Brandon Gowton (@BrandonGowton) was nice enough to answer 5 questions for us about the upcoming match-up with the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. You can see his questions to me and my answers over at Bleeding Green Nation. Be sure to read the comments because everyone over there agrees 100% with me that the Titans are winning the AFC South #ornot.
1 - How did Carson Wentz look in his debut last week? Is he all the way back?
Relative to expectations, Carson Wentz looked pretty good. There were a lot of encouraging signs from his performance. He did not look limited in any capacity by the ACL/LCL injury he suffered last December.
That’s not to say it was a perfect performance. He did look rusty at times. His interception came on a play when he started down Zach Ertz for too long. There were moments when the ball was probably coming out a little slower than it should have been.
But it feels like those issues can be smoothed out with more practice reps and game action. The positive outweighed the negative last week and I think we’ll start to see Wentz ramping up closer to his 2017 form as the season progresses. I wouldn’t say he’s currently all the way back but he’s not far off and he’s on the right track to getting there.
2 - The Eagles have been really banged up the last couple of weeks. Can you give us a status update on guys like Alshon Jeffery, Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles?
The Eagles were absolutely depleted at the skill player positions for their Week 3 game against the Colts. Philadelphia was missing their top two running backs and three of their top four wide receivers. Not ideal.
The bad news for the Eagles is they might be without Ajayi and Sproles once again this week. Neither player practiced on Wednesday. Doug Pederson DID say he expects them to return to practice in some capacity this week, so we’ll see if that’s the case.
Despite missing Ajayi and Sproles against Indy, the Eagles still managed to gain 142 rushing yards on 32 carries split between Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, and Josh Adams. So it’s not necessarily the end of the world if Ajayi and/or Sproles can’t play. The Eagles’ offensive line is good enough to open holes for the backups. But obviously it’s not as ideal.
Alshon Jeffery’s outlook for this week is much more optimistic. The 28-year-old pass catcher was a full participant during Wednesday’s practice for the first time this season. Barring a setback, it seems like he’s on track to play against the Titans. That’s big for the Eagles considering Jeffery was Wentz’s most targeted player in 2017. Jeffery’s potential return means the Eagles won’t have to rely as heavily upon uninspiring options like Kamar Aiken, Jordan Matthews, and Joshua Perkins in the passing game.
3 - What is the Eagles’ biggest strength? Where do they have the biggest edge in this game?
The Eagles won the Super Bowl earlier this year largely because they’ve built through the trenches. Philadelphia has one of the best offensive lines in the league. They also have one of the best defensive lines, as evidence by the pressure they’ve been able to generate.
Offensively, I think the Eagles will be able to open some holes in the run game and buy enough time for Carson Wentz to make plays.
Defensively, Fletcher Cox has been a monster through three games and I think he’ll cause some problems for the Titans’ interior offensive line. Cox should be able to win against Ben Jones and Josh Kline. He’ll be getting some pressure on Marcus Mariota.
4 - What is the Eagles’ biggest weakness? What concerns you the most about the Eagles?
The Eagles’ secondary has been inconsistent early on this season. The unit has performed well during home games but facing the Buccaneers in Tampa was a different story. Ryan Fitzpatrick torched Jim Schwartz’s defense for 402 yards and four touchdowns.
Making matters worse for the Eagles is that they’ll likely be without starting safety Rodney McLeod against the Titans. That means it’ll likely be 33-year-old Corey Graham starting in his place. Graham is usually a role player so this means that some of the Eagles’ subpackages might be screwed up now that he has to play more often.
Another thing worth noting is that the Eagles aren’t off to a hot start when it comes to special teams. Philadelphia’s unit ranks 29th in DVOA while the Titans are 4th.
5 - Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what are your expectations for the rest of this Eagles season?
I’m taking the Eagles to win this game. Shocking, I know. I just feel very good about this team’s direction with Wentz back. I think he’ll be sharper this week, especially with Jeffery potentially back on the field. Mariota’s mobility could ultimately give the Eagles’ defense some trouble but I think that unit will ultimately hold up better than they did in Week 2. It should be a good game. Final score prediction: Eagles 24, Titans 20.
As far as the rest of the season goes, I’m optimistic. I think the team just needs to kind of weather the storm right now as they deal with some injuries and a rusty Wentz. I have confidence they’ll start to hit their stride at some point and eventually become the first team to be a repeat winner in the NFC East since 2004.