Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Individual Matchups to Watch Against San Diego Chargers
Philadelphia jumped to a 26-7 halftime lead, utilizing a highly effective up-tempo offense with which the Redskins simply couldn’t keep up.
Running back LeSean McCoy racked up 184 yards on a career-high 31 carries, scoring one and averaging nearly six yards per rush. Michael Vick accounted for over 250 total yards and three scores, and the defense played aggressive football against a shaky Robert Griffin III.
The Eagles look to continue their success against the San Diego Chargers, a team with one of the worst rosters in the league. San Diego nearly beat a talented Houston team in Week 1, but blew a late 28-7 lead behind some poor decision-making from quarterback Philip Rivers.
Kelly should be able to outmatch Mike McCoy’s Chargers. The Eagles are home, they’re a vastly superior team, and they have a plethora of offensive weapons that would be tough for any team to stop. The following five matchups are the biggest for Philadelphia to move to 2-0 for the second straight season.
OT Jason Peters vs. DE Corey Liuget
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After watching his Week 1 performance against the Washington Redskins, Jason Peters appears to be at full strength following his Achilles injuries from spring 2012. When healthy, Peters is, arguably, the best offensive linemen in the NFL, and he excelled in all facets of the game in the win.
Peters is a tremendous run blocker with the athleticism to get to the second level with ease. His versatility is his strength, and Chip Kelly had fun lining up Peters and rookie Lane Johnson next to each other on the line, and Peters even out wide once.
Peters will line up against Corey Liuget, a former first-round pick and 3-4 defensive end of the San Diego Chargers. Liuget is a 5-technique end who has quietly emerged as one of the better players at his position. As a second-year player in 2012, he racked up seven sacks, 20 quarterback pressures and eight batted passes, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Liuget was part of a unit that made life difficult for Arian Foster in Week 1. Foster carried 18 times for just 57 yards, a paltry 3.2 yards per rush. Foster was limited to no touchdowns and a long of nine yards.
Facing LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown means Liuget gets, arguably, the two best running back duos in consecutive games, and McCoy looked all but unstoppable in the opener.
The Eagles also run the ball significantly more than they pass, putting up 49 rushes to just 26 pass attempts against the Redskins. If that’s any indication of the game plan against the Chargers, Peters will be facing off against Liuget in a high number of rushing situations.
It should be mentioned that Liuget did suffer a shoulder injury in the preseason, but he’s listed as probable for this Sunday’s contest, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com, and that shouldn’t affect him.
WR DeSean Jackson vs. CB Derek Cox
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A productive DeSean Jackson adds a whole new element to the offense. Jackson registered seven catches (on nine targets) for 104 yards and a touchdown in Week 1, but he did almost all of the damage in the first half. Once the Eagles skated to a 33-7 lead, they slowed the pace down; in fact, running just 24 plays as a team in the final 30 minutes.
Jackson’s seven catches marked the second-best total of his career, with one of his two instances of eight receptions coming four years ago against the Chargers. Getting Jackson involved early will be the key, as 15 of his 31 career touchdowns have come in the first quarter.
The Eagles see substantially more success as a team when Jackson is one of the focal points of their offense, as they’re 12-4 (.750) when he records at least six catches and 29-27 when he doesn’t (.518).
Jackson still possesses elite speed, and there may not be a receiver in the NFL faster than Jackson. He will be covered by Derek Cox, a first-year Charger who was a fine cover corner with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Cox was targeted 89 times last year, allowing just one touchdown pass and a 69.0 rating, giving him a passer rating that rated 16th-best out of 113 qualifying cornerbacks, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required)
He’s a poor tackler, tying for third-worst among cornerbacks with 15 missed tackles in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Cox struggled in coverage in Week 1, although he was matched up with future Hall of Famer Andre Johnson, a player who would give any corner trouble.
The key will be Jackson’s ability to beat Cox deep. Vick still possesses a cannon of an arm even at age 33, and he and Jackson still make up one of the better deep-threat duos in the league.
OLB Trent Cole vs. OT King Dunlap
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With Trent Cole transitioning to 3-4 outside linebacker in the Eagles’ new defense, he will spend much of the game squaring off against his former teammate, King Dunlap.
Cole excelled in his first game as a pass-rushing linebacker, registering a forced fumble, a tackle for a loss, four solo tackles and two quarterback hits. He spent a high percentage of plays with his hand on the ground still as defensive coordinator Billy Davis likes to utilize a mix of the 3-4 and 4-3.
Dunlap never had a good reputation in Philadelphia, but he’s not as bad as many would like to believe.
He actually held his own last week against J.J. Watt, perhaps the finest pass-rushing force the NFL has seen since Reggie White. Dunlap was beaten for a sack, but gave up just one additional pressure in 55 offensive snaps and rated very well as a run blocker, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Dunlap’s biggest problem is literally his size, as he’s too tall to get low enough to ward off the toughest pass-rushers. Dunlap is 6’10”, which makes him about seven inches taller than Cole.
Cole seemed to be playing with renewed energy a week ago, and he should be able to get the best of Dunlap, especially since the two have faced each other as practice many times over the years.
ILB Mychal Kendricks vs. TE Antonio Gates
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Antonio Gates isn’t quite the player he was in his prime, but he’s still a top-seven or so tight end. Gates and Rivers hooked up for two receptions in Week 1, including a 34-yarder against rookie safety D.J. Swearinger.
The Philadelphia Eagles primarily utilized inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks against tight end Fred Davis of the Redskins. Kendricks has top-notch speed, and the ball skills to cover even the best tight ends. Kendricks will have a tough matchup with Gates, an eight-time Pro Bowler who remains one of Rivers’ top targets, especially with Danario Alexander out for the season.
Kendricks isn’t the most adept tackler, as he registered 14 missed tackles in 93 attempts a year ago, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He also allowed four touchdowns to no interceptions in pass coverage, numbers that would seem to put the edge in Gates’ favor.
But Kendricks was just a rookie, and he’s better suited as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Davis says he likes the 3-4 because it allows his team to be more aggressive in covering opposing tight ends, via a tweet by Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News.
Kendricks has a tough matchup with Gates, who has 15 catches for 150 yards and a touchdown in two career games against the Eagles. Gates is also in, arguably, the best shape of his life, per Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego.
Davis won’t put Kendricks as the sole player on Gates; he’ll assuredly mix a blend of Patrick Chung, Earl Wolff and maybe even a cornerback. Regardless, limiting Gates’ catches will force Rivers to throw to his subpar receiving corps more often, and that’s a good thing for the Eagles.
QB Michael Vick vs. S Eric Weddle
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Michael Vick is still the most important player to the Eagles’ success, and he looks like a rejuvenated quarterback under Kelly. Vick was dynamic in Week 1, tossing two touchdowns and rushing for one while posting a passer rating of 112.6.
He only threw the ball 25 times, which directly correlated with the success he did have passing. In three seasons as a starter under Andy Reid, Vick threw the ball 25 or fewer times just once (excluding games in which he left due to injury).
That was a 45-19 win over the New York Jets. Vick was asked to throw the ball 40 or more times on seven occasions, and the Eagles were 1-6 in those contests.
The key to beating San Diego will be minimizing Vick’s passing attempts, especially with an All-Pro safety like Eric Weddle in the secondary. Weddle is arguably the top safety in the game, and he’s a ball hawk who has averaged four interceptions and 10 passes defensed each of the last three seasons, as outlined by Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Weddle matched primarily with tight ends Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham in Week 1, although he also covered Ben Tate on two short passes. He will probably see a mix of covering James Casey, Brent Celek and Zach Ertz in this matchup.
Given that the Chargers don’t have top-notch corners, Vick’s ability to keep the ball away from Weddle is even more important.