There is nothing fancy about what determines the Eagles' opening game in the NFC East: Forget about the glitz and the glamour. This game against Washington is a battle of the trenches. The division opens with a battle at Lincoln Financial Field and the storylines involve the quarterbacks. The line of scrimmage holds the key, though.
It is safe to say that both teams have question marks in that area. The Eagles have moved their offensive line pieces around a lot since the spring, and they are still searching for the long-term combination. Right guard Nick Cole hasn't practiced all week with a knee injury, so Max Jean-Gilles is prepared in case Cole can't go.
The offense has averaged nearly 28 points per game despite the changes and the inconsistency up front. Imagine how good the Eagles will be when the line gains some continuity. Teams that want to blitz the Eagles have paid a price. Quarterback Michael Vick has gotten the ball down the field accurately and the receivers have made a ton of big plays.
Washington plays that 3-4 defense and blitzes from all angles. This is a great test for tackles Jason Peters and Winston Justice, and for new center Mike McGlynn. Washington won't allow Vick to run around and escape the pocket. The Redskins are going to try to pin down Vick and pressure him in the pocket.
Philadelphia's defensive line had a monster game in Jacksonville with seven quarterback sacks, but Donovan McNabb is a much more elusive target. He is rolling out and throwing out of the pocket, so the Eagles must give chase and get to him with great authority. McNabb is strong enough to shrug off would-be tacklers and smart enough to throw the ball away.
I like the Eagles as they match up against Washington's offense. I think the Redskins are going to have their hands full with Trent Cole, even if rookie Trent Williams is healthy enough to play. I like the speed and power the Eagles have along their front four, which is running seven and eight players deep. I like Washington's struggles in the running game, and if the Eagles can force McNabb into a one-dimensional offense, the pass rush can tee off.
There is more coming later today. This is one great day to remember, with perfect weather, lively stories the kind of plots and sub-plots that have the press box filled as if it were the playoffs.
Everyone is going to watch, and they want to see McNabb and Vick and all of the particulars. For those players to do their jobs, of course, the line of scrimmage has to be productive. The team that wins is going to win in the trenches.