People always say that it’s too early in the season to deem a game a must-win in the third week. However, for the Philadelphia Eagles, it’s not outrageous to deem Sunday’s visit to the Meadowlands practically Armageddon. An 0-2 start has left the team reeling. All of a sudden, dreams of post-season glory have been buried under questions about talent, commitment and coach/GM/Maximum Leader Chip Kelly.
While the Birds try to overcome their horrific start — and anyone who watched them stagger about against Dallas last week knows that it is horrific — the Jets are reveling in a 2-0 break from the gate, which was highlighted by a win Monday night in Indianapolis. Despite the pre-season turmoil that resulted in QB Geno Smith ending up with a broken jaw, the Jets have rewarded new coach Todd Bowles with solid play on both sides of the ball, and reserve passer Ryan Fitzpatrick has been steady at the helm. A win over Philadelphia will lift the Jets to 3-0 for the first time since 2009 and make them an early playoff contender in the AFC
Philadelphia at New York
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Eagles -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Running on Empty
The Eagles ran for seven yards on 17 carries in last week’s loss to Dallas, and heralded free agent DeMarco Murray was limited to two on 13 totes. But don’t blame the backs for this one. Philadelphia’s offensive line was the culprit against the Cowboys and must block better — or at least some — against the Jets, or the 2015 disaster will continue.
“We didn’t do a great job on our down blocks and sweep game,” Kelly said. “There was obviously too much penetration, whether it was from the defensive end or defensive tackle.” New York won’t be easy to push around since its formidable front wall, led by Muhammad Wilkerson, has surrendered just 3.8 yards/carry this year.
2. Good Fitz
While Smith continues his recovery, Fitzpatrick will try to remain an undefeated starter for the Jets. He hasn’t been perfect, but Fitzpatrick has completed 63.8 percent of his throws and has four touchdowns passes. Fitzpatrick has been aided by a pair of outstanding targets, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, who have combined for 23 receptions. But Decker injured his knee against the Colts and could miss Sunday’s game as a precaution.
3. Secondary Concerns
The Eagles committed six years and $62 million to Byron Maxwell during the off-season, and the former Seattle corner has been horrible to date. The most egregious example of his ineffectiveness was the TD pass Terrance Williams caught in front of Maxwell during the fourth quarter of Dallas’ win last Sunday. It’s bad enough that the Eagles’ other corner, Nolan Carroll, is a Miami castaway, or that safety Malcolm Jenkins has had to play corner in nickel situations. But Maxwell was supposed to be a stopper, and he hasn’t come close. If Maxwell doesn’t improve, it won’t matter whether Decker plays or not. The Eagles won’t be able to stop anybody.
Throughout NFL history only two percent of teams that started the season 0-3 have made the playoffs. If that doesn’t create a sense of desperation in the Eagles, nothing will. This is an absolute must, got-to-have-it, win-or-die game for Philadelphia, which will be trying to see whether the Jets are for real, or if their two wins came over a mediocre Cleveland team and a struggling Indianapolis outfit.
New York has the ability to be extremely disruptive along the front four, not the best news for an Eagles offensive line that has stumbled this year. And Marshall has the potential to create significant problems for a secondary that hasn’t stopped anybody yet. Still, the hunch here is that Philadelphia will get its running game started, helping out QB Sam Bradford. Meanwhile, the secondary gives Fitzpatrick (two interceptions in ’15) some trouble and creates easy scoring opportunities with turnovers.
Prediction: Eagles 27, Jets 21
— Written by Michael Bradley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bradley is a writer and broadcaster based in suburban Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @DailyHombre.
(Sam Bradford photo courtesy of Getty Images)