Welcome to another edition of Opposition Research, where I’ll be taking a look at the first Packers opponent in the 2010 regular season, the Philadelphia Eagles. As a programming note, I tried writing something for last week, but it’s awfully hard to write about a meaningless game. This week, however, IS meaningful, and I must admit…I'm pretty excited. Heck, I started looking for articles back in July. But enough about my sad life…let’s take a look at the first match-up in what looks to be a pretty spectacular season.
Coming into this game, the Eagles are… as anxious as we fans are to get to the games that matter. The past (and preseason) is behind them, and they’re ready to go. Trading McNabb to Washington on Easter Sunday is ancient history, and the team has moved on with fourth year pro Kevin Kolb. Period. End of story. Moving on (at least until week 4, when McNabb and his Redskins come to visit).
As many teams not-named-Green-Bay do, the Eagles have dabbled in trades and free agency. To get to 53 on Saturday, Philly shipped OG Stacy Andrews to Seattle (18 months after giving him a 6-yr $38M contract). Like Cullen Jenkins and his brother Kris, Stacy was one of two Andrews in the NFL, with brother Shawn on the other side of the Eagles (maligned and still uncertain) O-line. After Shawn was cut in March after failing a physical, Stacy said that his time in Philly was tainted in the eyes of the media and fans by opinions of his brother. [One bold MyFoxPhilly.com writer added: “The truth is Andrews was the biggest disappointment since Ron Solt as an offensive lineman who got paid big bucks to do little.” Ouch.]
While the cuts themselves weren’t shocking, the number of cuts certainly was:
With the departure of the last of the Andrews Brothers, the Eagles had dispensed with 22 players who were on the 2009 season-ending roster, an upheaval by any NFL standard and a major shuffle for a playoff team. Of the offensive and defensive starters listed for the opener against Green Bay, 10 are either different players or players in different positions from those who finished last season.
Call it what you like - rebuilding, revamping, retooling, refining - but that's a lot of "re" going on. If after all the changes you aren't entirely sure of the difference between Ricky Sapp and Darryl Tapp, don't feel so bad. Things have been changing rapidly.
Frankly, I find it intriguing that there are still 20 offensive and defensive linemen on the Eagles roster. It’s clear that the trenches are an emphasis for Philadelphia, though while the depth is a symbol of strength on the D-line, the numbers on the O-line say more about the uncertainties (more on that later).
The fans at home are… planting their tongues firmly in their cheeks after ESPN questioned Kolb’s potential in their latest preseason team rankings:
You know, I had a feeling that preseason game in Kansas City would define Kolb's career. And now ESPN's John Clayton has confirmed it. I guess we may as well start figuring out what QB the Eagles will be drafting in the 1st round next year.
But as soon as they get a good laugh out of the way, the fans are still left wondering, really, how good will Kolb be? On a scale from Tim Couch to Drew Brees, it seems that Eagles fans like him somewhere between Philip Rivers...and Jeff Garcia. Or maybe, after a mediocre performance in PW3 against the Chiefs, he’s the second coming of AJ Feeley:
Last night's game unfolded like an overhyped, bad horror movie. It started out with such promise, and then I watched as the most compelling characters where eliminated, one by one, in the first couple of scenes. After that was a long boring stretch where you waiting for something good to happen, but never did. While the good guys won in the end, I was left feeling a bit ripped off.
I particularly like the part where the guy wailed that “the line couldn't hold back Sister Mary of the Poor.” Ah, hyperbole. (Another guy called the line “suckwubbernuggets,” so there’s that for comparison.)
For the most part, fans seem to have moved on from the last quarterback they had, you know, the one who led them to the playoffs in 8 of 10 seasons… there are still those fans who need closure as #5 becomes an ex-Eagle:
You won’t see me rock my TO jersey anymore, nor my Lito Sheppard (wearing it causes me demand a new contract at work when I’m underperforming), nor my Jeremiah Trotter (which gives me the urge to beg for my old job back).
As of April 4, Easter Sunday, I added another jersey to my do-not-wear list. Donovan McNabb.
Something to chew on… the Eagles will be wearing throwback jerseys in honor of the 50th anniversary of the 1960 championship team that became the first, last, and only team to defeat Vince Lombardi’s Packers in the postseason. The Packers last won in Philadelphia in 1962…victory hasn’t come easily to the Green and Gold in the city of brotherly love.
When looking at the Packers on film… the Eagles aren’t doe-eyed about what awaits them (in fact, many fans see this as a tough loss). They believe Aaron Rodgers is “one of the game's strongest arms and orchestrates a powerful, vertical downfield attack.” According to the team’s official preview (read the whole thing – it’s certainly worthwhile), it’s possible that, in Driver-Jennings-Jones-Nelson-Grant-Finley, the Packers may be the one team that can “boast a supporting cast of weapons akin to the Eagles' crew.” Finley really stands out as an obstacle to Philly’s defense, as he should:
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.
[Note: Hanson is 5’9” and weighs 185 lbs. Finley is, what… 6’5”, 247lb? Yeah, that’s a matchup made in Packer heaven.]
By the same token, the Eagles realize that DeSean Jackson v. Tramon Williams might be a matchup worth exploiting. Once they figure out that rookie Sam Shields is the nickel back, I frankly don’t know why they’d ever even look toward Charles Woodson’s side of the field.
The Packers defense as a whole figures to be the ‘key to the game,’ according to some, mostly because no one has seen the first team line up together to play since the wildcard game. And hey, if Arizona can score 51 (erroneous, since Dansby got the last 6) against Green Bay, why shouldn’t Philadelphia?
What We’re Up Against: The Inquirer’s sports department has done a really wonderful multi-part series on the 2010 Eagles. If you have the time, I highly recommend reading through the pieces on each position group. (If you don’t have the time, at least take 2 minutes and read SBNation’s season preview --- it’s quick and dirty, but will get you more or less acquainted with the 2010 Eagles.) Basically, the Eagles have a lot of new moving parts, and they’re YOUNG. When you subtract the specialists (like 36 y/o K David Akers), the average age in Philly is 25.52. Yeesh.
Maybe the Onion says it best:
Strength: Though they have lost Donovan McNabb's rocket arm, they have gained a highly accurate short-range subsonic cruise missile of an arm in Kevin Kolb
Regardless of the signal caller, Andy Reid’s offense lives and dies by the big pass play, and there’s no one better to attack the Packers secondary than DeSean Jackson. Jackson also figures to test the Packers punt coverage units, as he’s been declared as the Eagles punt returner. After the special teams clusterf*** that was the 2007 Packers-Eagles game, many believe the Eagles coaches will default to sure-handed veterans in lieu of untested rookies.
LeSean McCoy has taken over the reins at running back from Brian Westbrook, but he’s less a threat than tight end Brent Celek, a sure-handed receiver who is likely to be as much as safety valve for Kolb as he was to McNabb last year (76 receptions, 971 yds, 8 TDs). Honestly, while McCoy is shifty (or “Shady,” as he’s known in Philly), I’m more concerned about bruiser Leonard Weaver, who rumbled through defenses with surprising efficiency last year.
Philadelphia’s front four are going to be vicious. DE Trent Cole had 12.5 sacks last year without an able bookend, and if rookie Brandon Graham (or newbies Darryl Tapp or Antwan Barnes) can keep the Packers O-line from dedicating two blockers to the big man, Chad Clifton may have a long day keeping Rodgers clean. The Eagles missed MLB Stewart Bradley when he was on IR last year, and having him back should give the defense a stronger voice...but they're only mildly better than average. Cole's the monster to watch out for.
Frankly, Philadelphia’s greatest weakness in 2009 was a pass defense that sorely missed seven-time Pro Bowler Brian Dawkins. The unit was a sieve, allowing 3,778 yds and 27 passing TDs (over 1,000 of those yds to TEs). In April, the Eagles drafted defensive players in bulk (9/13 picks). Yet, several months later, there are still major questions about Philly’s pass defense:
A secondary that once was Philly's crown jewel has become so questionable that rookie Nate Allen is being counted on to boost it back to prominence.
Allen has been given the opportunity to fill Brian Dawkins’ shoes, but that will be a tall order in Week 1, when he’s going against one of the top passing offenses in the game. The team is high on him, but he’s a rookie --- he’ll make mistakes.
Still, after all the roster shuffling, the Eagles believe (as I think they have to) that they’re fielding a better team than last year, in three distinct areas, all on defense --- they’re better at safety, better at middle linebacker, and better rushing the passer. Rich Hofmann opined that fans need to “stop bellyaching about the Birds” (I love his snarky tone, so I’ll share his money quote):
All they did was add in the offseason. The only defensive subtraction of note was cornerback Sheldon Brown, but Ellis Hobbs has looked healthy and good this summer as his replacement. It is fair to question the depth of the secondary, and the wrong injuries will cripple any team. But how can you look at this defense and not see improvement?
On offense, the same receivers and running backs are in place from an 11-win team. The line, everybody's favorite worry, is belatedly put together now - Jason Peters, Todd Herremans, Jamaal Jackson, Nick Cole and Winston Justice, left to right. It is the same line that carried the Eagles to an 8-1 record starting in the middle of last season. Jackson and his knee are a worry, and that's fair, but the notion that this is potentially catastrophic seems wildly overstated.
So if you're picking the Eagles to be terrible, you're doing it for one reason: Kevin Kolb. And that's absurd.
If you haven’t watched/listened to Tuesday’s Packer Transplants episode yet, get your butt over to the main site and download it stat. Adam Caplan of FOX Sports and Rob Demovsky are true professionals, and Corey and Aaron asked fantastic questions.
Naturally, you’ll also want to check out Bob McGinn’s first game preview of the season (sub req’d). Hint: an asst coach thinks that “if Green Bay doesn't make some bonehead play in the kicking game, [he] would pick Green Bay every time.” Pete Dougherty’s scouting report remains a must-read as well. If you would rather listen, consider BirdsFan.com's preview podcast -- some very good analysis from a different angle.
- While the Packers don’t have to face Seattle during the regular season, Aaron Rodgers will still have to go head-to-head with Darryl Tapp, the defensive end he accused of biting him in 2008.
- When they weren’t preparing for the season, Eagles fans were pulling out their Excel spreadsheets to calculate, to the day, the age of every player on the NFC East’s rosters. No, really.
- This has nothing to do specifically with the Eagles, but it’s a humor football blog written by an Eagles fan, and, honest-to-god, one of his recent articles is called “For $9.99, Gus Johnson Will Commentate on Your Homemade Sex Tape.” Outstanding.
- Chris Lempesis at OBOD takes a thoughtful look at how the Packers’ successful development of Rodgers gives them hope that the Kolb move will work out alright in the end.
At the heart of it, I still like what I said in the Maple Street Press:
One of the storylines for this game will place Kolb in the role of Aaron Rodgers circa 2008, taking over the reins of a playoff-caliber team from a team legend. In each case, the owners and coaches spent the offseason reaffirming the team’s decision to move on. In each case, the man who had been the face of the franchise is leading a divisional rival. And in each case, the team’s fans hold their breath on opening day, praying that their new quarterback is as good as advertised.
I don’t believe that it matters whether Kolb is as good as advertised, because Rodgers is better (maybe Kolb in 2010 = Rodgers in 2008, but this is not a time-relative football league). The Packers haven’t won in Philly for a long time (remember 4th-and-26, anyone?), but I see no reason that this team shouldn’t come out of this game with a W. The Packers have been outwardly confident about their talent, and it’s time for them to start proving it.
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