In his 10 previous NFL seasons, defensive end John Abraham reached double digits in sacks five times and in year 11, five games in, he is on pace for another monster season. Abraham already has four sacks, including two in last week's win over Cleveland. Suffice to say, Abraham is a premier pass rusher, as his career 93 1/2 quarterback sacks suggest. Waiting for him on Sunday is left tackle King Dunlap, making his first career start.
On paper, of course, it is a monster challenge for Dunlap and for the Eagles offense. Dunlap has played sparingly at left tackle since the Eagles made him a seventh-round draft pick in 2008 and when he has been on the field the results have been mixed. Dunlap has given up a few sacks going against the likes of Richard Seymour (Oakland, last season) and Justin Smith (San Francisco, Sunday night) and he has also held his own and improved and battled. Twice in the last couple of seasons he has jumped into the fire and he has learned the hard way.
Now, Dunlap has a week of practice to work and to prepare and to study Abraham and the Falcons' scheme. What he does between now and Sunday is so important for his performance. How Dunlap spends his time in the film room with Juan Castillo and on the practice field refining his technique is going to make all the difference in the world when 1 p.m. on Sunday rolls around. Certainly, we will see how the Eagles plan to use Dunlap and how much help they give him, but there is no doubt that the Dunlap vs. Abraham matchup -- and the blitzes and games and stunts the Falcons use to attack the left side of the Eagles' protection scheme -- is going to be a gigantic key for the success of the offense.
At 6 feet 9, Dunlap has the long arms you want in a lineman. He also has to have more bend than do most linemen, simply because he is so tall and has such a big target on his chest for defensive ends to attack. Seymour beat Dunlap with a bullrush move and with power. Smith and the 49ers used speed techniques to beat Dunlap to the edge.
Reports that Dunlap played "poorly" aren't accurate. He struggled, and he wasn't perfect, especially early in each game. But Dunlap improved, and he will improve this week from Wednesday to Thursday, from Thursday to Friday.
Still, the challenge is enormous. The offensive line has taken huge hits this season. For years the consistency up front allowed the Eagles to have a cohesive unit, a line that paved the way for an offense that lacked in premier talent, for example, at wide receiver, to score a bunch of points each season. The Eagles have all the talent in the world at their skill positions this year and they are scoring points, but injuries up front -- plus the failure in performance from Shawn Andrews and Stacy Andrews in the last couple of seasons -- have made the offensive line -- and the offense -- vulnerable.
Instead of sliding Todd Herremans to left tackle and moving in veteran Reggie Wells at left guard, the Eagles are sticking with Dunlap. He is a great kid, a hard worker and a talented player who spent his rookie season on Injured Reserve before earning roster spots last year and this summer. Being tossed into the mix during a game is one thing, and it is very difficult. Facing a star defensive end with 11 years of experience is daunting, no doubt about it, and how Dunlap handles the next few days will go a long way toward how his performance on Sunday.
HARRISON TRADE ANALYSIS
On paper it is the most lopsided trade of the Howie Roseman era since, well, since the Eagles acquired cornerback/return man Jorrick Calvin from Arizona for running back Charles Scott (humor, kind of). Jerome Harrison was a starting running back for Cleveland prior to losing his job to Peyton Hillis a few weeks ago, and there is no question that Harrison struggled this year, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry in the three games he played in Cleveland.
But Jerome Harrison is a player who ran for 862 yards last season, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. He caught 34 passes. Four times, including the final three games, he gained more than 100 yards on the ground. There was that monster 286-yard effort against Kansas City. Harrison has some power, has some wiggle, can catch passes and is an all-around back who should complement LeSean McCoy very nicely here.
Mike Bell just didn't work out here. He looked good in the spring and then injured his hamstring and then has not been the least bit productive. The Eagles like their "size" backs Eldra Buckley and Joique Bell (whom Roseman spoke highly of on Wednesday afternoon). They wanted somebody who could do more than run downhill, which is the role that Bell was supposed to fill.
The way it works in the NFL is that front offices establish relationships with other front offices and that trades are born of conversations. The Eagles and Browns started talking last week. Each team had a running back who wasn't playing very productively -- or very well. Harrison wanted out of Cleveland, and he got his wish and is now an Eagle.
To me, hey, it's a great, great, great, great deal. I like Harrison a lot. He is in the final year of a contract, but nobody is looking to the future right now with this move. This trade is about improving the Eagles' offense, the running game and the team's chances to win this year and Harrison does that. Suddenly, the depth at running seems a whole lot more comforting.
* BUNKLEY, DT PICTURE AND MORE *
- Great news that Brodrick Bunkley is a "maybe" for Sunday's game, rather than an "out" for the rest of the season. The Eagles received a second opinion on Bunkley's injured elbow and the examination indicated that Bunkley could wear a brace a possibly play. Sunday is a "stretch" according to Andy Reid. If Bunkley doesn't play, the Eagles have the power of Antonio Dixon and the quickness of Trevor Laws to play the left defensive tackle position. Bunkley has been up and down this year, no question. But he is a first-round talent, and a piece of depth that the Eagles didn't want to lose.
- Having Asante Samuel back is important going against an Atlanta passing attack that features the great Roddy White. And he is great. White has 37 catches, 463 yards and a couple of touchdowns this year after posting three straight seasons of 80-plus catches. White has good size, runs well, has discipline running his routes and has a great relationship with quarterback Matt Ryan.
- I'm just so impressed with Kevin Kolb and the way he has handled his career to date. Asked on Wednesday if he "saw the field better" on Sunday night than he did in the opener against Green Bay, Kolb acknowledged that he has been working on that part of his game. "After the Green Bay game, that was a big focus of mine. It was making sure I was seeing things and surveying things. So obviously when you make it a point, you get a little better at it. A lot of that comes with playing and getting out there and making the mistakes and then being able to correct them and seeing all those different looks that NFL defenses like to throw at you."
Why does that impress me? Well, most quarterbacks would say something like, "I saw the field fine against Green Bay, but I missed some opportunities." Kolb is hard on himself and honest with the media and his teammates and himself, and he went back to work after the Packers loss and demanded more. That is one of the things that will make Kolb a very fine quarterback in this league.
- Chad Hall stays. I think he plays. How much, I don't know. But Hall stepped up on Sunday night with that third-down catch and the Eagles see that they can use him in a favorable matchup. I like that. Now, things could change if the Eagles bring up Jeff Owens from the practice squad -- which they have not done -- but Hall may have earned himself another chance to make another play against Atlanta.
- Perhaps the most important, unsung group on this team right now is the athletic training staff, headed by Rick Burkholder. Check out those who did not practice for the Eagles on Wednesday: McCoy, Michael Vick, Todd Herremans, Peters and Bunkley. Riley Cooper was limited. Burkholder and his staff will work wonders to get most of those players on the field and performing at a high level against Atlanta.
- For the Falcons, linebacker Sean Witherspoon did not practice with a knee injury, while linebacker Curtis Lofton (knee), Abraham (back) and tight end Justin Peelle (groin) were limited.