By Jason Catania
Fox Sports Sponsored Post
Game: Philadelphia Eagles (1-3) at Buffalo Bills (3-1)
Date: Sunday, October 9
Time: 1:00 PM EST
Game of the Week Status
It’s now or never for a Philadelphia Eagles team that has lost three straight despite being a preseason favorite with Super Bowl hopes, while a plucky Buffalo Bills team is licking its chops at the chance to exploit a vulnerable defense after an upset loss last time out.
At home. Ahead 23-3 midway through the third quarter. And facing a West Coast team that had to travel all the way across the country. Despite all that, the Eagles still found a way to choke last week against the San Francisco 49ers, who scored the game’s final 21 points to win 24-23.
While QB Michael Vick had a field day, throwing for a career-high 416 yards and 2 scores, the Eagles “defense” made Niners signal-caller Alex Smith, who completed 63.6% of his passes for 291 yards and a pair of TDs, look like Joe Montana.
Meanwhile, Philly’s run D was gashed for 127 yards on just 15 carries (8.5 yards per) by RB Frank Gore. No sugarcoating: It was a devastating – and revealing – loss for a team that needs to get its act together. Fast.
The Bills, though, had their own version of a disappointing defeat, albeit not quite as drastic. After jumping out to a 17-3 halftime lead, Buffalo allowed the – gasp – Cincinnati Bengals to tie the game at 20 with just over four minutes remaining.
On the ensuing drive, the Bills offense stalled in its own territory, and then the defense folded over as Bengals rookie QB Andy Dalton marched his squad 56 yards in under two minutes before Mike Nugent kicked a 43-yard field goal to win the game, 23-20, with no time left on the clock. Following three straight wins to kick off the season, including two consecutive crazy comebacks, the Bills fell into the “let-down game” trap in losing for the first time.
What To Expect
As Vick said earlier this week, “The dream team thing is over.”
If the Eagles, already alone in last place in the NFC East, are going to avoid falling further behind in the division, they’re going to need to come up with their best defensive showing so far this year.
Through four games, Philly is allowing 139.5 yards on the ground, third-worst in all of football. Problem is, with stud DE Trent Cole out with a calf injury and fellow ends Juqua Parker and Darryl Tapp less than 100 percent, the line is nowhere near full strength. Same goes for the O-line, too, with left tackle Jason Peters (hamstring) a likely no-go, meaning an already-banged up Vick could be in trouble.
On the plus side, though, Vick needs just 71 more rush yards to surpass former Eagle Randall Cunningham as the league’s career leader among quarterbacks, a mark he could reach, considering how much he may be running for his life. And it’s not like Buffalo’s defense, which is surrendering 407 yards per game, sixth-worst in the NFL, has done much to get in their opponent’s way so far.
There is, though, the matter of how much damage the surprising Bills offense, which ranks fourth-best at 33.3 points per game and fifth-best with 137 rush yards per, will do.
Given the Eagles’ defensive issues when it comes to stopping the run, expect Buffalo to fully exploit that weakness, by keeping RB Fred Jackson – averaging 5.8 yards per carry with four TDs – busy out of the backfield. On the passing side, after failing to hit the 200-yard mark or throw a TD for the first time in 2011, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick could again have some trouble because his top target, WR Stevie Johnson (team-bests of 24 catches and 314 yards), will be blanketed by Nnamdi Asomugha, one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL.
But if Fitzpatrick can make good use of his other options, like emerging WR David Nelson (22 receptions, 251 yards) and red zone threat TE Scott Chandler (team-best 4 TDs), the Bills could make as much hay through the air as they do on the ground. In that case, Buffalo might just prolong Philly’s nightmare.