All is not lost for the Eagles of course – with plenty of time left in the regular season, there is room to rally, but the turnaround needs to begin soon. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick has deemed this a "gut-check" time for his team, and the first step back in the right direction must begin in Western New York this Sunday.
Waiting for the Eagles in Buffalo will be a 3-1 Bills team armed with one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Complicating matters for the visiting team will be the absence of three key contributors. Defensive tackle Antonio Dixon was placed on injured reserve with a torn triceps, replaced by Derek Landri on the team's defensive line rotation. Elsewhere on the defensive line, Pro Bowler Trent Cole, perhaps the best player on the defense, is likely out until at least the bye, putting the onus on the likes of Darryl Tapp and Phillip Hunt to replace his production (Jason Babin has been doing just fine with a league-leading 7.0 sacks). Finally, at left tackle, King Dunlap will step in for another injured Pro Bowler, Jason Peters. Fortunately, the Eagles aren't the only team banged up, as the Bills will also be without their starting left tackle Demetrius Bell, leaving rookie fourth-round pick Chris Hairston to protect Ryan Fitzpatrick's blind side. All that matters for the Eagles, though, is coming away with a win. There is a precedent for the Eagles bouncing back from a tough streak to make the playoffs – the team went three straight weeks without a win in both 2006 and 2008 en route to an eventual playoff appearance.
Last Time They Met:
December 30, 2007: Bills 9, Eagles 17
The last time the Eagles lost three straight games was in 2007, when they lost three in a row, each by four points or fewer. They followed those losses up with three straight wins, the last of which came on a 17-9 home victory over the Buffalo Bills. The win proved to be an ugly one, with quarterback Donovan McNabb sacked four times and intercepted once while the Eagles failed to register a single sack or turnover. In fact, one of the Eagles' two touchdowns came off of a fumble by Reggie Brown in the red zone that happened to fly right into the hands of fellow-receiver Kevin Curtis, who was inexplicably standing in the end zone a few feet away. The Eagles defense did what it needed to do to secure the win, holding the Bills offense to 271 total yards and zero touchdowns.
When The Eagles The Ball:
Quarterback Michael Vick will need to be very careful with where he places the ball this week. But on the bright side, he should have time to decide where to go with it. The Bills are tied with the Green Bay Packers for first in the league with eight interceptions. However, the Bills are dead last in the league with just 4.0 sacks on the season. To put that into perspective, the Eagles have two players with at least 4.0 sacks in defensive end Jason Babin (7.0) and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (4.0). The Bills defense is not only having trouble getting to the quarterback but they are allowing plenty of yards in the air and on the ground. Overall, the Bills rank 27th in total yards allowed (405 per game), 24th in passing yards allowed (275.5 per game) and 25th in rushing yards (129.5 yards per game). Despite the inability to create consistent pressure, the Bills aren't afraid to trust their secondary in man coverage. With Terrence McGee out, the starting cornerbacks will be Drayton Florence (who is expected to man-up with DeSean Jackson) and Leodis McKelvin (who should draw the Jeremy Maclin assignment).
Under first-year defensive coordinator George Edwards, who used to be the defensive coordinator in Washington during Jeremiah Trotter's tenure there, the Bills run a hybrid defense. That flexibility is helped by the ability of outside linebackers Shawne Merriman and Chris Kelsay to line up in a two-point stance or put their hand down when the Bills go to a 4-3. Expect to see a lot of Merriman battling left tackle King Dunlap, who will start Sunday in place of former Bill Jason Peters due to a hamstring injury. Up front, the Bills have one of the league's most underrated tackles in Kyle Williams, who was recently awarded a contract extension. The combination of Williams and the No. 3 overall pick from this year's draft Marcell Dareus, who has been employed as a 3-4 end and a 4-3 tackle, will give the interior of the Eagles' O-line a challenge. The Bills feature two veteran interior linebackers in Andra Davis and Nick Barnett, who plays in the middle when the Bills utilize the 4-3. Barnett is stout against the run but susceptible in pass coverage, which could open the door for LeSean McCoy in the passing game.
When The Bills Have The Ball:
If the Eagles defense is to improve on some of their early-season deficiencies, they'll certainly have their hands full with the high-scoring Bills offense. The two fatal flaws for the defense thus far have been the inability to hold second-half leads and the disappointing performance in the red zone. Well, having been outscored a combined 37-0 in the fourth quarter of the last three games, the Eagles now prepare for a Bills team that already has two 18-point comeback victories to their credit. As for the red zone, the Eagles' 32nd-ranked red-zone defense has allowed touchdowns on 80 percent of opposing red zone possessions. Through four games, the Bills offense ranks second in the league with a 75 conversion rate in the red zone. The good news for the Eagles defense is that the Bills' offensive scheme is precisely the kind of offense that the Eagles have the personnel to deter. The Bills are wont to spread the field wide, allowing their array of receivers to find holes in the defense. The most explosive of those receivers is Stevie Johnson, who has 314 yards receiving to his credit on the season. And keep an eye on David Nelson, a matchup nightmare because of his 6-5 frame. Luckily for the Eagles, they have four quality cornerbacks at their service in Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Joselio Hanson.
Don't pigeonhole the Bills offense into one that relies on the pass though. In fact, the Bills have one of the better running backs in the league in Fred Jackson, who is fourth in the league with 369 rushing yards (one spot ahead of LeSean McCoy) and second among running backs with 5.8 yards per carry (again, one spot ahead of McCoy). Further complicating matters for the Eagles defense is the Bills pass protection. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been sacked on only 2.05 percent of his pass attempts, the second-best mark in the league. That rate will be put to the test by the Eagles pass rush, which is tied for the league lead with 15 sacks. Of course, the matchup on Fitzpatrick's blindside will be much different than one might have expected a week ago. With Trent Cole and Demetrius Bell out, rookie fourth-round pick Chris Hairston will be left to deal with a combination of Darryl Tapp, who notched a sack in Week 1 before straining his pectoral, and Jason Babin, who leads the league with 7.0 sacks through four games. The Eagles, especially at linebacker and safety, will also have to be conscious of Jackson as a receiver out of the backfield.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Defensive Coordinator Juan Castillo
Fitzpatrick is the league's ninth-rated passer through four games, having thrown for 1,040 yards, nine touchdowns and only three interceptions. He has a multitude of weapons at his disposal in the Bills passing offense and has shown the ability to single out the open receiver. Fitzpatrick has also had the luxury of good protection, having been sacked less than any quarterback in the league but Jason Campbell. Castillo will surely have something dialed up for Fitzpatrick on the pressure front thanks to the production of his defensive line. The question is how the defense will choose to handle the Bills receivers. Will any tweaks be made to the heavy cover-two the Eagles have shown throughout much of the beginning of the season? The secondary could also provide a boost with an interception, something they haven't done since Week 2.
RB LeSean McCoy vs. LB Nick Barnett
Averaging 5.5 yards per carry, McCoy has established himself as one of the most explosive running backs in the league. But McCoy only received nine carries in Week 4 as the Eagles' gameplan focused on exploiting the 49ers secondary to the tune of over 400 passing yards. This week, don't be surprised to see the Eagles try to get McCoy in space, where he can utilize his ability to make defenders miss. Barnett is strong against the run but vulnerable in coverage. This could be a matchup that Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg looks to create, and exploit.
Players To Watch
RB Fred Jackson
Fred Jackson didn't take the traditional route to the NFL. The Division III Coe College-graduate went undrafted in 2003 despite an impressive senior season in which he rushed for 29 touchdowns. The 6-1, 215-pound rusher then signed with the Sioux City Bandits of the United Indoor Football League. Jackson played for the Bandits for two seasons, earning co-MVP honors 2005 as he ran for 1,770 yards and 53 touchdowns while making only $200 per week. Following that season, he signed with the Rhein Fire of the now-defunct developmental league NFL Europe. He was impressive enough in his time overseas to get an invite to Bills training camp later that summer. He made the 53-man roster, but didn't appear in a single game in 2006. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2009, Jackson is fourth in the league in yards-per-attempt on at least 500 rushes, with 4.53 yards-per-carry. This season, the 30-year-old back has helped lead his Bills to a surprising 3-1 record with his 369 rushing yards and 5.8 yards-per-attempt. He will look to test the Eagles' 29th-ranked rushing defense early on Sunday.
DE Marcell Dareus
With the third overall selection in April's draft, the Bills selected Alabama's Marcell Dareus. The 340-pounder was a force in college, leading his team to a National Championship in 2010 by returning an interception 28 yards for a touchdown to give his team an 18-point lead. In his junior season, he posted 11 tackles-for-loss and 4.5 sacks before leaving school to enter the draft. The 21-year-old has continued to have success at the NFL level, having notched 11 tackles and a sack so far in his first season splitting time between left end in the 3-4 and defensive tackle in the 403. Eagles linemen Todd Herremans and Kyle Devan will have their hands full trying to slow the mammoth rookie.