7 Keys to Victory in Philadelphia Eagles' Week 2 Matchup
Philly is tied atop the NFC East after ending a five-game losing streak to Washington by winning 30-17 on the road, but no Week 1 outcome turned more heads than the Chiefs' upset over the New England Patriots. Kansas City throttled the reigning champs by the score of 42-27, putting the rest of the league on notice.
The Chiefs have been formidable since former Eagles coach Andy Reid took over the team in 2013, and with a seemingly rejuvenated quarterback in Alex Smith and a suddenly potent offense, they appear to be legit Super Bowl contenders. Philadelphia head coach Doug Pederson, Reid's former assistant, has his hands full preparing to face a team that looks stout on both sides of the ball.
Let's dive into seven specific keys to victory for the Eagles as they look to notch a second straight huge road victory and start 2-0.
New-Look CB Unit Keeping Things in Front of It
When speaking of Eagles uncertainties, it always seems to begin with cornerbacks, and that took a nasty turn in Week 1 when Ronald Darby got carted off the field.
The long-term news proved optimistic, as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Darby will only miss four to six weeks. But he won't be there on Sunday to help limit a passing offense that got behind one of the league's most capable secondaries with regularity in Week 1.
Speedy Chiefs wideout Tyreek Hill and rookie running back Kareem Hunt each took a reception of at least 75 yards to the house, and defending the deep passing plays has proved problematic for Eagles corners Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson. Healthy rookie Rasul Douglas didn't even get to dress for Week 1, so it will be interesting to see whether they trust him given the depth concerns.
It will likely be a revolving door of Mills, Robinson, Jaylen Watkins and Douglas at the cornerback position. On paper, the Chiefs' receiving core isn't too imposing, but their play on Sunday can't be overlooked.
A Quick Passing Offense
For all the good that quarterback Carson Wentz has proved capable of doing in Pederson's offense, he's still a young quarterback who thrives in a quick-tempo offense. Pederson frequently got away from that in Week 1 against Washington.
One of Wentz's touchdowns did start with a wild scramble, but he narrowly avoided huge hits on many slow-developing plays that didn't work out. Pressure on the pocket also contributed to two Wentz turnovers, which the Eagles need to limit against a hard-hitting and opportunistic Chiefs defense.
Other than deep threat Torrey Smith, the Philadelphia wideouts are best at separating close to the line of scrimmage. Quick slants and outs would be a good way to get Alshon Jeffery, who hardly made an impact in Week 1, going. That would also open things up in the slot for Nelson Agholor and tight end Zach Ertz in the middle.
Getting the ball out of Wentz's hands quickly not only keeps him upright and healthy, but it also puts the defense on its heels. That brings us to the next key to the game.
Establish the Run
The Eagles may be a pass-first team with Wentz getting better every week, but they need to find balance against good defenses. They deserve credit for trying in Week 1, but they failed with a woeful average of 2.4 yards per carry. Pederson made no mistake of the need to improve, per Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice.
"Obviously at the end of the day, it's not good enough," the Philly head coach said. "The running game is not good enough. We pride ourselves on running the football here, and we've got backs and linemen and tight ends, really, that can help us do that."
The Chiefs defense won't be easy to run the ball against, but Pederson and company at least have some good film to work with. For all the Patriots' struggles against Kansas City, they did run the ball 35 times for 124 yards.
Philly had an early two-score lead, with Wentz firing the ball down the field in Week 1 but still couldn't establish much of anything. With basically every style of running back at their disposal, the Eagles need to find a formula that works against Kansas City.
LBs Win a Tough Matchup with Travis Kelce
The Eagles limited one of the league's most prolific pass-catching tight ends in Week 1, holding Washington's Jordan Reed to five catches for 36 yards. Things don't get any easier in Week 2, however.
Travis Kelce is the next assignment, another dynamic tight end who caught 85 passes for more than 1,100 yards in 2016. He and the Chiefs will be intent on getting him going after he went for just 40 yards in the team's 2017 regular-season opener.
Linebackers Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham will likely split time covering Kelce, with Malcolm Jenkins perhaps crashing down to help. If he finds a way to make tough, contested catches, it will draw the Eagles' most productive tacklers away from the line of scrimmage and open up running lanes for stellar rookie rusher Hunt.
Should Kelce make an impact on the game early, it could snowball into more success around him and cause a lot of problems for Philly's defense.
Special Teams Success; No Hiccups with New Kicker
Stellar special teams play has elevated the Eagles to being a better team in recent seasons than the two main sides of the ball indicate. Their advantage in the third phase is already apparent through just one game.
Special teams coach Dave Fipp's unit forced a turnover in Week 1, along with a 30-yard punt return from Darren Sproles that set up the first touchdown of the season. Against the Chiefs, continuing their strong pursuit on kickoff and punt coverage will be imperative to keeping Hill and De'Anthony Thomas from slipping free.
Perhaps the most important special teams player will be a new face, however. Kicker Jake Elliott has been signed from the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad to replace the injured Caleb Sturgis, per ESPN.com's Tim McManus. The rookie will need to come through to give the Eagles an advantage when drives stall in field-goal territory.
Special teams are often overlooked leading up to games but decide them with regularity. If Sunday's game follows suit, the Eagles need to make sure it's to their advantage.
Make Alex Smith Uncomfortable
Smith looked less like a quarterback whose team drafted a first-round talent to replace him and more like a top-caliber gunslinger in the Chiefs' Week 1 victory. He threw for 368 yards and four touchdowns against New England en route to being named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Fortunately for the Eagles, they have the perfect formula to get him out of his comfort zone.
Philly's new-look defensive front wreaked havoc in Week 1 against Washington, sacking Kirk Cousins four times and pressuring him on countless occasions. It made the play of the game, as Brandon Graham knocked the ball loose from Cousins' hand on a potential game-winning drive, and Fletcher Cox took it to the house.
Smith isn't known as a world-beater in the pocket, but there's no denying he has a hot hand. The Eagles can't afford to let him sit back and pick apart their shaky secondary. Refusing Smith the time to throw down the field may be the single most important thing Philadelphia can do to win in Kansas City.
Swarm to Kareem Hunt
Welcome to the NFL, Kareem Hunt.
The Chiefs' unheralded rookie running back exploded on to the scene in the opening game of the NFL season, going for 246 total yards from scrimmage and scoring three touchdowns. A whopping 158 of those yards came in the fourth quarter.
Philly can head into Kansas City optimistic of their chances of limiting Hunt after holding Washington to just 64 rushing yards and just 34 yards from the running backs in Week 1. But they didn't face an all-around presence like Hunt, meaning discipline will be required from everyone in the front seven to keep him from getting loose.
It also shouldn't be overlooked that Hunt fumbled on his opening possession before getting comfortable and gashing the Patriots. Expect Philly to be well aware of that and test his ball security.
If the Eagles somehow prove unable to pressure Smith with regularity, the next objective is to swarm Hunt and gang tackle him before he gets to the second level. If they don't, it could be a long day for Philadelphia and another prolific outing from the rookie.