Finally, a football game. A week of side stories and drama is over, and nothing matters except the Eagles finding a way to beat a good Buffalo team. To do so, the defense has to come up big. It won't be easy against a Bills offense that presents tough matchups combined with the creativity of offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
"There's a lot of stuff that we're going to have to defend and stop, schematically, and he's taking advantage of what Shady (running back LeSean McCoy) does best and what the tight end does," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "They have got (TE Charles) Clay and (WR Sammy) Watkins. So they have got weapons everywhere and the quarterback (Tyrod Taylor) is throwing a great (deep ball). He's very impressive with his deep ball. He's throwing one of the more catchable deep balls that I've seen in a while. They're asking him – he's not (trying to do) too much and he's not making any bad decisions."
So what's the defensive game plan? The Eagles want to pressure Taylor and force him into mistakes, but they can't allow him to get to the perimeter and become a running threat. Maybe they show some mush rush at times. Maybe they send a blitzer to surprise Taylor. Maybe they play it straight and look to win battles against a Buffalo offensive line that is average and not much more than that.
The Eagles that Watkins is the receiver who breaks games open. Robert Woods is more of a possession receiver, but a good one. Clay is a big-play tight end. And making it all come together is McCoy, who is involved in the running game, of course, and very much so in the passing game. McCoy has been as productive as any back in the league since his early-season hamstring injury healed and he's got all the incentive in the world to run wild and beat his former team.
So it's a huge challenge for the defense, one that came back to life last week after rough outings against Tampa Bay and Detroit. Davis can be sure that Buffalo will go after Kiko Alonso in space and make him cover McCoy, if that's a one-on-one battle that works for the Bills. They're going to throw the ball at rookie cornerback Eric Rowe, no matter that Rowe played so well in his first start against New England. They're going to try to establish the running game with McCoy and then use play-action passing off of that running-game action. They're going to stretch the limits of the defensive perimeter's ability to play with discipline, because that's just what McCoy brings to the table with his cut-back game and change-of-direction skills.
Big game. Huge spot for the defense, which must come up with some takeaways and stops in the red zone. Finally, some football and a chance to see if the defense can lead the way for a team desperate to generate some positive momentum down the stretch and win the NFC East.
- I don't know anything other than the report issued on Saturday that wide receiver Jordan Matthews has a back injury and his questionable for the game. Matthews likely suffered the injury during Saturday's training session. If he can't go, the Eagles will give Jonathan Krause some looks in the slot. Darren Sproles, who I already think will be a big part of the passing game, could move around the formation. Would be great to see Josh Huff get back into the passing game. He hasn't been nearly as involved as anticipated in his second season here.
- The Eagles have been tremendous in punt coverage and with the way the Bills can score from anywhere on the field, it's going to be imperative that they win the field-position battle here. Trey Burton has been outstanding leading the charge, and he's getting a lot of help from a very complete group under the direction of coordinator Dave Fipp. The Eagles must win special teams to beat Buffalo.
- Interesting assignment along the line of scrimmage for the Eagles offense. Buffalo has invested so much into its defensive line, but the return really hasn't been there to date. To get this running game going, the Eagles have to win up front. It won't be easy. Keep your eye on the interior of the line.
- Buffalo leads the NFL with 152 points scored outside the red zone. This is a big-play offense. The Eagles need to make sure they are on point in their back-coverage and that they tackle well.
- The red-zone defense has allowed 31 touchdowns, tied for second-most permitted in the NFL.
- How will Duce Staley and Chip Kelly play it in the offensive backfield? Good question. It's hard to dress four running backs, and with Ryan Mathews on track to play, it's possible that Kenjon Barner is moved to the inactive list on game day. We'll see. DeMarco Murray needs a good start to gain some confidence and get this running game dictating to the Buffalo defense. I still say he gets 18-20 rushing attempts if the offense is functioning as Kelly wants. If the Eagles aren't sustaining drives, there is going to be trouble. Buffalo can score points in bunches.