As you well know, the Eagles kick off their 2010 regular season this Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. Both teams are coming off playoff losses in the wild card round and are eager to take the next step this season. Here's a preliminary scouting report on what to watch for when the Packers and Eagles take the field.
When The Eagles Have The BallThe Eagles have set the single-season franchise scoring record in each of the last two seasons and there's no reason to believe that it can't be three straight just because of the change at the quarterback position. One thing that will certainly help Kevin Kolb be successful is the protection up front, which is expected to get a huge boost from the amazing return of center Jamaal Jackson, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury in Week 16 of the 2009 season. Jackson is the quarterback of the offensive line and his experience will be a great benefit for Kolb. Also easing the transition at quarterback is the bevy of weapons to distribute the ball to in DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek. There's also LeSean McCoy who is taking over as the starting halfback. Last year, McCoy set the franchise rookie record for rushing yards and also was dangerous catching the ball out of the backfield with 40 receptions. The key is going to be the execution in the red zone. Kolb will need to make quick decisions and the team must avoid costly mistakes and penalties.
The Eagles' extensive work against 3-4 defenses in the preseason will pay off as the Packers utilize the scheme. The Packers had the top-ranked rushing defense and second-overall defense in terms of yards last season, but was gashed for 531 total yards in the wild card loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The Packers defense thrived on turnovers last year generating 40 total takeaways with 30 of them coming via interceptions. The league's defensive player of the year was Packers cornerback Charles Woodson who was tied with Asante Samuel for the league lead with nine picks last season. The Packers also have an outstanding playmaker in free safety Nick Collins, but injuries are going to test the depth of the rest of the back four. Cornerback Al Harris and safety Atari Bigby are on the PUP list, so rookie Morgan Burnett starts at strong safety and Tramon Williams at corner. The Packers are stout up front in the run defense with Cullen Jenkins at end at former first-round pick B.J. Raji in as the nose tackle. At middle linebacker, the Packers have two very good players in A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett, but outside of Clay Matthews at outside linebacker they are thin at depth there.
When The Packers Have The BallThere's no adjustment period for the Eagles defense in 2010, as they get thrown right into the fire week 1 against an offense that many predict could be the very best in the league this season. The Packers are coming off a season in which they finished with the third-highest points per game total (28.8), and all indications are that they've done nothing but improve this off-season. Aaron Rodgers has established himself as one of the game's premier quarterbacks already, and if there's any team that can boast a supporting cast of weapons akin to the Eagles' crew, it's the Packers. You've got an elite receiver in Greg Jennings. There's the always reliable and timeless Donald Driver. Solid supporting receivers in James Jones and Jordy Nelson. Running back Ryan Grant ran for 1,253 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. And then there's the guy who might cause the Eagles defense the most trouble, tight end Jermichael Finley, who finished his season with a 159 receiving yards in the Packers' season-ending playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
Last year, the Eagles had their fair share of troubles with tight ends and Finley is one of the emerging stars at a position that is deep throughout the league. However, some of the troubles in covering tight ends last year can be attributed to the turmoil at linebacker. This year, middle linebacker Stewart Bradley is back and appears full strength following a season lost to a torn ACL. Bradley is probably the best cover linebacker of the three starters, but all hands will be on deck to stop Finley, including Ernie Sims, Akeem Jordan, Quintin Mikell and perhaps even a nickel back like Joselio Hanson. The defense is coming off a stellar preseason and seems ready to continue its ball-hawking abilities (the Eagles had the third most takeaways last season). An emphasis was placed on speed in the off-season, so the additions of Sims, Allen and rookie defensive end Brandon Graham should allow defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to take a step forward in his second year in charge.
For a deeper look inside Sunday's game, check out our full game preview to find out key matchups, players to watch and much more.
-- Posted by Bo Wulf, 1:22 p.m., September 7