When the 2011 schedule was released, it would have been easy to predict that the Week 5 matchup between the Eagles and Buffalo Bills would feature one 3-1 team against a 1-3 team. But the assumption would have been that the Eagles would be the one sporting the winning record. Unfortunately for the Eagles, that's exactly how things have turned out through the first quarter of the season as a team with such high expectations has found a way to lose three consecutive games and finds itself at the bottom of the NFC East. 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.
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.
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