It is a special Saturday when ESPN's staff spends the day at the NovaCare Complex. Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Tony Kornheiser and Suzy Kolber had their pre-broadcast meetings with the coaches and players as the Eagles put their last full practice together before Cleveland comes to town for Monday night's game. Fun stuff. Festive. A sense of something special in the air. Monday Night Football is still the best show in the NFL.
The agonizing part is the wait. And with the added down time, there are some football thoughts roaming around in the vastness of my mind ....
1. Run or pass? Or both? I watched Friday's practice with Jaws and we talked about the approach the Eagles take.
"I believe you have to make explosive plays in the National Football League to score points. You have to run successfully in critical situations, too," said Jaworski. "I've said this before: The system here is fine. It works. If the players execute and the coaches put the players in the right position to execute, you are going to have success. The Eagles like to attack defenses from anywhere on the field, which I think is the right approach. What they have done the last couple of weeks is stay on the field, convert third downs and have more opportunities to achieve a balance. When you have the offensive line playing as well as it has the last two games, the entire offense opens up. Donovan McNabb then has more time to throw. Brian Westbrook has more room to run. The Eagles are coming off the line of scrimmage on short-yardage situations.
"I know everybody gets caught up in the run/pass ratio around here. To me, you must keep control of the football, minimize your mistakes and play well on third down. Then you will achieve balance. If you are in third and long every time, you are going to be in trouble.
"The Eagles have had a lot of success moving the football and scoring points here. That isn't going to change. The system works. Right now, everybody is on the same page and there is great unity on the offensive side of the ball. The confidence is there. I think that is the biggest difference in this offense now from a few weeks ago."
2. With Correll Buckhalterback on the field, does Kyle Eckel still have a place on the roster on game day? I think so. Eckel has played well both as a short-yardage running back and as a fullback. The Eagles can line him up in either spot, as they have done, and they can team him with Dan Klecko to form a jumbo look in the backfield. Eckel deserves to play, even with Buckhalter back on the field.
3. I don't know whetheryou have noticed it or not, but Chris Clemons has become the primary player used as the Joker. Clemons lines up in a standing position over the center when the Eagles have three down linemen, and he can either blitz through the "A" gap or drop back into coverage. "He has really come along," said defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. "He is helping us quite a bit now." Good thing, too. Clemons took some time finding his niche in this defense, but could be a player to watch down the stretch.
4. Continuing along withJohnson, he praised Stewart Bradley at middle linebacker and indicated that Bradley is going to be in that position for the long haul. "I'm very pleased with Stewart. He does a lot of good things there," said Johnson. "He likes it, he's getting better at it and it's nice to have a guy that size in the middle. Stewart can cover sideline to sideline so he really helps us in pass coverage, he reads well and is in the right position most of the time. I think we have something there. Stewart is only going to get better. He works at the game and he understands what he needs to improve."
5. The Browns dohave some talent, especially at their skill positions. Braylon Edwards will be a tough assignment for the secondary, but that's OK. I have wanted to see this secondary match up against the likes of the Cardinals and Browns groups, teams that have multiple weapons with speed and size. Edwards, Donte' Stallworth and Josh Cribbs, along with tight end Steve Heiden, are going to challenge the secondary. Cribbs is someone to watch, especially when he lines up in the "Flash" formation, alongside quarterback Ken Dorsey, and takes a direct snap. Cribbs can run or pass the ball out of that formation.
6. The weather forecastfor Monday night is promising, with temperatures in the high 40s and clear skies with light winds. The weather won't be a factor in this game, other than to give each team all the flexibility they require.
7. The players votefor the Pro Bowl next week. I think Quintin Mikell, Brian Dawkins, Asante Samuel, Bradley and Trent Cole have a chance from the defense. McNabb and Westbrook deserve strong consideration on offense, and David Akers should get some notice as the kicker. How about Akeem Jordan as a special teams player? Anyone agree?
8. A lot ofpeople are dumping on Reggie Brown and giving up on him, but I am not going to do that. It is a tough time for Brown, and his lack of production has been disappointing and, even, troubling. But I still see a young player with a lot of talent who deserves time to put it all together. There is no need to be rash here. The Eagles have a good group at wide receiver, they can add to the mix next year if they choose, and Brown deserves a chance to redeem himself. I would think he would be incredibly motivated.
9. Speaking of widereceiver, it sounds like Kevin Curtis will be fine for Monday night. It would be great to see him have a big game heading into the NFC East games against Washington and Dallas.
10. Now that theBrowns have had a week to study Nick Cole, what will they try to do against him? I was very impressed with Cole, who now has the challenge of playing every week the way he played against the Giants. If he can step up and stay at that high level these last three games, the Eagles might have something pretty darn good with Cole, who can also play center.