No letdowns. No slow start. No mental mistakes, penalties, dropped passes, missed tackles, or any of the tell-tale signs that a team is not mentally focused on a football game. The Eagles can't afford to look past the Browns tonight, so the challenge here is seeing if this team can come back from its outstanding performance in New York and take care of business at home.
We all know the scenario: The Eagles need to win all three of their remaining games and get some help to reach the post-season. They have had a good week of work and they know that the Browns, despite a 4-9 record, are capable of winning this football game. The Browns force turnovers on defense. They have good skill-position players on offense, and they have a line that can mash in the running game.
Certainly, though, the Browns are lacking. They are down to their third-string quarterback, Ken Dorsey. They have a bunch of injuries -- already, running back Jerome Harrison, a valuable weapon on third down, is out -- and may be without some key players. The Browns are going through a crisis of a season, which makes it all the more important for the Eagles to seize control of this game from the very start.
I'm looking forward to seeing how the Eagles react. The whole playoff picture changes by the minute -- suddenly, the Falcons are going into Minnesota on Sunday to play the red-hot Vikings, and the Bucs have some injury concerns with a still-alive Chargers team coming to town on Sunday -- but what the Eagles have to concern themselves with is what they can control. They can beat Cleveland. They have to beat Cleveland. And this is one of the ways this game can go ...
BE AGGRESSIVE ON OFFENSE
What do we know about the Browns on defense? They play a 3-4 and they have a nose tackle in Shaun Rogers who can be absolutely dominating or be ineffective. The Eagles need to establish the run and push the Browns around a little bit, force them to play an eighth man in the box and then attack the secondary. Cleveland has a good, active group of linebackers. The Browns pick off a bunch of passes.
But the Eagles are going to have chances to make plays. I look for the Eagles to come out and try to push the ball down the field a little bit early on. Run early and then go to play-action passing and try to gash a defense that gives up a lot of big plays. Donovan McNabb has to be smart and not force throws -- no turnovers, please -- but I think he is going to have time to set up and throw and find some open options. The Browns do not rush the passer well at all.
The run game needs to be effective giving Brian Westbrook some room on the stretch run to the sidelines. Make Rogers move laterally. He can blow up an inside running game. Let's see if he has the stamina to go sideline to sideline.
I believe that if the Eagles execute properly, they will have the opportunity to score big points. The key is how the Eagles start the game. They came out and scored right away against Arizona. Last week, they established the line of scrimmage early. Tonight? Be smart, be aggressive and play ball.
Look early at Jon Runyan, who didn't practice all week. He is listed as questionable, but it seems unlikely that the iron man will miss this game. Winston Justice has to be ready if Runyan isn't able to function at a high level, or if he can't play the whole game.
GO AFTER DORSEY ON DEFENSE
I don't see any sense sitting back on Cleveland's offense, which has been anemic the last few weeks after a superb 2007 season. Dorsey needs to be harrassed and forced into making bad throws. He's going to toss some up for grabs and the Eagles have to make those plays. I think the Eagles have a superior situation with their run defense, so the key is to force Dorsey into third-and-long situations and then get after him.
When the Browns line up with Josh Cribbs in the backfield in their "flash" formation, the Eagles have to be disciplined and aggressive. Cribbs can throw the football out of this formation and he can run it for big yards. He is a dangerous weapon. The Eagles must tackle him well and dictate to him with their pressure. Chris Gocong is a key player here. He has come a long, long way as a SAM linebacker. His play against the run has been outstanding. The Eagles need Gocong to keep Cribbs off the edge on the strong side of the formation and turn him into the rest of the defense.
I expect the Browns to play all out, try a lot of gadget plays and go for fourth downs and things like that. They have absolutely nothing to lose. The Eagles defense must set the tempo here and push the pace with blitzes and a lot of pressure at the line of scrimmage.
**STOP CRIBBS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
My prediction: The Eagles will break a long return in this game. I just feel the return team is due. DeSean Jackson hasn't had much of a chance in the last few weeks. He has a chance tonight. Same with Quintin Demps. Cleveland has Cribbs, and I wouldn't even give him a chance to return kicks. The Browns make this a much tighter game if they play with a short field all night.
So the special teams have to win the battle and take Cribbs out of the game. Kick away from him on kickoffs. Pin him on the sidelines on punts, or just kick the ball out of bounds and give up a few yards. The Eagles cannot let this guy beat them tonight.
Look, I feel that the Eagles are going to play a good game tonight. I feel they have "it," that focus that playoff teams get down the stretch. I feel the team is hitting its stride. But this is one of those games that test a team. It looks too easy, doesn't it? Don't kid yourself. This is the NFL. Anything can happen.
The Eagles can't let anything happen. They have to go out and play a good football game, an "A" game, and win a game they have to win.