How will the Eagles respond?
That's the big question heading into Sunday's clash with the 2-8 Tennessee Titans at 1 PM at Lincoln Financial Field. Coming off a humbling 53-20 loss in Lambeau Field to the Green Bay Packers, the Eagles return home to where they have won nine consecutive regular season games. But after suffering such a lopsided loss, and holding onto that ugly taste for a full week, the Eagles must take care of business to remain atop the NFC East ahead of the Thanksgiving tilt with the Dallas Cowboys. Standing in their way will be an interesting Titans team that is much better than its record would indicate. With rookies at quarterback, Zach Mettenberger, and running back, Bishop Sankey, the Titans' offense is on the upswing. Defensively, coordinator Ray Horton is notorious for his penchant of sending consistent and unique blitzes, which has resulted in the sixth-most sacks in league. The disguise to those blitzes is such that the Titans have had 15 different players record a sack this season, the highest such total in the league.
The Eagles will hope to return to success on the ground, where LeSean McCoy will run behind an offensive line that could again see a change. After Matt Tobin suffered a concussion at the end of last week's loss, Andrew Gardner took the majority of the reps at right guard this week. Tobin is listed as probable, though, so we won't know who starts up front until Sunday. Still, all signs point to a potential breakout game for McCoy as he faces a Titans run defense that was victimized to the tune of 204 yards rushing by Le'Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers last Monday night. That the Titans are coming off a short week should theoretically play to the Eagles' advantage as well. On defense, the Eagles will look to start a new string of turnovers after their 22-game streak of recording at least one takeaway was snapped in Green Bay. Then, of course, there's quarterback Mark Sanchez, who will look to lead the offense well enough that he can make his case to remain in the position for the near future. It all adds up to plenty of drama as the Eagles turn the page to the final six games of the season.
Last Time They Met
October 24, 2010 – Titans 37, Eagles 19
The reason that "Kenny Britt" has become a bad word to Eagles fans. The then-Titans' wide receiver victimized the Eagles with the best game of his career in Nashville four years ago when he caught seven passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns as the Titans handily dispatched Kevin Kolb and the Eagles. Kolb threw for 231 yards and a touchdown, but was also intercepted twice in the loss. What's easy to forget, and unpleasant to remember, is that the Eagles led Tennessee 19-10 early in the fourth quarter. Then an 80-yard touchdown pass from Kerry Collins to Britt got the ball rolling for Tennessee and they would never look back on the way to 27 unanswered points. The loss dropped the Eagles to 4-3 on the season as they entered the bye week and emerged as NFC East champions by the end of the season.
When The Eagles Have The Ball
The Titans allow a fair amount of points to teams with winning records, like the Eagles. In their five losses to teams with winning records at the time, Ken Whisenhunt's squad is allowing 27.2 points per game, setting up what should be an optimal matchup for an Eagles' offense hungry for a reversal of fortune.
One way to kick-start an offense is by simply moving the ball, and against the Titans the Eagles should be able to do just that. The Titans have given up 238 first downs this season, the most by any team, acquiescing to any opponent with a run game and a will to move the chains. After the Eagles struggled to convert on third downs against the Packers in Week 11, the Titans' defense should be exactly what the doctor ordered in terms of earning new sets of downs as long as the Eagles' offense comes prepared.
The Eagles can look to start the offensive attack on the ground, where the Titans have yet to find their footing this season. Tennessee's run defense has suffered a number of brutal outings this year, allowing 150 rushing yards five times so far this season. The team's run defense ranks 31st in the league through 10 games, allowing 143.5 yards per game, which should be music to head coach Chip Kelly's ears. Kelly's offense ran the ball 30 times against Green Bay in Week 11, and this weekend he should be able to hit the ground just as often, if not more so. With the Eagles averaging 110 rushing yards per game over the last three games, expect an afternoon full of pound-the-rock football from the green and white.
But if the run game stutters out of the gate, quarterback Mark Sanchez and the offense will have to look to the air, where defensive coordinator Ray Horton's unit is a little sturdier. For a team with just two wins in 10 outings, the Titans have a surprisingly effective pass defense. They rank in the top half of the league in yards allowed per game (9th), passing touchdowns allowed (1th) and net yards per attempt (10th). The team's pass defense is anchored by safety Michael Griffin, who is quietly having another excellent year in Tennessee. The veteran defensive back has three sacks, two interceptions and leads his team in tackles with 70.
Sanchez and the Eagles' offense, which racked up a fair amount of yards against Green Bay but mustered just two touchdowns, will have a reasonable amount of resistence from Tennessee's secondary as the Eagles look to get back on track through the air. However, if LeSean McCoy - the sixth-leading rusher in the NFL - and the rest of the run game can get rolling early, the play-action can open up big opportunities for the passing game.
When The Titans Have The Ball
Speaking plainly, the Titans' offense has done very few things well when it's had the ball this season.
In terms of purely scoring points, Tennessee is averaging 16.8 points per game, ranked 30th in the entire league. When it comes to moving the ball down the field, they don't fare much better, racking up a scant 16.6 first downs per game, second fewest in the NFL. The Titans are a very young squad that hasn't found its stride through 10 games.
After cycling through Jake Locker and Charlie Whitehurst, the Titans turned to rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger since Week 10, and in the brief start to his career he's done a serviceable, if not exceptional, job. Despite his 0-3 record as a starter, Mettenberger has a very passable 61.9 percent completion percentage and five touchdowns to go along with four interceptions. Mettenberger has enough weapons surrounding him that he can do moderate damage if defenses don't play him with respect. Tight end Delanie Walker has made a name for himself through the air this year, leading all Titans pass-catchers with 512 yards, while wide receiver Kendall Wright has pulled in 43 catches for 473 yards and four touchdowns.
After failing to generate much of a rush on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Week 11, expect the Eagles' defensive line to come out with a fire and desire for pressuring the quarterback all day. If defensive coordinator Bill Davis' unit generates half the pressure it did against the Giants and Panthers, the rookie gunslinger will be in for a long afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field. Mettenberger has already been sacked seven times in three games. If the pressure can come early, the Eagles' front seven can force the rookie into poor throws. Look for cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams to put the loss to Green Bay behind them and instead try to build on the way the pair played against Houston and Carolina in Weeks 9 and 10.
On the ground, the Titans haven't found much of a complement to the revolving quarterback door. Rookie running back Bishop Sankey, selected in the second round, hasn't necessarily been a disappointment so much as he hasn't exceeded expectations in any way. Sankey is averaging 39.5 yards per game through 10 outings, on pace for 635 yards, a good-not-great performance from a rookie back. Former New York Jets back Shonn Greene has taken a little bit of the load from Sankey, averaging 3.9 yards per carry on 52 touches so far this season, but overall the Titans rank 26th in the NFL in rushing yards per game.
Eagles RG Andrew Gardner/Matt Tobin vs. Titans DT Jurrell Casey
The Titans transitioned from a 4-3 front to a 3-4 look this offseason with the hiring of Ray Horton as the team's defensive coordinator. Horton decided to keep defensive tackle Jurrell Casey at the 3-technique to maximize his ability to rush upfield and get to the quarterback. Last year, Casey had 10.5 sacks, which tied for the fifth most by an NFL defensive lineman in the past 10 seasons as he earned second-team All-Pro honors.
His play has not dropped off in 2014. One of the Titans' team captains, Casey has 57 tackles, four sacks and 17 quarterback pressures. Matt Tobin started the last two games at right guard, but he suffered a concussion late in the loss to the Packers. He returned to the practice field and is listed as probable, but Andrew Gardner took the first-team reps.
Eagles LB Trent Cole vs. Titans LT Taylor Lewan
Linebacker Trent Cole has 4.5 sacks this year and leads the team with 17 quarterback hurries. Lewan was the Titans' first-round pick (11th overall) and has started five of Tennessee's 10 games this year. He's graded out as a proficient run blocker, according to Pro Football Focus. As a pass blocker, Lewan has given up seven pressures that have resulted in three hurries, two quarterback hits and two sacks. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger is not known for his mobility, especially since he's nearly one year removed from an ACL injury.
Eagles LB Mychal Kendricks vs. Titans TE Delanie Walker
Tight end Delanie Walker returns to action after missing last Monday night's game against the Steelers with a concussion suffered the previous week at Baltimore. Even after missing time, Walker leads the Titans with 512 yards receiving this season. He is tied for first on the team in touchdowns (4) and ranks second in receptions with 38. Walker is confident that the Titans, despite ranking 25th in pass offense, can make plays through the air against the Eagles.
"I see some big plays to be made on this (defense) ... watching film (of the Packers' game) we've seen some things that we can do against them as well," Walker told reporters this week.
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen was the only tight end to have a major statistical impact against the Eagles this season. Olsen had six catches for 119 yards in a 45-21 loss. Washington's Niles Paul had 68 yards and that's the second-highest total.
Trends To Watch
QB Mark Sanchez Vs. The Blitz
The Titans are not shy about bringing the blitz with coordinator Ray Horton at the helm. Tennessee will feature lots of Cover-0 looks which means that there will be one-on-one opportunities on the outside if quarterback Mark Sanchez has time in the pocket. Sanchez has thrown for 219 yards with four touchdowns and an interception for a 94.8 passer rating against the blitz this year, per Stats, Inc. Teams have had success against the Titans when they bring extra rushers. Opposing quarterbacks have a 97.8 passer rating, which ranks 24th in the league. If Sanchez can right some of the mistakes that he made against the Packers last Sunday, the Eagles will have opportunities for big plays against the Titans.
Rattle The Rookie Early
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has shown some poise since taking over as the starter for the Titans. The one thing to note is Mettenberger has started games well. In the first quarter this year, Mettenberger is 13 of 18 for 167 yards with a touchdown and an interception for a 96.3 passer rating. The Titans led at halftime and at the end of the third quarter Monday night against the Steelers before succumbing 27-24 for their fourth-straight loss. In the final three quarters of games, Mettenberger has completed 59 percent of his pass attempts for 591 yards with four touchdowns against three interceptions for an 83.9 passer rating. The Eagles want to get off to a good start and not allow the Titans, especially their rookie quarterback, gain confidence early.
Can Shady Finish The Job?
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell had 74 yards rushing in the fourth quarter en route to his 204-yard outing on Monday night. Well, Eagles fans know that LeSean McCoy is as good a closer as there is in the game. McCoy has 155 fourth-quarter rushing yards in 2014. Last year, he led the league with 441 yards in the game's final 15 minutes. Remember in the Snow Bowl, McCoy scored on touchdown runs of 57 and 40 yards in the fourth quarter on his way to a franchise-record 217 yards.