A disappointing loss. Two key starters injured. A game that could have been won several times but wasn’t. Needless to say, Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins was as bad a loss as we’ve seen this season. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you, but the Eagles blew a thirteen point first quarter lead, and when the clock ticked down to zero, the scoreboard read 20-19. I’m going to breakdown both why the Eagles lost, and give you a look at this coming Sunday. Hopefully I’ll be better then last week.
The stats suggest that the Dolphins aren’t a very good team. Bad defense that’s usually unable to do anything against the run, bad O-line, an offense that struggles with consistency (remind you of anyone?), the list goes on. Unfortunately, stats are not the whole story, and as the Eagles learned, the Dolphins are a very capable team. Still though, this was a winnable game. So what went wrong? From my perspective, it all starts with the offensive line. Now the Eagles O-line has struggled all year, so perhaps we expect to much, especially when your future Hall of Fame left tackle is sidelined. My problem with the O-line’s performance last Sunday was the fact that they seemed sturdy in the beginning. After allowing a field goal, the Eagles offense scored twice, a Josh Huff catch from Sammy B, and a Ryan Matthews run. On both drives the Eagles moved the ball well, and the offensive line played well. So what happened? If you want to blame one thing particularly, it would have to be the 6’4 320-pound force of nature Ndamukong Suh. While Suh struggled at the beginning of the season he’s been a beast recently, and both Matt Tobin and Jason Kelce had trouble containing him. But really, for whatever reason, the offensive line just lost its spark, and is partially to blame for the loss. They were a big reason the Eagles last drive failed, especially on 4th and 10, where despite having open receivers past the chains, Sanchez was unable to step up into a collapsing pocket, and was forced to throw short. Still, a loss is a loss, and its time to move on. Here’s my analysis and predictions of this Sunday, when the Eagles will take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lincoln Financial.
Call me naïve, but I really believe every game is a winnable one, and I have trouble betting against the Eagles. Especially against a team like the Bucs. Just like the Dolphins and the Eagles, the Bucs are a team loaded with talent across the board, but have had problems staying consistent. On offense a key matchup will be the defensive line and their ability to contain Jameis Winston. If they can force him to stay in the pocket, then he’ll be forced to make bad throws, rather then extending a play with his speed and agility. For me, this really comes down to Connor Barwin. More then just a leader of the defense, and one of the best outside linebacker’s in the league, Barwin has the incredible ability to located the ball during a play, and make a play or force a stop. If he’s not playing, I have trouble seeing how the Eagles will win this game. This game will be a good test for the secondary as well, trying to cover the megatron-ish receiver Mike Evans. On the offensive side of the ball, the O-line faces another struggle, this time against pro-bowl DT Gerald McCoy. With Ryan Matthews sidelined with a concussion, Demarco Murray needs to have a big game. Like wise, Mark Sanchez makes his first appearance as a starter this season, and I’m not really sure what to expect. Sanchez has proven he can run the Eagles offense, but he has also had his struggles. Struggles or no, I would expect Jordan Matthews to have a big game, as he was Sanchez’s go to receiver last season.
So, prediction time. Last week I don’t think I could have been more wrong, so I’ll stick to the tamer side of things this week, and I’ll make two predictions. If Connor Barwin plays, the Eagles win 24-17. Mark Sanchez does just enough, and relies on his defense to get the job done. They do, and the Eagles walk away 5-4 and in first place in the division. If he doesn’t play though, and Marcus Smith is forced into action, the Eagles lose 16-13. Winston extends to many drives with his ability to run, and the Eagles give up too many big plays. The loss drops us to 4-6, and out of playoff contention.