5 matchups to watch as Eagles host Colts

5 matchups to watch as Eagles host Colts

The Eagles are coming back home after a disappointing loss to the Bucs in Florida last weekend. They’re 1-1 and so are the Colts. 

The Colts got in the win column last weekend against Washington. It was Frank Reich’s first win as a head coach and Doug Pederson made sure to congratulate his former offensive coordinator. 

The Eagles are back home, where they’ve been pretty unbeatable recently. The Eagles are 16-3 at the Linc since Pederson became the head coach in 2016. They’ve been the NFL’s best home team in that stretch. 

Here are five matchups to watch: 

Carson Wentz vs. his own emotions
The long-awaited return of Wentz is finally happening. We knew it wouldn’t be long before Wentz was back on the field after rehabbing from that torn ACL and LCL. But it has been over nine months since he’s played in a game. Aside from rust, Wentz will also have to worry about his emotions and keep them in check. He’s going to be excited; that’s expected. But he needs to make sure he settles into the game. 

He said he’ll try to control his emotions the same way he did in his first NFL start a couple years ago. You’ll remember that in his NFL debut, Wentz threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns as the Eagles crushed the Browns. 

T.Y. Hilton vs. Sidney Jones 
The Eagles were roasted by big plays last Sunday and they’re about to play another burner. While all of the corners will need to be aware of Hilton’s speed, I’m especially excited to see Jones on him. Hilton plays all over the field but still does his best work in the slot. This will be a great challenge for the talented young cornerback. 

Since entering the league in 2012, Hilton is averaging 15.7 yards per reception, the fifth-best mark in the NFL among active players. In his career, he’s had 14 receptions of 50-plus yards. Only four players — DeSean Jackson, A.J. Green, Mike Wallace and Dez Bryant — have had more during that span. 

Joe Haeg vs. Brandon Graham 
Haeg won the Colts’ starting right tackle job in the preseason and has looked OK in the first two games, but Graham will certainly test him. Haeg was Wentz’s teammate at North Dakota State, so Graham was asked if he’s gotten any tips from Wentz. He said no, then dropped this gem. 

“From what I’ve seen so far, it’s going to be a good day,” Graham said. 

Graham has one sack through two games. This could be a big game for him if he’s right. 

Matt Slauson vs. Fletcher Cox 
The Colts made a concerted effort to improve their offensive line this offseason and really upgraded at the guard position. They drafted Quenton Nelson in the first round and then signed veteran Slauson. 

This is Slauson’s 10th NFL season, so he’s been around for a long time. But he isn’t a match for Cox. The game inside the game is always watching how teams decide to block Cox. If they try to leave Slauson on him 1-on-1, he won’t hold up all game. Cox has two sacks through two games and has looked really impressive. 

Andrew Luck vs. Eagles secondary
After missing the entire 2017 season with a serious shoulder injury, Luck has played in the first two games of the 2018 season without his arm falling off. That’s a great sign for Luck, Reich and all of Indy. 

The thing that stands out about Luck so far this year is that after 84 attempts, he’s completing 71.4 percent of his passes. That’s impressive. Other than that, he’s thrown for 498 yards, four touchdowns and three picks. It’s still too early to make any determinations about whether or not Luck is really back. 

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Ronald Darby’s play, Fletcher Cox’s health, blitzing and more in Jim Schwartz takeaways

Ronald Darby’s play, Fletcher Cox’s health, blitzing and more in Jim Schwartz takeaways

There were plenty of interesting topics talked about with Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz at his Tuesday press conference. 

Here are some of the highlights: 

Is Darby healthy?

It seemed pretty clear the Falcons were targeting cornerback Ronald Darby on Sunday night. Darby’s 2018 season finished on IR with an ACL tear, but he returned for Week 1. In Week 2, Matt Ryan kind of picked on him Sunday night. 

Schwartz mentioned that despite the obvious struggles, Darby “made a couple big plays” for the Eagles. And Schwartz doesn’t think the injury is the problem, but perhaps the time the injury forced him to miss. 

“I think he has all of his speed back,” Schwartz said. “I don't see the ACL as being an issue at all for him. He's done a great job of rehab. He didn't practice a ton in training camp, so I think — and we have a few players that are in that boat. So I think that sometimes you can see some of that, I don't want to call it rust at this point, but there is a reason that we still do training camp and we still practice.”

The Eagles have been rotating at the outside cornerback position — previously under the guise of Darby’s return — and Darby led that group with 59 snaps (89 percent) on Sunday. Schwartz said they enter games with a plan for their rotation, but then basically change it on the fly. 

But if Darby is still working himself back into game shape and the Eagles are already rotating, it would make a lot of sense to limit his reps, especially when it’s clear the opposing teams are going right at him for a reason.  

Fletcher doesn’t look like Fletcher 

Among that group of players who missed summer practices is Fletcher Cox, who hasn’t looked like his usual dominant self through two games. I guess it would have been unfair to expect Cox to return after missing training camp and be back to his All-Pro form, but the Eagles could certainly use that right about now. 

Even Schwartz admitted that Cox doesn’t look like himself. 

“Again, I don't really even consider the injury part of it,” Schwartz said. “It's more just where he is in coming back. Didn't practice a ton in training camp, but there's nobody grading on a curve this time of year because you didn't practice in training camp. Like when they put a ball in the air, the officials don't say, ‘Well, this guy's coming back from an injury,’ or, when it comes time to rush the passer, they don't say, ‘Well, we're going to pull a guy out because of that.’ Nobody cares about that stuff. It's a production league. It's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league. He'll get there.”

Cox will get there. I believe that, but now with injuries to Malik Jackson and Tim Jernigan, every team is going to double him. And a less-than-100 percent Cox going against constant double (and sometimes triple) teams is going to be tough.  

Did the Eagles blitz more? 

Jim Schwartz disagreed with the assessment that the Eagles blitzed more than usual against the Falcons. This seems like a semantics issue. Because maybe the Eagles didn’t blitz much more than usual, but they certainly used zero blitzes more. And that was the call on the game-winning touchdown to Julio Jones. 

“They made a good play,” Schwartz said. “I don't know how many times I can say today that it comes with the territory in the NFL, whether it's injuries, whether it's dealing with different situations during the game. But that's part of the risk/reward of blitzing. You want to blitz, you can make some plays, you can sack — but if they do get a guy blocked, there's nobody behind him.

“We took an aggressive approach. Tried to win the game right there.”

For the most part, Schwartz’s aggressive game plan worked wonders on Sunday. The Eagles forced Matt Ryan into his first three-INT game since 2017. And Ryan even noted to reporters that he hadn’t before seen a team run as many zero blitzes against him in a game. 

Pressure without sacks 

Through two games, the Eagles have just two sacks. That ties them for the second-worst total in the NFL. But Schwartz is unworried about that total. 

“I mean, the ball can come out,” he said. “I’d rather have an interception on Darby's play than a sack. Sometimes — I mean, sacks are always good, but you force the quarterback to make an errant throw and you get an interception, that's pressure from blitz, whatever.”

Schwartz has been saying this for years and he has a point. Pressure can affect a game even when it doesn’t result in a sack. Would the Eagles like more sacks? Absolutely. Which is why it’s a fair question to ask. But the answer is fair, too. 

Sidney Jones has a day

Schwartz thought Sidney Jones had a “bounce back” game against the Falcons. The former second-round pick had his first-career interception, but Schwartz was most pleased about Jones’ physical play against the run. That’s an important part of Jones’ game that he needed to improve in Year 3. 

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Eagles reportedly expected to be without DeSean Jackson for two weeks

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Eagles reportedly expected to be without DeSean Jackson for two weeks

The Eagles are expected to miss DeSean Jackson for “about two weeks” with an abdominal strain, according to ESPN’s Tim McManus.  

Jackson left Sunday’s loss in Atlanta after just 11 snaps with what was called a groin injury. 

The Eagles will face the Lions at home this Sunday, but will then play in Green Bay just four days later on Thursday Night Football. After that, the Eagles and Jackson will have a long week to prepare for the lowly Jets on Oct. 6. 

Losing Jackson for games against two undefeated NFC opponents hurts. 

Jackson had a huge game in Week 1, catching eight passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Without him, the Eagles will definitely miss his unique speed. That was an element they desperately needed in 2018. Jackson has played all 16 games in a season just twice in his career and hasn’t done it since 2013. 

Meanwhile, Alshon Jeffery has a calf injury that could sideline him for a game or two as well. 

That means the Eagles are down to just three healthy receivers on the 53-man roster: Nelson Agholor, JJ Argeca-Whiteside and Mack Hollins. 

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