With minicamps and Organized Team Activites behind us and training camp a few weeks on the horizon, we've come upon the slow period in the NFL offseason. With that in mind, it's a good time to take a look at the Eagles' schedule ahead for the 2012 season. We begin with our first game preview, for Week 1, as the Eagles open up the season on the road against the Cleveland Browns.
2011 Record: 4-12
Overall Series Record: 15-31-1
Record At Cleveland: 1-0
Last Meeting: December 15, 2008 – Eagles 30, Browns 10
Game Recap: The Eagles won their third game in a row to set themselves up for a surprising playoff push thanks to three David Akers field goals, a 50-yard Asante Samuel return for a touchdown and 290 yards passing from Donovan McNabb. The defense was dominant, holding the Browns under 200 total yards.
Key Offseason Moves
In: RB Trent Richardson, QB Brandon Weeden, LB D'Qwell Jackson, DE Frostee Rucker, DE Juqua Parker
Out: RB Peyton Hillis, T Tony Pashos, G Eric Steinbach, G Artis Hicks
New beginnings with old friends. That's how the Eagles' 2012 season will get underway on Sunday afternoon, September 9 at 1 PM. Andy Reid and company will open up this year's campaign on the road against a team run by Reid's mentor (Browns President Mike Holmgren), his former general manager (Browns general manager Tom Heckert) and his former assistant (Browns head coach, and one time Eagles quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur).
Not only that, but the Browns currently have six former Eagles on their roster in cornerback Sheldon Brown, linebacker Chris Gocong, defensive end Juqua Parker, cornerback Dimitri Patterson, wide receiver Jordan Norwood and tight end Alex Smith. So even though the Eagles will have all offseason to look forward to and prepare for the season opener, they'll already be quite familiar with the team on the opposite sideline.
But don't mistake the Browns for some kind of Land of Eagles Castoffs. Heckert and co. have grown the Browns roster over the past two seasons into one with plenty of young talent, including two first-round standouts in cornerback Joe Haden and defensive tackle Phil Taylor. Haden is primed to be one of the better cover corners in the league, and he'll have his hands full with the likes of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin come Week 1. Taylor, meanwhile, is a brute force inside and made quite the impression last summer when the Browns and Eagles met in a preseason contest. Speaking of which, the Browns and Eagles bizarrely meet in the third preseason game this year, normally the dress rehearsal for the regular season. With the teams meeting "for real" only two weeks later, expect neither side to show anything of substance in the preseason tilt.
What makes that all the more interesting is the offensive makeover the Browns undertook in the first round of April's draft. First, Holmgren, Heckert and co. moved up a spot in the top five just to secure that they would add Alabama's Trent Richardson as their bellcow running back. The bruising Richardson should change the face of the Browns offense, especially when paired with their second first-rounder, 28-year-old quarterback Brandon Weeden. Presently, indications are that Weeden will wrestle the starting gig away from Colt McCoy, and his first real test in the NFL is likely to come Week 1 against the Eagles.
The Browns' defensive line, meanwhile, could pose some trouble for an Eagles' offensive line that will be playing its first regular season game together as a unit since losing Jason Peters to an Achilles tear. Taylor's inside presence is accompanied by Ahtyba Rubin with second-year standout Jabaal Sheard on the outside. Shead notched 8.5 sacks last year as a rookie and the Browns imported Rucker and Parker to complement his pass-rushing presence.
And as the Eagles' defense looks to get off to a hot start, buoyed by their strong finish to the 2011 season, they will face one big challenge. With Peters out until at least the tail end of the season, there's a strong case to be made that the best left tackle, and perhaps offensive lineman, in football is Cleveland's Joe Thomas. The matchup of the newly extended Trent Cole and Thomas will be one for all football fans to enjoy, and will be a welcome focus as the Eagles make their way back into their fans' hearts on opening day.