Football is back. Finally. I am so tired of thinking about and writing about the 2011 season and what a horrible disappointment it was. In doing some research for a recent column, I was looking back at the results and it still blows my mind that the Eagles were 1-4 early on and 4-8 in early December. Thank God that 2012 is here.
The start of every season is a new chance to go win the Super Bowl. All 32 teams have dreams. Not all expect to win the title, but even the lesser teams hope to overachieve and win seven or eight games and just be in the playoff hunt. I can remember back to 1999, Andy Reid's first season. The Eagles started 0-4. They won a pair of games and got to 2-4. I wasn't thinking about the team suddenly winning big, but the thought of getting to .500 seemed like a great goal. Unfortunately the Eagles lost a pair of nail-biters (one in overtime) and fell to 2-6.
This is a much better time to be an Eagles fan. The team is loaded with talent. The media, fans, players and coaches all have high hopes for the 2012 Eagles. I don't think saying Super Bowl or bust is fair or realistic, but I do think winning the Super Bowl is a realistic goal. You obviously can't accomplish that in September, but you do hope to set the right tone for the season.
The Eagles head to Cleveland to take on the Browns, a team you can say is on the rise or is young and very unproven. Is the glass half-full or half-empty? The Browns feel like they have a stud runner in Trent Richardson. They have a young, rebuilt receiving corps. Most importantly, they feel that they finally got a franchise quarterback in Brandon Weeden. As we all know, you aren't doing squat if you don't have a legitimate starting quarterback.
Cleveland is clearly the less talented team, but don't forget this is a season opener. Strange things have a way of happening in the first game. Some players are rusty. Young teams are unknown. How do you game plan for the Browns, with just limited footage of their offensive stars? I fully expect the Eagles to win, but it won't surprise me if the Browns overachieve early on and play with a lot of energy and emotion. The Eagles need to counter that by coming out and playing well from the start. The quicker they can build a lead, the easier it will be for the Browns to lose their emotion and settle down.
All eyes will be on
Vick has an outstanding track record. There is no reason to be nervous about him, but we're Eagles fans. Being worried is part of our DNA. I expect Vick to have a good season, but I will feel a lot better after I see Vick lead the offense to a touchdown. That will allow me to exhale and re-focus. I watched Donovan McNabb get off to a slow start in 2003 due to sloppy play and then a minor injury. He struggled and the offense was anemic. That changed by midseason, thankfully.
The good news is that the offense did have some good moments in the preseason. I thought
All of that talent is great, but the offense can't get the job done without good blocking. I have a lot of faith in four members of the offensive line.
The Browns have a good defense, but luckily they don't have a great right defensive end. Frostee Rucker is slated to start there. He has 7.0 sacks in five seasons, four of them coming last year. Rucker has talent, but isn't a dynamic rusher. That will take some pressure off Dunlap. The best pass rusher is Jabaal Sheard, the left end. He led the Browns with 8.5 sacks and five forced fumbles last year. Backing him up is some guy named Juqua Parker. That name rings a bell.
|Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.|
I am interested to see how Cleveland's interior guys do. Ahtyba Rubin had 5.0 sacks last year. He's a big, strong player that could be tough for Kelce to single block. I think Watkins should have Rubin most of the time. Watkins has the strength to deal with him. Rookie Billy Winn played well in the preseason. He's a backup to watch out for.
The Browns have a tough linebacker situation. D'Qwell Jackson is the man in the middle and an outstanding player. Scott Fujita is the SAM linebacker, but is still trying to find out if he'll be eligible to play. He's part of the bounty situation involving the Saints and former players. Fujita's backup is rookie James-Michael Johnson. Unfortunately, he got hurt in the preseason finale and initial reports said he could be out for a month. Jackson is a star linebacker, but he needs help. The Browns already lost Chris Gocong for the season.
Cleveland's secondary is talented. Joe Haden is a top-flight corner. He will play the run and the pass. I am curious to see if he's got the speed to keep up with DeSean Jackson. The other corner is old friend Sheldon Brown. He's smart and tough, but never had elite speed. Safety T.J. Ward is a big-time hitter, but last year only broke up three passes and didn't pick off any. He's built to stop the run more than the pass.
A lot of these matchups should favor the Eagles. The Browns are built for power football. They face Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh twice a year. Those six games involve a lot of running. Now, the Browns have to deal with speed. Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are both burners. McCoy is a fast running back, not a bruiser. The Eagles want to get players out into space where they can win one-on-one matchups. Cleveland is built for giant scrums right at the line of scrimmage.
Depending on what happens at linebacker, the Eagles' gameplan could be to attack the middle of the field. You would do this with passes to the tight ends and running backs. You would do this with misdirection running plays. The Browns would love the Eagles to line up and attack them head on, but that's just not going to happen.
If the line can protect Vick and give him time to find his targets, the Browns will be in for a long day. They don't have the speed on the back end to cover the Eagles players for extended amounts of time. I would think the Browns will mix in blitzing to throw off Vick and the timing of the offense. Celek and McCoy are neutralized when they have to stay in and block.
The Eagles offense dominated the preseason matchup a couple of weeks back. You can't make too much of that because it was a preseason game. That said, it was Eagles backups getting the best of Browns starters for parts of the game. That's not encouraging if you're a Browns fan.
As for the Eagles defense, I am really excited to see this group play. The line should be outstanding. The Eagles kept the best 10 players and should have one of the best (if not the best) lines in the NFL. They totally controlled the preseason game against the Browns. I expect left tackle Joe Thomas to play better and for the Browns to be better overall, but there is no question that this matchup favors the Eagles.
Cleveland has a rookie starting at right tackle in Mitchell Schwartz. They have a pair of so-so guards. The Eagles can get the best of them. If Thomas struggles the way he did two weeks ago, watch out. The Eagles will batter Weeden like he still plays for the Yankees.
I think we're all curious about the young guys. Will
You would think Cleveland would want to run the ball a lot. Richardson isn't 100 percent. Heck, I'm not sure if they even are dead set on playing him. Take him out and Montario Hardesty is the runner. He gained 12 yards on eight carries two weeks ago. In his two other preseason games, he totaled 18 carries for 69 yards. Hardesty has talent, but I think the Eagles coaches will be fine if the Browns feed him the ball over and over.
Run defense is going to be an area that Eagles fans focus on. Can the Eagles play the run consistently well? This was a huge weakness last year in September and October. The first play of the year was a 47-yard touchdown run right up the middle of the field. I don't think that will happen on Sunday. The linemen have a much better feel for their assignments and techniques in the wide-nine. That will be a big help.
There are also new linebackers.
The secondary will have the challenge of run support and coverage. The player to focus on here is
The Eagles now have big corners. That is important because the Browns have three receivers over 205 pounds. They'll try to use their size to make plays. Rookie Josh Gordon got the best of
Josh Cribbs can be a dynamic returner so the Eagles need to do a good job of kicking and covering.
The Eagles are the better team. There aren't a lot of secrets regarding what needs to happen. Don't turn the ball over. Don't make mistakes and give the Browns good field position. Make them drive the long field. Score early and build a lead to get them down emotionally.
Beyond just winning the game, I'd really like to see the Eagles play well. Last year, the Eagles won the opener over the Rams 31-13, but played very sloppy football and that proved to be the theme for September - mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. This year, there is more continuity on the team and everyone is happy and healthy. The Eagles need to play to their potential and look like a good football team. I'm excited to see what's going to happen. Football is back!