Playing against the Colts normally sends me off the deep end. They have owned the Eagles for more than 15 years now. The games aren't close. They aren't competitive. They are probably a lot of fun for Colts fans, but they are torturous for us. It doesn't matter who is coaching or playing. This is some kind of NFL voodoo.
The last time we beat the Colts both Clyde Simmons and Seth Joyner were still playing for us. Peyton Manning was thinking about his senior prom. Dave Spadaro had a great head of hair. Clearly, this was a long, long time ago. The year was 1993. We faced the Colts late in the season on Sunday night football. We won the game 20-10, behind the passing of Bubby Brister, a touchdown catch by Calvin Williams and some good defense.
Since then we have played them in 1996, 1999, 2002 and 2006. The closest game was a 35-13 loss. Think about that. The ""nail biter"" was a 22-point beatdown. Ouch. So now we face the Colts in the preseason. What do I do? Winning and losing isn't important. I guess I can actually breathe and relax. This is going be weird.
The game will be a great opportunity for some young players. Several veterans are going to miss the game due to injuries. That means promotions for some backups and extended playing time for others. This is like an early Christmas present to players trying to make the roster.
The focus this week will be on left tackle King Dunlap. He will get the start because Jason Peters is staying home to take care of his quad injury. Dunlap gets to face Dwight Freeney, arguably the best speed rusher in the NFL. This is a good news/bad news situation for Dunlap. The positive side is that he gets a chance to face a star player and show that he can handle the situation. If Dunlap has a good game against Freeney, that will get the attention of the other 31 NFL teams. It will go to the front of his NFL resume.
The flip side of that is that Dunlap could find out in a hurry that he's out of his league and Freeney could run circles around him. That's a scary thought, but the only way to find out what young guys can do is by getting them on the field and throwing them "into the fire." We should have a much better feel for Dunlap's future by the end of the Colts game.
I thought Dunlap looked solid in the preseason opener. He played both left and right tackle. He moved his feet well in pass protection. His run blocking is still up and down. My biggest beef with him is that he doesn't get his hands on defenders as much as I like. Dunlap is a tall guy with long arms. He's big and strong. He needs to engage defenders and control them. Pass rushers don't mind getting blocked, but they hate getting manhandled. Remember what Tony Boselli did to Mike Mamula in 1997? Boselli just pushed and shoved Mamula to the ground over and over. Boselli dominated that matchup. I don't expect Dunlap to play like that (I certainly won't complain if he does). I do want Dunlap to get his hands on the pass rusher and bully the guy. Big players have to play big.
Another offensive lineman who is happy about the playing time is Winston Justice, who will start at right tackle. Justice played his best game as an Eagle last week. That's encouraging. At the same time, he wasn't so good that you feel he's a lock for the roster. He got called for holding on one play. Justice is in his fourth year in the league. He doesn't play like a guy with that kind of experience. He still needs to play with more confidence. He also needs to be more assertive with his blocks.
Justice faced big defenders last game. This time out he'll see speed rushers. That will be a good test for him. He needs another good showing. He's never had back-to-back quality starts in his NFL career, preseason or regular season. Justice wants to show that he can play good football on a consistent basis. One good game is nice, but the NFL is a ""what have you done for me lately?"" kind of place.
The skill player that will be the center of attention is wide receiver/kick returner Jeremy Maclin. He got off to a slow start in the Patriots game. Maclin didn't panic. He didn't get down on himself. Once he got comfortable you could see what a talented, special player he can be. Maclin isn't on the fast track that DeSean Jackson was last summer, but he's not too far behind. Now we need to see if Maclin can build on that game.
I was ecstatic with the new backfield last week. LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver both received an A for the opener. Those guys were a lot of fun to watch. Add in the fact that Brian Westbrook returned to practice this week and you start to get excited about the backfield. Both Lorenzo Booker and Eldra Buckley played well against the Patriots. The battle for the final running back spot won't be decided this week, but both players need to keep up the good work. I was especially impressed with Buckley's tough running. He also came up big as a receiver. That's crucial if you want to play for Andy Reid.
Defensive end Victor Abiamiri returns to the field and I'm excited to see what he can do. We need someone to emerge at the left end spot. Abiamiri has the size and skill set to be that guy. He will have plenty of snaps in the first half. That will give him a chance to shake off some rust and get going. We know Abiamiri is a good run defender. The area that remains a question is his pass rushing. If he can get a few pressures, that will be a good sign. If he can hit the quarterback a few times or get a sack. that will be a great sign.
Another defensive lineman making his debut this year is tackle Trevor Laws. The coaches are counting on him to be a very good backup to Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley. Ideally, the coaches would love Laws to challenge for a starting spot, although that isn't likely because we have such good starters. Laws got better as the season went along last year. If that trend continues, he should be a pretty good player this season.
There are going to be three defensive ends sitting out the game. Jason Babin better eat his Wheaties because he is going to play a lot of snaps. Babin had a good showing last week, but he was a veteran going against marginal backups. He should shine. Babin needs another good showing to keep his bid for a roster spot going.
Last week, we talked about Joe Mays and his debut as the starting middle linebacker for the Eagles. Unfortunately the starting defense didn't play many snaps so I really didn't get much of a feel for any starting defender. I didn't come away excited about Mays, but also didn't see any major problems. The starters are projected to play the entire opening half this week. Those extra snaps will be important.
Mays will get a tough test from the Colts offense. They run a lot of stretch plays. That requires the linebackers to do a lot of running because the plays go to the outside. Mays isn't the fastest guy so it will be interesting to see if he can get out wide and make tackles before the running backs get much yardage.
Quintin Demps had a quiet debut as the starting free safety. He made one good tackle over the middle, but didn't have many chances to make plays or stand out. The coaches studied the official game tapes and know how well Demps did on his assignments. Hopefully this week there will be more passes to the middle of the field so we can see Demps in action. I was happy to see him make the tackle so cleanly and forcefully. That's a good sign.
There isn't too much to say about the overall team's performance. The offense needs to be better in the red zone. The defense needs to do a better job of rushing the passer. Penalties were a problem last week. The coaches will be upset if the team is that sloppy this time out. Special teams were also sloppy against the Patriots. Players now have game experience under their belts. The mistakes must be eliminated. Winning and losing may not be important, but how you play is.