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Tonight: Where Do Eagles Stand?

Posted Sep 19, 2013

If you were to make up a personality profile on the 2013 Philadelphia Eagles, you would note the explosive confidence with which the offense plays, and you would mention the up-and-down ways of the defense ...

Two games is but a small sample, so tonight's tussle against the 2-0 Chiefs is a telling 60 minutes. Kansas City has a solid, veteran defense that has played outstanding football in victories over Jacksonville and Dallas. The Chiefs don't turn the football over, and rely on the veteran presence of quarterback Alex Smith and the all-around skills of running back Jamaal Charles.

Kansas City has made some significant strides since its awful 2012 season, and head coach Andy Reid has the Chiefs moving in the right direction.

The Eagles are in a similar situation. Chip Kelly is excited about the progress he's seen in two weeks. A 1-1 team learned on Sunday that missed opportunities are costly against any team in the NFL. Gotta bring the "A" game each week.

Here we are, in a most extraordinary circumstance. Tonight represents a confluence of everything we love about the Eagles. There is the drama of Reid's return to Philadelphia (I expect Eagles fans to give him the rousing ovation Reid deserves). There is the stage that is a national television audience. There is the nod to the recent past with the halftime ceremony honoring former quarterback Donovan McNabb.

And there is the focus on the present-day Eagles, who have us all on the edge of our seats through two weeks.

What are we going to learn tonight? It's all about the game, after all. Once the pomp and circumstance of the peripheral stories is set aside, the game is what matters. And the Chiefs are the best test of this early season. The Eagles must step up in every phase to beat a good Kansas City team.

I have my list of what to watch tonight. Here is my focus ...

OFFENSE: FINDING A THIRD OPTION?

LeSean McCoy destroyed Washington's defense in Week 1, and then DeSean Jackson went wild on San Diego in Week 2. Kansas City has a very sound defense. Can the Chiefs load the box to limit McCoy and at the same time stymie the deep talents of Jackson with cornerback Brandon Flowers and some help over the top?

Is this the game in which the Eagles introduce a third offensive option? They haven't really tapped into the tight ends a lot, although we know how talented the tight end group is on the roster. Damaris Johnson hasn't been a factor in the offense through two weeks. Bryce Brown has been used in limited fashion.

Is Kansas City's defense strong enough to win the battle against the Eagles' two most lethal options? It's the best test of the young season for a Philadelphia offense averaging 31.5 points per game. And it all comes down to matchups and schemes. If the Eagles can spread Kansas City out and take advantage of some openings in the middle of the field, as they've done against Washington and San Diego, the offense is going to again move up and down the field. If Kansas City forces quarterback Michael Vick to win on the perimeter, Vick and his receivers will be asked to step up and gash Kansas City that way.

Bottom line: This is a super test for the offense and for the coaches.

WINNING THE BATTLE IN THE RED ZONE

Kansas City has a 100 percent touchdown efficiency in the red zone because Smith doesn't make many mistakes at quarterback and the Chiefs have Charles and his skills. The Eagles have been pretty good defensively in the red zone, forcing a couple of turnovers last week, and they've been mixed offensively.

The team that wins the red zone numbers has a pretty darn good chance of winning this game.

Kicking a field goal, rather than scoring a touchdown, really hurt the Eagles late in the loss to San Diego. The offense has to get into the end zone from inside the 10-yard line, and had the Eagles done so early on Sunday after McCoy's 70-yard catch and run, the outcome may have been different.

The game in the trenches is going to be a key area to watch. Both teams have matchups they feel they can win. Kansas City has a pair of terrific edge rushers in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, and of course the Eagles love offensive tackles Jason Peters and Lane Johnson. The key for the Eagles up front is handling defensive tackle Dontari Poe and linebacker Derrick Johnson, a playmaker.

DEFENSE NEEDS AN EARLY ADVANTAGE

San Diego moved the football successfully from the very start on Sunday and the Eagles never gained momentum, even after forcing a pair of fumbles in the red zone. Look for coordinator Bill Davis to dial up some pressure, something to get his defense's blood flowing. The players must be disciplined and play with confidence in the scheme. Playing physical football is a must and a huge challenge in a short week.

Kansas City runs the West Coast offense, with some pistol integrated. There aren't going to be a lot of surprises. If Smith has time to throw, he's outstanding. He's also mobile enough to hurt the defense a handful of times tonight.

The defense needs a big effort. Having cornerback Bradley Fletcher on the field helps, and the matchup against wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is critical. Bowe is a big-time player. How the Eagles match up with Charles is critical. Donnie Avery is fast, fast, fast as the vertical threat in the passing game.

This is a huge game for the psyche of the Eagles' defense. Tonight is a game that the defense could win it with a big play or three for the Eagles.

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