By Kevin McGuire
After two straight games against AFC West opponents at home, the Philadelphia Eagles will take to the road to take on one more AFC West team this weekend. After dropping games to the San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, the Eagles will have a difficult time getting back in the win column. On Sunday, the Eagles visit the Denver Broncos, one of the favorites in the AFC, and possibly the NFL, this season.
So who exactly are these Denver Broncos?
The Denver Broncos are looking to improve to 4-0 this weekend after knocking off the Oakland Raiders Monday night. The Broncos went 13-3 last season, but were upset by the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. The Broncos started the 2013 season with a bit of revenge against Baltimore, winning the NFL’s Thursday night opener 49-27 against the Super Bowl champs. The next week the Broncos scored a 41-23 victory over the New York Giants in the so-called Manning Bowl.
After picking up a division win against the Raiders Monday night, the Broncos are 3-0 and looking like the top team in the AFC early on.
Broncos on Offense
It’s not exactly a secret what the success of the Broncos has been based on early on this season. The Broncos have one of the top pass attacks in the NFL, which should be expected when future hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning is under center. This year the Broncos added Tom Brady’s favorite target with the New England Patriots Wes Welker, but Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Eric Decker have been chipping in to lead the receivers while Welker has been quite a scoring threat.
The Broncos have always been known to be able to run the football, but the 2013 season is still a bit of a work in progress. Denver drafted the Wisconsin’s record-breaking rusher Montee Ball and he should have an impact this season. Knowshon Moreno has been the team’s top rushing option early on.
Broncos on Defense
Early on the Broncos pass defense has ranked toward the bottom of the league, but that may be a result of building big leads on teams with capable quarterbacks. With the Broncos ahead of their opponents, the best way to catch up has been to accumulate big yards through the air, so it may not be fair to critique the Broncos pass defense. On the other hand, Denver has one of the league’s best defenses against the run, utilizing a 4-3.
Of course the Broncos will be without one of their top players Sunday. Linebacker Von Miller continues to serve a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Broncos Players to Watch
Peyton Manning, Quarterback: The future hall of fame player should be able to pile up some big yardage against the Eagles. Manning has faced the Eagles four times and owns a record of 3-1 with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. The Eagles secondary has been vulnerable early on and is a work in progress with some young players stepping in to big roles. It is a secondary Manning should be able to pick apart cleanly, which means bringing pressure and forcing Manning to move around will be critical. The only problem is Manning knows exactly where he wants to go and has his two back-up options in focus as soon as he takes a snap.
Shaun Phillips, Strongside Linebacker: With Von Miller serving his suspension, Shaun Phillips has been the next man up. Phillips has been aggressive for the Broncos defense, recording 2.5 sacks and forcing a fumble in the first two games of the season. Phillips had a back injury and was questionable but did play against Oakland.
This could be a rough trip for the Eagles in Denver. The thin Rocky Mountain air has been unkind to the Eagles in the past, with Philadelphia giving up over 40 points each of their last two trips to Denver (1998, 2005). Of course, those were much different teams playing those games, but there should be a concern about how well the Eagles can run their up-tempo offense in the thin air. Denver is a legitimate Super Bowl contender right now, and their offense has all of the tools to take advantage of this Eagles defense. If the Eagles can manage to tighten up their ball protection and get the offense back on track, it still may not be enough this weekend.
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Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.