If you were to believe everything written and said about the Oakland Raiders, they would have no business even showing up to play the Eagles today. They wouldn't have a chance. But you can't believe what you read or hear, and so the name of the game for the Eagles here is to take the Raiders seriously and prepare to play their best game of the season.
Here are some of my things to watch against Oakland ...
**1. How Do Eagles Get The Running Game Going?
The numbers aren't bad when you look only at a stats sheet. Both Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy are averaging more than 4 yards per carry. But those numbers don't explain the troubles the Eagles have had running from one- and two-back sets. The push hasn't been there up front and the Eagles haven't exactly worked the running game over and over to get the line into a run-blocking rhythm. Perhaps the Eagles will give it a go against Oakland.
The Raiders have a good front if players like Richard Seymour and Greg Ellis have a chance to dig in and pin their ears back. The Eagles must keep Oakland off-balance and mix in some run with the passing game. It is time to get this big, strong offensive line into more of a physical, run-blocking mode to serve the Eagles when they need the running game.
I'm not talking about the "Wild Eagle" stuff, either. Frankly, it makes no sense to force Michael Vick into the flow if there is no reason to change up the pace. The first priority offensively is to establish the running game, establish superiority at the line of scrimmage. The Eagles need to come out and punch the Raiders in the mouth in this game.
Too, it's important to find out where Westbrook is in his return from a tough off-season of injuries and then from his sprained ankle. That 7-yard touchdown run he had last week was very encouraging, even if there weren't many other plays in the running game. Are the Eagles easing back on Westbrook and ratcheting up McCoy's usage? This game could be telling if the Eagles have a chance to eat some clock in the second half.
**2. Have The Special Teams Tightened Things Up?
We're talking about penalties, mostly. The Eagles have had way too many yellow flags on special teams, and coordinator Ted Daisher knows he has to get his players to use more discipline. The talent is there. It's obvious the Eagles can break open games with the return phase of special teams. I'd love to see the special teams set the tone right away and establish field position. Don't give the Raiders any hope that they can pull off a titanic upset at the Eagles' expense.
**3. The Kiddie Corps WRs Again Look To Dominate
Oakland has a lot of talent in the secondary, especially at cornerback. That means second-year man DeSean Jackson and rookie Jeremy Maclin have to continue to play at a high level. We've seen Jackson do it for a full season, and then some. Maclin is looking to follow up on his big game last Sunday with another strong effort. He is smooth, he has great hands and Maclin is playing with a ton of confidence.
Isn't it fun to have a set of young receivers who clearly have so much ability? We get to watch them grow and grow each and every week. Plus, given Oakland's youth at wide receiver, it's a chance to see Jackson and Maclin against another young, talented group. I think Jackson is one of the best receivers in the game already. He has nothing to prove to me. Maclin needs to be great on a consistent basis, and he has given every indication that he has a chance to be that good.
**4. Monitoring Jeremiah Trotter
Oakland has had all kinds of troubles throwing the football, but the Raiders are going to try to establish the running game as they do every week. Jeremiah Trotter, then, could play many more snaps than the 20 he played last week. There has been no swelling in is knee and Trotter is coming off a good week of practice on the turf indoors at the NovaCare Complex.
Is he going to make an impact here? Trotter has to show he is playing downhill, physical football. The Raiders are going to try to shorten this game, play keep-away from the Eagles offense and run the football. Let's see how much progress Trotter has made from his first game of the season to his second.
**5. Donovan McNabb In His Second Game
How is he moving? How much running will Donovan McNabb do in this game? He came right out last week and ran the football, a great sign. McNabb has to expect some blitzes, and he is going to have to make sure his pocket presence is strong and his ball security is good. What I liked as much as anything last week was his accuracy and the yards after the catch the Eagles piled up.
It is something to continue to work on for McNabb and the offense. Oakland has to be ready to play a desperate football game. That makes them a dangerous football team, one capable of anything in this game.