If the Eagles are ever going to beat Peyton Manning’s Colts, this is as good a chance as they’re likely to get.
Manning, who has won three starts against Philadelphia by a combined score of 124-51, comes to Lincoln Financial Field after a short week and with an injury-ravaged supporting cast. No Dallas Clark, who plays a position (tight end) that gives the Eagles fits. No Joseph Addai, who rushed for a career-high 171 yards against the Eagles in 2006.
“A lot of things are going to make it tough for us this week,” said Manning, who will make his 200th career start Sunday.
There’s more: The Eagles are coming off their bye week. Under Andy Reid, they are 11-0 coming out of the bye. The extra rest means better health: The Eagles expect quarterback Michael Vick (rib cartilage), left tackle Jason Peters (knee) and possibly wide receiver DeSean Jackson (concussion) to return.
Keys for the Eagles
• Hide the kids. Rookie free safety Nate Allen was victimized by Tennessee’s Kenny Britt in the Eagles’ come-from-ahead loss to the Titans two weeks ago. Cornerback Dimitri Patterson will be making his first NFL start in relief of injured Ellis Hobbs. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has to find a way to mix up coverages and disguise blitzes in order to keep Manning from picking this young secondary apart.
• Adapt to Vick. The Eagles’ quarterback situation has been uncharacteristically unstable this year. Kevin Kolb started the opener and the past two games. Vick started in Weeks 2 through 5 before getting hurt. The rest of the offense must adjust to the different styles in what figures to be a high-scoring game.
Keys for the Colts
• Beat the blitz. In his three previous games against the Eagles, Manning was matching wits with the legendary defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. He got the best of those matchups. Now Manning must outwit McDermott, who at 36 is just two years older than Manning. “Philly’'s always had an excellent team, had an excellent defense,” Manning said. “These guys are well coached (with) smart blitzes.”
• Contain Vick. The Colts defense, led by Dwight Freeney, should be able to get pressure on Vick. Everybody else has. The problem is that he produces some of his best plays while on the move. Coming off torn cartilage in his ribs, a painful injury, Vick says he will be more cautious about taking hits.
If Kerry Collins can dissect the Eagles defense as he did in Tennessee’s surprising win two weeks ago, Manning should be able to do even more damage. The short week, the missing teammates, the atmosphere in Philadelphia should help the Eagles — but not enough. Colts 35-24.