How does this team fare when the lights go on and Monday Night Football kicks off and FedEx Field is going absolutely bananas? What happens in the fourth quarter when the offense is on the field and quarterback Michael Vick needs to convert a third-and-4 play from Washington's 38-yard line and the Eagles have a 2-point lead? What is the call that comes in, quickly, presumably, from the sidelines? How does the defense buck up against the powerful Redskins running game?
If you think you know how this season will unfold, well, you've got a gift. The unpredictable nature of a new coaching staff, a revamped roster and a new organizational direction has the Eagles in a position that we haven't seen in many years here. There is the idea that the near future is totally unknown, a natural sense with so much change within the franchise in the last couple of years.
Anyway, the Eagles have a lot of promise on the football field. They have a rugged challenge right off the bat in the regular season, not to mention three games in 11 days to start it off, and it's going to require tremendous attention to detail as well as fantastic conditioning and strong mental preparation to come through that three-game gauntlet.
But how can you be anything but excited about this team? We think the Eagles are advanced offensively, developing defensively and potentially field-changing on special teams. In fact, that's the blueprint to win: Control the line of scrimmage offensively and dictate to a defense, put touchdowns on the board and get an early lead. Defensively, play aggressive football, take some chances, create some takeaways and give Michael Vick and Co. a short field with which to work. On special teams, continue doing what we saw in the preseason: Turn the field in the Eagles' favor with some big returns -- Damaris Johnson has taken a huge step forward, as has Brandon Boykin -- and clamp down in coverage.
That is the formula from this perspective just days before the opening game. The perspective, as we have learned, changes once the games begin. An injury here, an adjustment there, and the blueprint is altered. No foiled, necessarily, just changed, and the good teams adapt and adjust to the changes and find ways to win games with new methods.
Based on what we saw from the preseason, the offense is the strength of the team and the Eagles must maximize every possession. Vick has the template from head coach Chip Kelly as the design of the offense expands: The field is to be stretched to the limit and Vick is to find the best matchups and get the football into the hands of the weapons who separate from coverage. The Eagles don't want to overthink things offensively. Watching it all in the preseason, the offense operated best when it had good, fast tempo and when the offensive line set up quickly and gave Vick ample room to make his decisions.
How much will Kelly run the football? How many two- and three-tight end sets will we see? How can the Eagles best utilize the talents of DeSean Jackson, who enjoyed such a great summer? How often does Vick break down a defense with his legs and can he stay healthy for the season?
Most of all for the offense, can Vick and his supporting cast avoid the costly penalties and the dreaded mistakes that haunted the Eagles in 2011 and 2012?
Defensively, there is much to learn about Bill Davis and his group. Davis didn't show much of his hand from an X's and O's standpoint during a good-and-not-as-good preseason. The expectation is that Davis wants to be aggressive and physical, a natural fit for this energetic regime. The real questions looking at Washington involve the ability to stop the run, to generate pressure on quarterback Robert Griffin III and to take the football away from the Redskins.
Has the defense jelled enough to step up and take away the Redskins' running game late in Monday's game? Will Davis send a blitz here and there to free up some pass-rushing lanes to get to RGIII?
Most people out there think the Eagles have to win games 42-37, that each week is going to be a shootout and that the offense has to be great to lead the football team down the right path. Maybe. But history suggests that the Eagles have to find a way to some games 20-17, and to have a fourth-quarter defensive stand, and to sniff out a rally by making a big play on special teams.
The blueprint going in? It's probably something like the one suggested above -- efficient offense, opportunistic defense, field-changing special teams -- until we learn more about the Eagles. Until they learn more about themselves.
Week 1 in the NFL is sometimes the strangest of the season. Crazy things happen. It's going to take a few games, at least, to really figure out your Philadelphia Eagles. It looks one way on paper now. It could look vastly different in a month's time.
So as we count down the days before the opening kickoff on Monday night, be wary of anticipating too much how you think the season is going to go. Anything can happen in the NFL, and it usually does over the course of a long season.