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Eagles Preview: Five on the Broncos

Denver has been greater than the sum of its parts in 2021

PHILADELPHIA - The goal for any NFL coach is to get a result that is greater than the sum of its parts and the embattled Vic Fangio has done exactly that with the Denver Broncos.

Consecutive wins over NFC East opponents Washington and Dallas, the latter of which was an emphatic road triumph last week against a perceived contender, has the Broncos above. 500 at 5-4 with the Eagles set to visit the Rocky Mountains.

A win over the 3-6 Birds would give the Broncos a clean sweep over NFC East foes this season and leave the Eagles winless against the AFC West.

Here are five other things you should know about a Denver team that heads into the second half of its schedule relevant in the very tough AFC West.

RED-ZONE DEFENSE

Fangio hasn't been a great head coach but he remains one of the NFL's best defensive minds. The Broncos are in the top 10 in most meaningful defensive categories and have been especially stingy in the red zone since Fangio showed up.

The Broncos are the first team since red zone statistics began being tracked in 1995 to lead the league in red-zone defense in consecutive seasons (2019-20). Under Fangio over the last three seasons, Denver has allowed a touchdown on only 57-of-125 (45.6 percent) opponent red-zone trips.

Denver coach Vic Fangio

Vic Fangio

"I always think with him, you see where they are ranked in run defense, they're always going to try to stop the run first," Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said of Fangio. "And he does a good job of that, of taking away the run game or trying to take away the run game and do the things he needs to do to do that.

"... They play hard. They're technically sound. Again, any time I kind of think about, ‘What do I want another coach to think about my team,’ I always want them to think we're fundamentally sound because I just think that's the biggest compliment you can give somebody. So, I always see his teams being fundamentally sound, stopping the run, and playing hard."

HURTS' HEADACHE

Fangio is known league-wide for confusing young quarterbacks.

With consecutive wins over rookie quarterbacks in Weeks 2 and 3 [Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson], Fangio improved to 20-9 as a defensive coordinator or head coach against first-year signal-callers.

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Hurts, of course, isn't a rookie but he is a full-time starter for the first time in 2021 and that's the type of inexperience that Fangio-tutored defenses typically feast on.

Fangio, though, was very complimentary of Hurts' unique skill set.

"This is the first time I’ve prepared for him or seen him on tape. I’ve been very impressed with him," Fangio said. "He’s [got] a big arm. He does a good job running their offense. He’s obviously very athletic. Runs the running game good where he can pull it and keep it or throw the RPO. He’s very good at both of those. He’s probably as good as anyone in the league of doing that. And once he’s running, he’s a really good runner. He’s elusive, he’s strong."

NEXT MAN UP

The Broncos Have the league's sixth-ranked defense despite significant attrition be it by injury [Alexander Johnson and Bradley Chubb] or trade [Von Miller]. It's not the 1972 Miami Dolphins "No Name Defense," but it is impressive how the group has persevered with very young players in the front seven.

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One of them, outside linebacker Malik Reed, has four sacks this season and ranks third among all undrafted players with 12.0 sacks since the start of the 2020 season.

ONE-TWO BACKFIELD PUNCH

Rookie running back Javonte Williams is third in the NFL when it comes to freshman runners with 466 yards, including a 100-yard performance against Dallas. The veteran Williams is complementing is Melvin Gordon, the ex-Chargers star who has a history with both Sirianni and Shane Steichen.

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Gordon signed with the Broncos before the 2020 season and has 1,784 scrimmage yards (1,463 rush and 321 receiving) and 16 touchdowns.

TEDDY'S TOUCH

Much has been made of the Eagles' allowing gaudy completion percentages this season and Denver QB Teddy Bridgewater comes in connecting on over 70 percent of his throws.

With one more game with a 70 percent-plus completion percentage, Bridgewater would join Peyton Manning as the only Broncos QB with six such games in a single season. The Eagles have allowed five QBs to complete 80 percent of their passes in five games and most of those don't have the default accuracy of Bridgewater.

Playing his eighth NFL season overall, Bridgewater ranks fifth in completion percentage (67.0 percent) among active quarterbacks with at least 1,000 passing attempts since he entered the league in 2014.

PREDICTIONS

John McMullen (7-2, 5-4 vs. spread) - How Sirianni approached this game is the more compelling narrative this week. The Eagles have morphed from a read-option, spread offense to a more conventional play-action set up in recent weeks when the dregs of run defense showed up on the schedule.

If Sirianni believes he's found the formula to competitiveness, he'll continue to try to pound the ball even though Denver is ranked No. 6 overall when it comes to stopping the run. If the Eagles go the opposite way, the Broncos are nearly as good against the pass (No. 8 overall) and have much more talent in the secondary, including two very good safeties in Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson, as well as a talented rookie corner in Patrick Surtain that the Eagles were very interested in back in April at draft time.

In the end, this could be a trap game for the Broncos, who are coming off their most impressive win in which a number of their young players stepped up in a big way. A week of getting pumped up plus the bye week looming could have those young Denver players looking past a lightly-regarded Eagles team.

EAGLES 24, BRONCOS 20

Ed Kracz (5-4 overall, 5-4 vs. spread) Until Jonathan Gannon finds a way to adjust with his defense, I'm taking the opponent.

BRONCOS 28, EAGLES 20

-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.