The week has flown past so quickly, and the time spent with the team so scant. Welcome to Thursday Night Football, an NFL Network (and PHL17 in Philadelphia) production, and a tremendous sense of the unknown. I enjoyed spending time with Joe Theismann, Matt Millen and Bob Papa (but not enough time with Alex Flanagan) and gaining their perspective, but they don't know what to expect.
High scoring? Sure, you would think so, but the Texans blanked Tennessee on Sunday (I know, I know, Rusty Smith played quarterback for the Titans) and they are coming in with a lot of confidence. And I would have never, ever, never imagined that Chicago would score 31 points against the Eagles. The great thing, they say, about the NFL, is that you never know what is going to happen. And with a short week of preparation, with some key injuries -- no defensive end Juqua Parker, a big, giant question mark for cornerback Asante Samuel -- how in the world do we know how the Eagles defense is going to bounce back against a team that has a star at wide receiver (Andre Johnson), a star at running back (Arian Foster) and an emerging standout at quarterback (Matt Schaub)?
There is such an odd sense of unpredictability that goes along with this game. The last time the Eagles played on Thursday night, they blew the doors off of the visiting Arizona Cardinals, a win after a loss (to Baltimore) that turned the season around in the right direction and helped boost the Eagles into the playoffs. That win happened four days after quarterback Donovan McNabb was benched at halftime in the loss to the Ravens. I know you know ...
Anyway, I would love to write that I have a sense of what the Eagles are going to do, around whom they are going to game plan, and which players are on high alert for this game. I think when it comes down to three slimmed-down practices before a game, teams inevitably go with what brung them here to do: Their strengths.
That means the Eagles are going to spread the field and throw the football and try to go after the 31st-ranked pass defense in the NFL. They have to pay attention to defensive end Mario Williams (8 1/2 sacks, a world of talent) and give Michael Vick time to throw the football. Houston has made some adjustments in the last couple of weeks, including moving linebacker Brian Cushing back to the outside, and the Texans, who are still very much alive in the playoff chase in the AFC, have improved a lot.
The defensive attention must first be paid to running back Arian Foster and his superb talents and then to the passing game. The Eagles have to win the line of scrimmage. The basic laws of football apply in this one.
I guess the questions come from wondering how emotionally-invested the players will be in this game. Are they going to be "up" for the game? It sure is a critical one lodged in the first weekend of December, the set-up game for the final quarter of the season. The Eagles were 2-2 in the first quarter, 3-1 in the second quarter and now they are 2-1 in the first quarter. You see where this is going, right? Eleven wins gets this team into the playoffs, where anything can happen.
Physically, I think, the Eagles should be fine. They haven't banged bodies all week. The practices have been mental exercises. The players seem very into the importance of the game. They took treatment, they worked out the kinks and they should have their bodies back for Thursday, especially knowing they have the weekend off to relax.
Part of the uneasiness is not truly knowing enough about the Texans. I respect their coaching staff and their talent. They are a hungry team. They are a dangerous opponent.
At the end of the day, the trust is in Andy Reid and the coaching staff and the veteran leadership here, as well as the youthful energy. The Eagles know they have to play a good game to win. A win here beautifully sets up the final quarter of the season.
NEWS, NOTES AND A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND THAT
If Riley Cooper doesn't play, and he has missed practice all week, Chad Hall gets the call and he is likely to have a few plays in the game plan that could keep this offense hopping. Does Hall line up as a wide receiver? A running back? Both. He is fresh and eager, I'll tell you that. Hall showed me something in the Titans game. The young man can play at this level. Amazing for a kid his size.
- Congratulations go out to Rick Burkholder and the team's athletic training staff, which on Wednesday was named the best in the NFL in a vote by the league's athletic training departments. When you have a group like that working, it sure makes things easier on a week to week basis. The players should all give this group a trainers a standing ovation. Burkholder and his staff allow these players to perform at high levels each and every week.
- What happens if Samuel doesn't play? Well, the Eagles will have to come up with something to contain Andre Johnson, but the scheme itself won't stop the passing game. The players have to step up, and I know these defensive backs are smarting after the difficult game in Chicago. Samuel is truly a game-time decision.
- David Akers will establish the franchise record for most games played in a career, a remarkable achievement for a man who began in Philadelphia as a part-time kicker learning under veteran Norm Johnson. "I think about that now, and it's amazing. It is truly a blessing for me and my family," said Akers. "I'm just so fortunate that the Eagles gave me an opportunity and have stuck by me, and that the fans and the community have embraced me as they have. Every day, I count my blessings." When the Eagles acknowledge Akers' achievement, make sure to stand and give Akers the ovation he deserves. Don't take him for granted, not for one minute.
- Michael Vick again is the centerpiece of the NFL Network's broadcast and will sit down with Deion Sanders for a pre-game interview to air. It is, I am told, a remarkable exchange. Make sure to check it out.