Staff writer Steve Fini takes a look at five key players in Sunday’s must-win game for the Eagles in Buffalo.
Nnamdi Asomugha (CB/Eagles) – If you ask die hard Eagles fans, the happiest day this year outside of a child’s birth, was probably the day they got to hear those three little words–“Eagles signed Nnamdi”. In that same breath, they envisioned the Eagles scoring at will offensively, their opponents panicking and throwing tons of passes, and Asomugha and company shutting down those teams on their way to a deep playoff run. Boy, how times have changed.
Now, the discussion is more about Asomugha being overrated than him being one of the best free agent signings in franchise history. Personally, I still feel he is a top-flight corner in this league. Watching him against the Falcons in week two and the way he covered their dynamic receivers was a thing of beauty. Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has been under a lot of scrutiny of late, particularly because he’s failed to play to Asomugha’s strengths. That has to change this week.
This week he is up against (I can’t believe I’m about to say this) the prolific Bills passing attack. Whether he is covering Stevie Johnson, Donald Jones, or David Nelson, he needs to step up. Moreover, he needs to be put in a position to step up. Hopefully, Castillo has come up with a game plan that helps Asomugha do that. If not, the criticism of this big free agent signing will only continue to gain steam.
Danny Watkins (RG/Eagles) – Welcome to the NFL, Mr. Watkins. After being inactive for three of the first four weeks of the season, Watkins gets his first career start. I wrote earlier this week that Kyle Devan, the Eagles’ former starting right guard, had one of the worst games by an Eagles offensive linemen in recent memory.
Apparently, the Eagles agreed.
While the switch Watkins is a bit of a surprise, it could be a good time to get his feet wet. The Bills are one of the worst teams in the league at stopping the run, and run blocking happens to be Watkins’ strength. Also, he has a more powerful body than DeVan, so the Eagles are hoping he can get a push in short yardage and goal line situations.
Regardless, you still have to look at the situation. He was inactive for three weeks already this year. The coaches obviously didn’t have much faith in him, and he didn’t seem to have much faith in himself. Is this a product of Watkins finally coming around, or is this a desperation move since the Eagles’ interior line has been atrocious in certain aspects of the game? Come Sunday, we’ll find out.
Fred Jackson (RB/Bills) – Two years ago, the Bills spent the 10th overall pick in the draft on running back C.J. Spiller. Two years later, they have the potent running game they imagined when they took Spiller, but it’s not because of the Clemson product.
Fred Jackson is as underrated a running back as there is in the league. He does everything well. He runs hard, has good speed and can catch the football. He’s also averaging 5.8 yards per carry, which is especially scary to the Eagles because, as we know, their run defense has been one of the worst units in the league this season. With the Bills’ ability to throw the ball all over the field, Juan Castillo better have a good game plan to stop the run.
If he stays in the nickel package all game, he’s going to leave a depleted Eagles’ front seven exposed to the run. If he keeps his base defense on the field, he has to deal with the Bills throwing the ball a ton. Actually, on second thought, the Eagles just better be ready to score 30 points and hope that’s enough to hang on.
Scott Chandler (TE/Bills) – If you play fantasy football, you probably know a little about Chandler. If not, and live outside of Buffalo, you probably don’t. He is a third-year man out of the University of Iowa. He’s also 6’7″, 260lbs. Chandler is a massive player, even by today’s standards.
The Eagles still haven’t solved the tight end riddle on defense. Last week, Castillo reverted to playing Asomugha, the team’s supposed best cover man, on Vernon Davis. Davis ended up with only four catches for 45 yards, but one of those catches was a touchdown. Not the crazy numbers many tight ends have compiled against Philly, but the touchdown came at a crucial time in San Fran’s comeback win.
Additionally, the Bills have a much better passing attack than the 49ers, and the Eagles won’t have the luxury of putting Asomugha on Chandler. That means the weakest part of the Eagles’ defense (and maybe team), the linebackers and safeties, might be asked to cover Chandler this week. He might not catch a lot of passes, but where he could be most effective is where it counts the most, and that is on third down and in the red zone.
Lesean McCoy (RB/Eagles) – As stated above, the Bills are pretty bad against the run. The Eagles, on the other hand, have been very good running the football this year. McCoy has established himself as one of the game’s elite backs. Prior to last week, he rushed for at least 90 yards in each game. After the Eagles got away from running the football against the Niners, expect McCoy to bounce back this week, particularly with Watkins starting. The Bills have a solid defensive line, with third overall pick Marcell Dareus showing a ton of potential. But “solid” hasn’t stopped McCoy this season. He’s run through and around teams this year and it took maybe the best defensive player in the game, Patrick Willis, to finally slow him up.
The Eagles will need to control the clock this week and keep the ball away from Ryan Fitzpatrick (Jesus, I really can’t believe I’m writing this). These two teams can really explode offensively, so the team that can keep their defense off the field will have a huge advantage. Look for McCoy to get a lot more than just nine rushes this week.