Philadelphia Eagles

Can Eagles control ball and force turnovers against Chiefs?

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson speaks at a news conference after an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)
AP Photo/Mark Tenally

The Philadelphia Eagles won’t have injured top cornerback Ronald Darby (ankle) on Sunday to cover explosive Kansas City Chief wide receiver Tyreek Hill.

They won’t have veteran kicker Caleb Sturgis, whose hip injury forced the team into signing rookie Justin Elliot off the Cincinnati Bengals’ practice squad. Elliot has never attempted an NFL kick.

Trying to beat the upstart Chiefs at notoriously hostile Arrowhead Stadium without their best cornerback and with an untested kicker sounds like a recipe for disaster, but that’s the challenge facing coach Eagles coach Doug Pederson.

The obstacles don’t stop there.

Coaches often cite the importance of an effective running game and winning the turnover battle, especially for tough road games against non-conference opponents.

The Eagles struggled miserably last Sunday to establish an honest ground game in their opening win against Washington, but survived by forcing four turnovers and turning a sack-strip into a touchdown.

Lightning striking twice isn’t likely against the Chiefs, one of the NFL’s most careful teams since Andy Reid became head coach in 2013. In three of Reid’s four years in Kansas City, the Chiefs have either led the NFL or finished second in turnover margin.

Even in 2014, when the Chiefs ranked just 21st in turnover margin, the Chiefs placed in the top five in fewest giveaways. Veteran quarterback Alex Smith takes few risks, usually looks for high-percentage passes, and limits his interceptions and fumbles.

Conversely, the Chiefs have an excellent front four that gets after quarterbacks. Last week it held Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense to just 10 second-half points. Brady completed just 16 of his 26 passes and didn’t throw a touchdown, almost unheard of for the future Hall of Famer at Gillette Stadium.

Arrowhead Stadium is one of the league’s loudest venues, which often leads to false starts and communication problems for the opposing offense. Pederson can’t have Carson Wentz drop back in excess of 40 times and expect his young quarterback to stay upright, unscathed, and precise with his passes.

In order to protect Wentz and put the offense in manageable third-down situations, Pederson needs an answer for his dormant running game, which struggled in the preseason and didn’t fare any better in the season opener.

LeGarrette Blount averaged just 3.3 yards per carry on 14 runs and was twice stopped on third and short, gaining one yard on 3rd and 2 and minus-2 on 3rd and 1. Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles combined for six yards on six carries.

After a supbar first half, Eagle running backs struggled even more in the second half, forcing Pederson into a short passing game in the fourth quarter to drain the clock:

“We’ve got to be able to run the ball better,” Pederson said. “But at the same time, this is another — it’s a challenging group. Very similar front from a structure standpoint that we just faced with the Redskins. But these guys are good at what they do, and it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge every week, but that’s something that we’ve focused on, and got to get the running game because I think that just carries over into our play-action.”

— Geoff Mosher, a longtime Philadelphia sports reporter, is also a host on @975TheFanatic in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffMosherNFL.


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