A football team is made up of more than just stars. It's funny how easy that is to forget.
The stars may always make the headlines, but football is a team sport. How the role players perform on either team often determines the outcome of the game. Look no further than this week's game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cleveland Browns as an example. Though Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy will get all the attention, the Eagles will need solid performances from some lesser known players to walk away with a victory.
Landri will play a big role in stopping the Cleveland running game.
The Cleveland Browns don't figure to have too many offensive weapons this season, but rookie running back Trent Richardson could be the exception. Richardson, the No. 3 overall pick in this year's draft, is an explosive back who can wear down defenses with his power. He's going to be a star for Cleveland and probably sooner rather than later. If the Eagles want to put pressure on rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, they're going to have to shut Richardson down early. Whether or not they accomplish that will fall in the hands of Derek Landri, the Eagles right defensive tackle.
The Browns love to run the ball behind Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas. Thomas will mostly be blocking Eagles defensive end Trent Cole, which means it will be up to Landri to step up and slow down Richardson. Obviously, more people than just Landri are responsible for stopping the run, but if he struggles at all, Richardson will have a pretty easy time getting through to the secondary.
On the other hand, if Landri can get into the backfield and disrupt the Browns early rushing attempts, they'll be forced to lean on Weeden for their offensive output. And with all due respect to Weeden, he's just not ready to lead the Browns offensive attack all by himself. Especially not against a defense as aggressive as the Eagles defense is.
Henerey will be one of the keys to stopping the Browns return game.
As I mentioned, the Browns don't have too much in the way of offensive firepower, but they do have the dangerous Josh Cribbs returning kicks and punts. Cribbs hasn't yet been able to regain his 2009 form when he had nine kick and punt returns of over 40 yards, including four for touchdowns. But, he's still one of the game's most dangerous special teams players and a threat to score on any kick or punt. It'll be up to Henery and Henry to make sure that Cribbs doesn't have any room to run.
On paper, the Browns just don't have the offense to hang with the Eagles, but football isn't played on paper. Nothing fires up a team more than a huge return—it's a game changer. Henery needs to kick touchbacks and Henry needs to hang his punts long enough for his gunners to get downfield and stop Cribbs. Because if he gets just an inch of room, he could be gone. Should the two do their jobs well enough, the Browns best chance of gaining momentum will disappear.
Todd Herremans will be the man in charge of protecting Michael Vick's blind spot.
Last season, Herremans did a terrific job protecting Michael Vick despite being moved from guard to right tackle (per Philly.com's Jeff McLane). The Eagles will be counting on the same type of performance this year.
It's no secret that the Eagles' championship hopes rest on Vick's arm (and legs). His health is essential. Since Vick is left-handed, it's Herremans who protects his blind spot and is the man most responsible for keeping him healthy. The Browns don't have any truly devastating pass-rushers on their squad, but it's still important for Herremans to play well.
He was recently given a three-year contract extension (per Associated Press), and though he's always proved a reliable guard, it will be just his second season at the tackle position. It's key for Herremans to start the season strong, especially with games against the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants on the horizon. All three teams are relentless in going after the quarterback.
It's unlikely that Herremans struggles this week, but if he does, the Eagles could be in trouble in their next few games.