The700Level

How the Broncos measure up to the Eagles

How the Broncos measure up to the Eagles

When the Eagles’ schedule came out in April, the Broncos looked like one of the tougher opponents on the slate. But in Week 9 of the regular season, Denver is just another flawed, sub-.500 team visiting Lincoln Financial Field to take on the best team in the NFL.

The 3-4 Broncos aren’t exactly pushovers. They still have one of the toughest defenses in football. They have playmakers at the running back and receiver positions. The franchise is only two years removed from winning a Super Bowl.

The Eagles, on the other hand, will be gunning for their seventh straight win on Sunday, while the Broncos are averaging 12.2 points per game over their last five. Regardless of what we thought six months ago, this is a matchup people expect the Eagles to win now.

There are certainly some areas where Denver might have an edge, but from top to bottom, the Eagles look like the superior team.

Quarterbacks
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for October on Thursday. Brock Osweiler was named the Broncos’ starting quarterback this week amid a three-game losing streak during which the previous starter, Trevor Siemian, committed seven turnovers. This past offseason, the Texans traded Osweiler to the Browns WITH a second-round draft choice in a salary dump. Osweiler subsequently failed to win the starting job in Cleveland of all places, and was released at the conclusion of training camp before finding his way back to Denver, where his NFL career began.

Definitive advantage: Eagles

Running backs
If Jay Ajayi plays at all for the Eagles this week, it likely will be sparingly, as he needs time to get ingratiated in the offense (see story). The Broncos may boast a better backfield regardless. C.J. Anderson (107 ATT, 469 YDS, 1 TD) might be the most underrated lead back in the league, while Jamaal Charles (50 ATT, 235 YDS, 1 TD) had something left in the tank after all. Devontae Booker has 176 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in four games since returning from injury as well. All three Denver backs are a threat to break a long gain on the ground or as a receiver out of the backfield. Conversely, LeGarrette Blount is the only Eagles back averaging over 4.0 yards per carry this season (4.7).

Advantage: Broncos

Wide receivers and tight ends
On paper, this looks easy. Broncos wideouts Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders have earned seven invitations to the Pro Bowl between them. Yet Eagles tight end Zach Ertz will be the only player on the field Sunday who’s among the NFL’s top 10 players with 43 receptions (8th), 528 yards receiving (10th) and six touchdown catches (T-3rd). In fact, Alshon Jeffery’s numbers are comparable to Thomas’, while Nelson Agholor has easily outpaced Sanders. Some of that falls on Denver’s quarterback play. Either way, the Eagles are getting greater production from a deeper group of targets this season.

Slight advantage: Eagles

Offensive line
Siemian ranked second in the NFL with 25 sacks prior to his benching. That’s partly a quarterback issue as well, but the play up front has not been stellar. Like the Eagles, the Broncos have employed a rotation at left guard at times with Max Garcia and Allen Barbre, only to far less success, while Menelik Watson has struggled at right tackle when healthy. And first-round draft pick Garrett Bolles is already a strong run blocker, but still needs quite a bit of work in protection. So far, so good for the Eagles one week into life without Jason Peters. Halapoulivaati Vaitai held up well at left tackle against the 49ers, although the O-line remains under the microscope until further notice.

Advantage: Eagles

Defensive line and linebackers
Sunday will be a meeting between the No. 1 and No. 2 run defenses in the NFL. While the Eagles rank first in terms of yards per game, the Broncos are only allowing a meager 3.0 yards per attempt — second only to the Browns(?!), and nearly a full yard better than the Birds (3.8). Denver lay claim to the most dangerous individual in either front seven as well, Von Miller, who has registered a “quiet” 7.0 sacks so far this season. The Eagles can get penetration from the edge (Brandon Graham) or up the middle (Fletcher Cox), which may be to their advantage, while the linebackers probably are a wash. We’re splitting hairs here.

Even

Defensive backs
They call the Broncos secondary the “No-Fly Zone” for a reason. Chris Harris and Aqib Talib are without a doubt the best cornerback tandem in the league. And if Talib gets the ball in his hands, watch out — his 10 career interception returns for touchdowns rank fourth in NFL history. With former first-round selection Bradley Roby entering the game in nickel packages, Denver’s defense can get away with playing a ton of man-to-man coverage. The Eagles are getting more than most imagined from corners Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson, and Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are tremendous safeties, but they’re not the No-Fly Zone.

Advantage: Broncos

Special teams
Denver’s special teams haven’t been a strength. Brandon McManus has made only 10 of 15 field goal tries, Riley Dixon has had one punt returned for a touchdown already, and return specialist Isaiah McKenzie has fumbled four times in six games. The Eagles have lost some bodies to injuries, but special teams in all of its phases continues to be a plus week in, week out.

Distinct advantage: Eagles

Coaching
Doug Pederson is a legitimate Coach of the Year candidate right now. He has the Eagles at 7-1 and firing on all cylinders despite numerous key injuries. Vance Joseph’s first season at the helm for the Broncos is beginning to resemble Pederson’s. Denver got off to a hot start, but is now mired in a losing streak. The difference is a quarterback change — though Siemian has played poorly — feels a little desperate, given who Joseph is turning the job over to. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is a second-time head-coaching candidate, so even looking at their staffs, the choice is easy at the moment.

Advantage: Eagles

Overall
It’s pretty clear where the biggest difference between these two teams lies, and that’s under center. Wentz is developing into one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and has played like it during the first half of 2017, while the Broncos are looking to Brock Osweiler to save their season. Defensively, Denver is scary. Offensively, there is no shortage of weapons, but not enough to overcome replacement-level quarterback play. Add special teams and coaching to the mix, not to mention home-field advantage, and the Eagles appear to have the talent to fend off a Broncos squad with some horses of its own.

Advantage: Eagles

Eagles still better off at QB than Giants

Eagles still better off at QB than Giants

The Eagles may have lost Carson Wentz for the season, but it could be worse. A lot worse. The Eagles could be the in the New York Giants’ shoes.

How much better are the Eagles than their loathsome NFC East rival to the north this season? Even with a season-ending injury to an MVP-caliber player under center, the Eagles still look vastly superior to their Week 15 opponent on Sunday. In fact, would you even trade their quarterback situation with the Giants?

We try to answer that question and more while we examined whether the Giants do anything better than the Eagles in 2017. Anything at all!

Probably not though.

QUARTERBACKS

Eli Manning may have a couple of Super Bowl rings, and his supporting cast with the Giants is awful, but I can’t understand why there was such a clamoring to have him remain the team’s starter. Their record is 2-11. He’s averaging 6.0 yards per pass attempt this season – only Joe Flacco has been worse. And Manning turns 37 in less than three weeks, so what’s the upside? He looks shot. At least Nick Foles gives the Eagles some hope heading into his 29th birthday. At this stage of their respective careers, you would take Foles, and it’s a no-brainer. Heck, plenty of people would take Davis Webb over Manning.

Advantage: Eagles

RUNNING BACKS

The Giants’ backfield is better than many suspected at the beginning of the season. Of course, turning out marginally better than the worst backfield in the NFL isn’t a huge accomplishment. Orleans Darkwa runs with power, and Wayne Gallman is a nice change of pace when he’s not fumbling the football. Both average better than 4.0 yards per carry. Shane Vereen looks cooked in the third-down role. Of course, the team doesn’t run the ball much, and none of the trio is a home-run hitter of the caliber of Jay Ajayi for the Eagles. Neither Darkwa nor Gallman looks like a better prospect than Corey Clement, either.

Advantage: Eagles

WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS

The Eagles have three players with more yards and touchdowns than the Giants’ leading receiver. Alshon Jeffery has 732 yards and eight touchdowns, while Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor both have 663 yards and seven scores. New York’s receiving corps was also decimated by injuries to Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall. Despite the losses, speedy Evan Engram is having an incredible rookie season for a tight end, becoming the primary weapon in the passing attack with 55 catches, 623 yards and six touchdowns. Clearly, Engram’s stellar play hasn’t been enough to compensate. Now wideouts Sterling Shepherd and Roger Lewis are questionable to play Sunday, too.

Distinct advantage: Eagles

OFFENSIVE LINES

The Giants’ best O-lineman, right tackle Justin Pugh, is questionable as well with a back injury, and hasn’t suited up in weeks. That’s a problem, because their line wasn’t very good to begin with. Left tackle Ereck Flowers has improved as the season progressed, and isn’t near as bad his reputation might suggest. Otherwise, there aren’t many bright spots up front. The Eagles have had their issues. The hope is Stefen Wisniewski can go with an ankle injury, and Halapoulivaati Vaitai has looked beatable in recent weeks. At least their issues are confined to the left side. From center to right tackle, the unit is great.

Advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE LINES AND LINEBACKERS

If games were won and lost on reputation, the Giants’ D-line would be among the scariest units in the league. Damon Harrison, Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are all All-Pro/Pro Bowl players, yet New York ranks 31st against the run and is tied for 30th in sacks. The stars are not living up to the hype. Surely, it hasn’t helped that roughly all of their linebackers are on injured reserve. The Eagles still rank No. 1 against the run, though they’ve looked a little shaky of late, and are tied for ninth in sacks. Their defensive end rotation with Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Bennett is becoming quite dangerous, with 20.5 sacks between them.

Slight advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Don’t worry, the Giants’ issues on defense aren’t limited to the front seven. The club also ranks 31st against the pass, and unlike so many other areas of the roster, injuries aren’t solely to blame. Janoris Jenkins was hurt all year and eventually landed on IR. For Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple, it’s been a question of effort and will they or won’t they quit on their teammates. Apple has since been benched and left on the inactives list. The Eagles’ secondary has its flaws, but attitude isn’t one of them. They’re also an opportunistic bunch, with three players – Jalen Mills, Rodney McLeod and Patrick Robinson – with three interceptions, and three more with two.

Advantage: Eagles

SPECIAL TEAMS

As bad as the Eagles’ special teams have been for at times this season, the Giants have been worse. Their kicking game stinks – Aldrick Rosas has made only 75.0 percent of field-goal tries. Their coverage units stink, with a blocked punt and a punt return for touchdown. And their return game stinks, with a 19.4 average on kickoffs and a 5.1 average on punts. We’re going to assume the re-signing of Bryan Braman this week fixes some of the issues the Eagles have experienced, and they’re back to being one of the top all-around units in the league.

Advantage: Eagles

COACHING

Ben McAdoo had one of the most meteoric rises and falls you will ever see. In a matter of three years, McAdoo was hailed as a genius for reinventing Manning, usurped the head coaching job from Tom Coughlin, and guided the Giants to the playoffs. Eleven months later, he was out of a job. Perennially overrated defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo took over in the interim, so no groundbreaking changes on the sideline for the time being. McAdoo’s timeline might be a cautionary tale for Doug Pederson and the Eagles. As far as this game is concerned, the staff that’s not in the midst of upheaval has the edge.

Distinct advantage: Eagles

OVERALL

There was no shortage of warning signs for New York entering heading into 2017. Sure, they managed to go 11-5 and make the playoffs a year ago, but had not won more than seven games in any of the previous three seasons. I’m not sure anybody saw 2-11 coming, although with an aging quarterback, shaky offensive line, and no running game, the Giants needed their defense to shoulder the load. Obviously, that didn’t happen. The Eagles have the injury under center, but I’ll take Foles with his roster over the current version of Manning and his crew of flunkies. And I wouldn’t think twice.

Distinct advantage: Eagles

Richaun Holmes' mishap does not end well

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ESPN broadcast

Richaun Holmes' mishap does not end well

You will not find Billy Donovan on the Thunder's injury report after Friday's game against the Sixers.

But Oklahoma City's head coach may be icing down alongside his players or popping a few Advil.

Why?

Donovan took an errant pass straight to his face during the Sixers-Thunder game at the Wells Fargo Center. Richaun Holmes was looking to collect an assist on a JJ Redick jumper, but the Sixers' big man put a little too much mustard on the pass.

The one-handed dish went right to Donovan … who was not ready to catch it, and why would he be? Holmes also just barely missed former Sixers player and head coach, Maurice Cheeks, who is an assistant under Donovan.

At least that was Holmes' only turnover of the game.