The Packers come to town for the season opener. This is a tough way to start things off. Green Bay was 11-5 last year and a wild card team. They have an explosive passing attack. Wait. Am I talking about them or us? There actually are quite a few similarities in the two teams, but there is one major difference. The Packers already made their transition from a legendary quarterback to the new guy. Aaron Rodgers has established himself as an outstanding player. Brett who? The Eagles are just beginning this phase. Donovan McNabb is gone, but Kevin Kolb hasn't established anything. The Kolb era starts today.
That huge difference is why such similar teams have such different expectations by the media. The Packers are looked at as a Super Bowl contender. The Eagles have some supporters, but also some doubters. That's fair. Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Kolb is a guy that we're all excited about, but he's an unknown commodity in terms of being a full-time starter.
Playing against the Packers gives Kolb and the Eagles a chance to make an early statement. The Eagles believe they are talented enough to be a Super Bowl contender this year. Beating the Packers would get the season off to a great start and would send a signal to the rest of the league. Kolb would love to play well and win to quiet down any critics.
I think Kolb will play well and the offense will score some points. The Packers have some youth in their secondary (another similarity to us). You can bet that Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg have some ideas of how to attack rookie safety Morgan Burnett and Sam Shields, an undrafted rookie that serves as their third cornerback. I would think we'll go to spread sets quite a bit early on to try and isolate those guys in coverage.
Kolb doesn't have to do anything special for us to win. He just has to get the ball to his playmakers. DeSean Jackson looked great this summer and I expect big things from him this year. I'm sure we'll feed the ball to him early and often. If the Packers try to take him away that will just leave Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and Brent Celek in more favorable situations. Kolb should have someone open. He needs to make quick reads and accurate throws so that his guys can make something happen when the ball does come their way.
As much as this is the beginning of the Kolb era, it is also the beginning of the LeSean McCoy era. I know he played a lot last year and led the team in rushing, but the player we saw this summer looks much improved over the rookie we watched last year. McCoy worked hard in the offseason to be ready for his role as our feature back. He has a world of potential and looks like he'll be a much better player in 2010. I think Mike Bell could be a guy to watch against the Packers. I'm interested to see if we work him into the lineup when we are inside the 10-yard line. Bell is a downhill power runner. We've not had anyone like him in the Reid era. Bell won't be the answer to our red zone issues, but he could be a big help.
All of our skill players can only succeed if they get good blocking. The offensive line must play well for us to beat the Packers. The good news is that we have our best lineup ready to go. We're set with Todd Herremans, Jason Peters, and Winston Justice. There are still some questions at center and right guard. Jamaal Jackson is going to start after spending the offseason recovering from a torn ACL. He didn't play in the preseason, but Reid and line coach Juan Castillo worked him hard in practice to make sure they were comfortable with Jackson. Sunday's game will be a huge test for him.
Jackson's return pushed Nick Cole over to right guard. Cole has started there in the past and had some very good games. The only concern with Cole is that he had some knee issues this summer that limited how much he practiced. If he or Jackson has any problems, Mike McGlynn and Max Jean-Gilles will be ready to step in. Those guys got a lot of work in this summer and that should have them prepared in case they need to play.
I expect the offense to play well and move the ball. One key will be scoring touchdowns. The Packers will score points on offense. We can't win this game if we have to settle for field goals. This may sound like I'm worried about our defense. I'm not, actually. I like the changes we made and I can't wait to see what the guys do. The Packers just have too much firepower to be shut down. We need to focus on slowing them down. Hold them to field goals a time or two. Come up with turnovers. Don't expect the defense to have a dominant performance against a talented, veteran Green Bay offense.
Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has an interesting decision to make in terms of strategy. Does he attack Rodgers and try to keep him off balance? Is it smarter to focus on coverage to protect the secondary?
I tend to think that McDermott will start out by seeing what the defensive line can do. Trent Cole and Brandon Graham give us our best pair of pass rushing defensive ends in a few years. The whole point in aggressively going after Graham was to get a good pass rush from the front four and not have to blitz as much. McDermott will mix in some blitzes. After all, we are the Eagles. Blitzing is part of our organizational DNA.
Our linebackers were made for a game like this. Ernie Sims has the kind of speed, range, and cover skills that you want when facing an explosive passing offense. I expect a good game from Sims. Akeem Jordan will probably cover tight end Jermichael Finley more than a few times. Finley is bigger and more athletic, but Jordan has experience covering tight ends and has proven to be quite good at that. Sunday will also give us the return of Stewart Bradley. He had a good offseason, but I'm sure he's dying to play in a meaningful game. We missed Bradley in a big way last year, especially against teams that liked to throw. The middle of the field won't be as wide open as it was last year. The nickel defense should also greatly benefit from the return of Bradley.
The area the Packers will want to attack is our secondary. They'll test Ellis Hobbs at corner. He played well in the preseason, but offenses will make him prove that he can repeat that in the regular season. My only worry with Hobbs is deep balls. He lacks ideal speed and likes to jump on short routes. If receivers Greg Jennings or Donald Driver do get behind Hobbs (or Samuel), rookie free safety Nate Allen becomes the key player. Allen showed in the preseason that he has good coverage skills and instincts, but dealing with the Packers offense will be a tough task for him. I'm very confident in Allen, but there will be some plays where his youth will show.
Facing Green Bay is a tough challenge for us, but also a big opportunity. Reid and his players will embrace that challenge and should play well. There are a couple of trends that favor us, if you're into that kind of stuff. The Eagles have won three of the last four season openers. The Packers haven't won in Philadelphia since 1962, a long, long time ago. I'm just happy that real football is back. It seems like forever since the dreadful playoff loss to Dallas. I'm ready to erase that memory and see what the 2010 Eagles can do.