The Philadelphia Eagles get back to work Tuesday after four days of R&R&R -- rest, relaxation and regret after losing two home games in five days.
As they begin preparing for Sunday’s game in Denver, here are some things to ponder:
The last time Peyton Manning looked mortal in a regular-season game was one year ago, against the Houston Texans. Connor Barwin had a fumble recovery in that game. Manning completed 26 of 52 passes (50 percent) for 330 yards in a 31-25 loss. A week earlier, Manning had his last truly poor performance, throwing three interceptions in the first quarter of a 27-21 loss in Atlanta.
But those were just Manning’s second and third games after returning from his one-year hiatus due to neck surgery. Since getting his rhythm back, Manning’s only loss has been in the 38-35 playoff loss to Baltimore.
So nobody has really stopped Manning. That’s a daunting reality for an Eagles defense that has allowed 323 passing yards per game and a 67.2 percent completion percentage.
The Eagles’ offensive line was a disaster area last season, but injuries were the primary issue. It was expected that this year’s unit would be among the best in the NFL. Left tackle Jason Peters, who missed all of 2012 after twice tearing an Achilles tendon, practically guaranteed it.
Against Kansas City Thursday night, the line was simply not good. Pro Football Focus, which grades every player in every game based on film review, slapped a minus-5.6 on rookie right tackle Lane Johnson and a surprisingly low minus-4.0 on right guard Todd Herremans. Peters struggled with Tamba Hali all game and center Jason Kelce committed two major gaffes, including his fumbled Snap To Nobody.
This week is crucial, because it will help identify what is going on: Were the linemen just feeling the fatigue of three games in 11 days? Was it an early sign that they just aren’t up to the task of Chip Kelly’s uptempo offense for a full season? Are Peters, Kelce and Herremans simply not back to full strength after injuries ended their 2012 season? Is Johnson picking up the NFL game quickly enough to keep Michael Vick alive?
Speaking of Vick, can he bounce back with a strong performance after looking uncomfortably like he did for most of the past two seasons?That’s vital to the Eagles’ chances for success this season. When Vick is going good, as he did for an unforgettable stretch in 2010 and for the first two games of this season, he’s one of the league’s most dynamic players. But once he hits a bad patch, he has not been able to get back to that level -- often, injuries have prevented him from even trying.
“I thought Mike played OK,” Kelly said Friday. “He has played better. But it's always a combination, unfortunately. It's not always on one guy. ... We’ve got to be able to stand in the pocket at times, (be) able to get to the top of our drop and not give up so much pressure. There are times for Mike when the ball has to get out a little bit quicker in certain situations.”
The NFC East is practically begging the Eagles to be contenders. Washington and New York are both 0-3. Dallas is in first place at 2-1. If the Eagles had been able to steal either of those home games, they’d be tied for first. As it is, they still have five divisional games and 11 conference games left on the schedule.
Nobody expected Kelly to come in and win the division in his first season in the league. But nobody expected this division to be quite so winnable, either.