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Three Keys: Broncos vs. Eagles

Posted Sep 29, 2013

Independent analyst Andrew Mason names his three keys to a Broncos victory against the Philadelphia Eagles.

DENVER -- The Eagles and Broncos are what they are: teams blessed with high-powered, rapid-fire offenses that, if given the opportunity, could regularly run 80 or more plays apiece in a 60-minute game. But there are two factors that play in the Broncos' favor as they try and enforce their own pace on Sunday's game. 

First is the Broncos' ability to change tempo; like a crafty pitcher, they can be as effective with the off-speed stuff as the heater. Each game to date has seen the Broncos add a few formation wrinkles to their offense, with the first possession of the second half last Sunday showing that the Broncos can use a three-tight end package in an empty-backfield formation and effectively move the football. They've shown the ability to work at different speeds; the Eagles haven't flourished in this scenario, as demonstrated when they tried to grind down the clock against Washington in Week 1 and nearly lost a 33-7 third-quarter lead.

Second is the altitude. The Broncos have trained for up-tempo work at 5,280 feet and are well-accustomed to it -- both offensively and defensively.

"The altitude is a different beast," said linebacker Wesley Woodyard. "They're going to get a test of it. It's something that we get the advantage of playing in it and practicing in it every day. Going up against a no-huddle offense every day versus our offense. We're ready for it. It's our first challenge on showing people and we're ready for it.”

1. SAME AS ALWAYS: TAKE WHAT'S THERE.

It's always a key, and the central tenet of a Peyton Manning-led offense, so you know from 15-plus years in the league that he will look for the gap in the defense -- however small -- and exploit it.

His primary challenge Sunday will be to sustain the Broncos' success this season in the red zone; Philadelphia has allowed just half of the possible 91 points on red-zone possessions against it, primarily through the one-on-one coverage of their cornerbacks. But they haven't had to contend with a team that has an array of quality, trustworthy targets like the Broncos.

2. KEEP SMALL PLAYS FROM BECOMING SOLID GAINS, AND KEEP SOLID GAINS FROM BECOMING BIG ONES.

Philadelphia's offense thrives off its ability to extend plays after the catch and after contact. LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick can make tacklers miss; McCoy is among the league's top 10 in yardage after contact according to ProFootballFocus.com, just like he was last year. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson is among the league's yardage-after-catch leaders, and his shiftiness forces defenders to play him conservatively, or else risk getting burnt.

"Athletic ability takes over," said Woodyard. "Those guys pop a play here, Vick throws a ball down the field to DeSean and it's a touchdown, or McCoy breaks two tackles and guys aren't pursuing the right way and it's a touchdown. So we can't give up those big plays and we've just got to corral them."

3. CREATE MISMATCHES.

It will be fascinating to watch the Broncos' personnel groupings to see how they try to exploit the Eagles' coverage. Will it be an extra tight end if the Eagles go into dime packages? If Joel Dreessen can return after missing nearly two months following knee surgery, he could be someone the Broncos use; if the Eagles stick with their base alignment, then Wes Welker could strike underneath, as he often does. 

As usual, the Broncos have the chance to ask too many questions for a defense to answer. They've done this three times already; they hope to keep that streak -- and their own 14-game regular-season winning streak -- alive Sunday.