, hoping to catch a glimpse into whether Foles possesses the ability to lead the team deep into the postseason.

Foles has made 36 career NFL starts – seven more than the quarterback he replaces, Carson Wentz – and has appeared in 46 games total, most of that with the Eagles. Nonetheless, the sixth-year veteran is viewed as something of an unknown entity. Foles was productive for several seasons, even historically prolific, but also lost a pair of starting jobs, nearly playing himself out of the league along the way.

Now in his second stint with the Eagles, the question is which version of Foles are the Eagles getting this time around, and can they still reach the Super Bowl with a new signal caller? We will begin to get some answers Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium.

In a position to succeed
Regardless of whether Foles is up to the challenge, it wouldn’t hurt the Eagles’ chances if they were able to finish what they started and earn the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. That could actually happen as early as Sunday.

A win over the Giants and a Vikings loss to the Bengals would be enough to clinch a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the postseason. Even if the Vikings don’t lose this week, the Eagles can secure the top seed in the conference with any two wins over the Giants, Raiders or Cowboys over the final three games. Of the three remaining opponents, only the Cowboys are currently above .500 at 7-6.

In other words, Foles shouldn’t have to do much heavy lifting until the postseason, while the Eagles can make his job a little easier in January if they take care of business down the stretch.

With a little help from his friends
Foles has been under the microscope all week, and the backup quarterback has been examined from just about every angle. There’s nothing much more to say about the Eagles from the offense’s standpoint, at least until we’ve seen it action.

The group that’s flying under the radar in the aftermath of the injury to Wentz is the defense. Even the unit’s role in last week’s 43-35 win over the Rams has been overlooked to a degree, despite coming up huge in the fourth quarter.

After allowing the Rams to go up and down the field for the better part of the contest, the Eagles made two pivotal stops after Wentz’s exit. A Chris Long strip sack set up the game-winning field goal and that was followed by a quick three-and-out that allowed Foles and the offense to milk nearly the entire final two minutes of regulation.

That was against the No. 2 scoring offense in the NFL, and though the Eagles did surrender 35 points, the defense stepped up when it mattered.

Wentz might be out, but the Eagles’ defense still ranks first against the run, 13th against the pass, fourth in total yards, fifth in scoring and is tied for third in takeaways entering the week. This isn’t all on Foles and the offense. They are more than capable of limiting or completely shutting down an opponent.

Coming up short?
The one area of the offense that might be worth keeping an eye out moving forward is on third downs. The Eagles are third in the NFL with a 45.3 percent conversion rate, and Wentz just seemed to have a knack for making something happen even during third-and-long situations, often keeping the play alive or simply making a clutch throw.

Foles did find Nelson Agholor for a huge third-down conversion against the Rams, but Wentz has been uncanny in those situations. Foles is far less likely to extend a play with his feet, and he’s far more willing to make a safe throw to a checkdown receiver and live with a punt.

Perhaps more than anything else this season, that ability to keep drives alive was what made Wentz so dangerous and so difficult to defend. When it seemed the Eagles’ backs were against the wall, he’d throw a strike, or run around and find somebody or pick up the first down himself.

No matter what happens, the offense won’t be the same without Wentz. The guy is special. But on third down in particular, there was a feeling no distance was too far, and a conversion was inevitable – and on occasion, it would break the will of opposing defenses.

The Eagles better get used to the idea of running on first and second down to create manageable thirds, punting when it’s not there and playing defense. Foles will do fine, but he’s not quite an unstoppable force, unlike Wentz.