The initial focus after the Rams game was on DeSean Jackson, Donovan McNabb and the big plays our passing game delivered. I want to take a look at a different group … the role players. Teams that win championships get help from the entire team. Think of it like a baseball team that gets some clutch production from the guys at the bottom of the lineup.
Role players aren't on the field all that many snaps. They may play in a certain offensive or defensive package. They may only play when the starter needs a rest. They may only play on special teams. It doesn't really matter. You just want these guys to contribute when they do play.
Dan Klecko might be the best example of a role player of anyone on the team. He got most of his snaps as a backup defensive tackle. He came up with a sack. Lito Sheppard had a free run at the quarterback, but missed the sack. Klecko was there to clean up. He didn't do anything special, but he did his job. He got off his block and was in position to get the quarterback if the blitzer missed. One sack may not sound like a big deal, but consider that the Eagles backup defensive tackles had a total of one sack in 2007. Get yourself in position and make plays when you can.
Klecko helped out on offense as well. He was the lead blocker on Tony Hunt's touchdown run early in the third quarter. It was just a 1-yard run. Nothing special. Klecko just did his job. He cleared a hole and gave Hunt room to run. That score gave the Eagles a 28-0 lead. The game was likely already over, but it was still good to see the offense execute in the red zone. That was a major problem last season. It's a good thing anytime you get near the goal line and punch it in.
Darren Howard got some flak from fans in the preseason. He was quiet during the exhibition slate, mainly because the coaches didn't play him much. They thought Howard was in great shape and figured the smart thing would be to save him for the real games. Not all fans understood this and resented him making the team over the more visible Jerome McDougle. Howard just waited for the regular season to start and then responded with a good showing. He played both end spots and defensive tackle. Howard had a tackle-for-loss on an end around. He split a sack with Mike Patterson. He also got pressure on Marc Bulger on a couple of other plays. Not a bad day for a backup defensive lineman.
Joselio Hanson played in some defensive packages. The Rams didn't play a whole lot of three- and four-receiver sets, so that limited his snaps. Hanson did see a lot of time on special teams. He made one tackle on defense. He blitzed off the edge at least once and almost got a sack. Hanson had a tackle in punt coverage. He blocked the gunner out wide and helped to give DeSean Jackson some time on his returns.
Three receivers had 100-yard games on Sunday. Jason Avant wasn't one of them. However, he was important to the early success. Avant had third down catches on each of the first two touchdown drives. The first was a short catch in the left flat that moved the chains and allowed the drive to keep going. The catch on the second drive went for 31 yards down the right seam and really moved the chains. Avant needs to shine on third downs and in the red zone in order to help this offense. He didn't get any red zone passes, but came through on third downs. Good start for Jason.
After the preseason showing that Quintin Demps had, we all figured he'd make his mark on special teams. We assumed that would be as a kickoff returner. The stingy defense limited his kickoff return chances, but Demps found another way to shine. He had a couple of big plays in punt coverage. Twice he was able to pin the Rams inside the 10-yard line. The first time he grabbed a punt as it was about to bounce into the end zone. Demps tossed it back over his head onto the field. Akeem Jordan caught it. The other punt Demps fielded cleanly off the bounce.
Chris Clemons was brought to Philly to rush the passer. Injuries have slowed him down in that area. He got limited snaps at defensive end against the Rams. You could see his speed, but he didn't make any plays. Clemons did have one big moment in the game. He had the key block on Jackson's long punt return. Clemons got into good position. He got his hands on the defender. He then sustained the block long enough for Jackson to cleanly get upfield and get going. That was a key moment on a big play, but one that largely went unnoticed. One of the reasons the Eagles wanted Clemons so much as a free agent was the thought that he could be a good pass rush … and contribute on special teams.
You expect Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Trent Cole to play like stars. A team can become special when the other guys are able to contribute to key plays. The Eagles role players are off to a good start.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
• The Dallas Cowboys looked good in their win over the Cleveland Browns. This week's between the Cowboys and Eagles is going to be a lot of fun. Both teams are 1-0 with impressive wins which can't help but make you flash back to 1992. Dallas came to The Vet for a big Monday night showdown early in the year. We whipped them, 31-7. The team was 4-0 and sky high. Things weren't so great after that. We lost the next two matchups with Dallas, one in the playoffs. Gang Green was torn apart and the 'Boys won three Super Bowls. Quick lesson … don't make too much of what happens next week, good or bad.
• Washington really struggled in the opening loss to the Giants. I'm sure Redskins fans are upset with the way that team looked. I talked to a friend recently and told him that I thought this would be a tough year for Washington. They have a new coaching staff and new offensive system. The Redskins still have good talent on the team, but that transition will set them back in 2008. I think that team is finally looking at the big picture. They hired a young coach, but one with an NFL background. They used their draft choices to add young talent to the team. They didn't sign a bunch of veteran backups. You have to play young guys to build a foundation for your team.
• What do we make of the Giants? They certainly didn't look like a juggernaut in the opener. I think Tom Coughlin will have his guys ready to play. They'll be a good team, but not great. People forget that the Giants were a 10-6 team last year. They were not a special or dominant team in the regular season. As good as their defense was in the postseason, the Giants allowed the most points of any NFC East team in the regular season.
• The Bears defense was a lot of fun to watch in their win over the Colts. Those guys flew to the football and hit everybody as hard as possible. I love watching those guys gang tackle and strip the ball.
• The Lions defense looked horrible. They were last in the league in scoring defense in 2007 and aren't off to a good start this year. That secondary was atrocious. I hope they get better in a hurry.
• John Harbaugh got a win in his first game as coach of the Ravens. It was an ugly win, but they all look the same in the standings. I think very highly of Harbaugh and expect him to do a great job down in Charm City.
• Did anyone see Carson Palmer's numbers from that game against Baltimore? He was 10-of-25 for 99 yards. Ouch. McNabb to Hank Baskett was good for 90 yards on one play. Maybe Bengals fans will start screaming for them to get a playmaker like Baskett.
• Tom Brady is done for the year. That is a crushing blow to the Patriots. Their team was built around him. Pundits will talk about all kinds of things, but that team always knew it only had to keep a game close because Brady would pull it out at the end. Now they have to live with the pressure of him not being there. The Patriots should still win around 10 games, but they will not go back to the Super Bowl. They aren't even a lock to win the AFC East.
• The Bills and Jets both got wins on Sunday. Both teams have the talent to challenge the Pats for the division title. Buffalo was very impressive in their win. It actually reminded me of the Eagles win at Dallas in 2000. We had a second-year quarterback and caught the Cowboys off guard with good defense and big plays on special teams. That is basically what the Bills did to the Seahawks. No word on how much pickle juice they drank.