The Philadelphia Eagles come to Orchard Park to face off against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in what will be their third consecutive road contest. The Eagles have been blown out in their two prior road games, having lost 38-20 to the Minnesota Vikings on October 13 before losing 37-10 to the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday night.
The Eagles (3-4) desperately need a win to keep themselves in good position in a crowded NFC playoff picture. While the end of their schedule is pretty easy (with two games against the New York Giants, one against Washington, and one against the Miami Dolphins in December), the team still has match-ups with Dallas, the New England Patriots, and the Seattle Seahawks remaining.
Which Eagles will the Bills need to ground in order to come out victorious on Sunday?
QB Carson Wentz
Obviously, making the opposing quarterback uncomfortable increases a team’s chances of victory on Sunday. Wentz is making his first trip to New Era Field, and he’ll need to be protected better than he has been in the Eagles’ previous two games. Wentz took a combined five sacks over the last two weeks after only having been sacked eight times in the five games before that. Buffalo’s defense gives plenty of strange looks, and if head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier can continue to concoct exotic cover schemes, then Wentz will have to hold the ball a bit longer, which has been a problem for him in recent weeks. If the defensive line continues to stunt well, then Wentz will be under duress and the Bills will have a great shot at victory.
TE Zach Ertz
Philadelphia’s best target was a forgotten man last week, as Wentz only threw him the ball five times against Dallas. Perhaps it was more necessary to keep him in to pass protect, as Wentz spent most of the night running for his life from a ferocious Dallas pass rush. However, for some reason the Eagles went away from Ertz in favor of second tight end Dallas Goeddert more often. Ertz is a dynamic player who should see ten targets in a game, and the Eagles’ two worst losses of the year coincided with Ertz’s worst performances of the year, as the stud tight end combined to catch only six passes for 92 yards on 14 targets over the last two weeks combined. Philadelphia will want him to be involved early, and it will be up to the Bills to take him out of the game, forcing Wentz to attack Buffalo’s corners instead.
WR Alshon Jeffery
Speaking of Buffalo’s corners, the big-bodied Jeffery poses a huge (pun intended) threat to the Bills on the outside. Levi Wallace struggled last week against DeVante Parker, and Jeffrey is just as big and much more talented. Jeffery leads the Eagles in touchdown receptions with three on the season, and when Philadelphia is able to enter the red zone, his ability to win in contested catch situations becomes lethal against Buffalo’s smaller corners.
DE Derek Barnett
While the Eagles’ defense has not been good overall this year, they do have talent on the defensive line. Brandon Graham is still effective at 31 years old, as is Fletcher Cox, but the young edge rusher Derek Barnett is a formidable foe, as well. Barnett is off to a strong start this year, as he has three sacks, ten quarterback hits, and one forced fumble to go with 17 tackles on the season. Regardless of which tackle lines up across from him, the Bills will have to slow Barnett in order to protect Josh Allen adequately enough to exploit the Eagles’ weak secondary.
CB Ronald Darby
Speaking of that weak secondary...hello, old friend! The former second-round draft pick of the Bills is part of a pass defense currently allowing 270 yards per game, sixth-worst in the league. That total includes a 120-yard effort from New York Jets third-stringer Luke Falk; when accounting for that outlier, the Eagles have actually allowed an average of 311 yards per game to other teams’ starting quarterbacks. Darby always had trouble tracking the ball deep, and that hasn’t changed playing in the City of Brotherly Love. The Bills and quarterback Josh Allen have a chance to do some real damage through the air this week.