Philadelphia Eagles: What to Look for in Sunday's Game Against the Browns
The Philadelphia Eagles are set to begin their 2012 NFL season with a home matchup tomorrow against the Cleveland Browns. The Eagles are looking to rebound after arguably the most disappointing year in the franchise’s history, and there’s absolutely no reason they should lose this matchup tomorrow.
Without getting overconfident, the Eagles should win this in their sleep. They are nine-point favorites—a ridiculous spread for a team in a Week 1 matchup—and I fully expect the team to win by at least three scores. That being said, I would like to see several things in tomorrow’s game.
Michael Vick Staying Healthy
Considering the Philadelphia Eagles are playing a team that finished 4-12 last season and scored the third-fewest points in the NFL, the Cleveland Browns probably aren’t going to put up much of a fight. They’re also starting a 28-year-old rookie quarterback while future star running back Trent Richardson is questionable after knee surgery.
Michael Vick won’t need to throw for 300 yards and four touchdowns for the Eagles to win, but what I would like to see is Vick minimizing his turnovers, hitting his receivers in stride and staying healthy.
Vick was significantly better down the stretch in 2011, throwing seven touchdown passes to just three interceptions while helping the Eagles win four straight. If that can carry into 2012, it would be reassuring for Eagles fans that think their team has a legitimate chance to win it all.
An Acceptable Outing from Left Tackle King Dunlap
I’ll be honest—I’m extremely worried about the left tackle position in 2012. Jason Peters absolutely cannot be replaced and new acquisition Demetress Bell hasn’t embraced the starting role like the team expected when they signed him; in fact, he’s been benched for four-year backup, King Dunlap.
Dunlap is a mammoth player at 6’9” and he’s shown vast improvement during his tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles. He can play both tackle and guard, but then again, he’s only filled in for brief stretches, and now the Eagles are hoping for him to play left tackle all season.
Dunlap doesn’t protect Michael Vick’s blind side since Vick is a left-handed quarterback, but that doesn’t mean his showing against the Browns isn’t important. He will be facing a slew of difficult defensive lines after that, starting with the Baltimore Ravens.
Growth from Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins
Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles started center Jason Kelce and right guard Danny Watkins for 28 of a possible 32 games.
Kelce rated just 33rd among 35 qualifying NFL centers in 2011, according to Pro Football Focus, while Watkins rated 49th among 78 qualifying guards.
Kelce was a sixth-round pick shoved into the starting lineup from day one, and Watkins was a rookie as well. But the Eagles are expecting great things out of Kelce in the future and Watkins was a former first round pick who needs to develop into a fine player in 2012. Seeing both players play well against Cleveland would be very reassuring.
An Unstoppable Defensive Line
The Philadelphia Eagles tied for the NFL lead in sacks in 2011, and should be even better in 2012. The team brings back Pro Bowl defensive ends Trent Cole and Jason Babin, each of whom is an elite pass-rusher that can get to the quarterback constantly.
The backups—Phillip Hunt, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Darryl Tapp—can rotate in and still keep the Eagles a top-notch unit. The interior line of Cullen Jenkins, Fletcher Cox, Derek Landri and Cedric Thornton is deep and talented.
Considering the Eagles are playing a rookie quarterback, I expect five or six sacks—or more.
DeSean Jackson vs. Joe Haden
I assume the Cleveland Browns will place their best corner, Joe Haden, against two-time Pro Bowl receiver DeSean Jackson. Haden has appealed his suspension and will likely play against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Haden was a former top-10 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft and he has the ability to be a lock-down, shut-down corner that completely blankets the opposition’s top receiver and takes him out of the game. Factor in that Jackson is playing on a new contract and has a lot to prove to the Eagles this season, and you will have a good matchup.
The Philadelphia Eagles Contain Trent Richardson
Realistically, I don’t see the Cleveland Browns winning this game unless Trent Richardson runs wild.
Richardson is a rookie running back who was drafted third overall by the Browns and he has the ability to rush for 1,200 yards or more as a rookie, a la Adrian Peterson of 2007. Richardson had minor knee surgery back in early August and will likely play against the Philadelphia Eagles, but he probably will be used sparingly.
If Richardson breaks off a couple of long runs, that could keep the Browns in the game. Last year, the first play against the Eagles was a 47-yard touchdown run by Steven Jackson, a play that showed everyone—immediately—that the Eagles’ defense probably wasn’t as good as people thought.
I don’t want to see a repeat of that in 2012.