Sean McDermott looks ready to fill the massive shoes of Jim Johnson. His multitude of blitzes came from a variety of players and kept the Panther’s quarterbacks off balance all day. McDermott was a Johnson understudy for ten years, and it shows. The defensive scheme was as aggressive and blitz-heavy as ever.
The defensive line looked very dangerous. Trent Cole was a game-changing force, recording four tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble. More importantly, he was a frequent presence in the Panther’s backfield and drew double and even triple teams, allowing his teammates to be more effective.
Victor Abiamiri, who scored a touchdown on the fumble that Cole forced, provided an excellent complement to the pro-bowler. The defensive tackles provided a push and shut Carolina down up the middle, allowing the linebackers to roam and make plays.
When the Delhomme, and his backups, did get the pass off in time, the secondary rose to the task. The Eagles recorded five interceptions and held the Panthers to a completion percentage under 50. Sheldon Brown seemed ready to put his contract disputes aside and play football, recording two interceptions.
The offense looked good. The offensive line held up well in spite of having starters Todd Herremans and Shawn Andrews miss the game with injuries. They paved the way for an effective running game, allowing the running backs to average over five yards per carry.
The biggest surprise may have been Winston Justice at right tackle. Justice has been infamous for laying an egg against the Giants in 2007, allowing four sacks. Labeled a bust by many, Justice silenced his critics on Sunday, holding up in many one-on-one match-ups with a variety of Panther’s defensive ends, including Julius Peppers.
Desean Jackson reminded us just how explosive he can be. He had an 85-yard punt return touchdown, took snaps from the wildcat, and ran twice for 33 yards. Brian Westbrook looked good in spite of a knee injury that limited him in practice on Friday.
Many have been wondering whether the Eagles will be more effective in the red zone this season after struggling heavily last year. They got off to a great start this year, scoring a touchdown in all three red zone trips.
McNabb was effective before getting hurt. He did a nice job of spreading the ball out and ran effectively when the opportunities arose. Unfortunately, a three yard touchdown run in the third quarter led to disaster. While making the play, McNabb was hit hard by three Panthers defenders and fractured a rib.
As of Sunday night, he is expected to miss next week’s game against the New Orleans Saints. He may play in week three against the Kansas City Chiefs, but it doesn’t seem likely. Fortunately, week four is a bye week for the Eagles. If McNabb can return by week five, the Eagles will only have to make it through two games without their leader.
Coping with the loss of McNabb will be difficult, but it isn’t uncharted territory for the Eagles. As of now, Kevin Kolb seems like the most likely replacement. The offense under Kolb was able to move the ball, but penalties and sacks stalled their drives before they could score any points. In McNabb’s absence, the team will have to rely on its defense and running game to carry the load. Kolb will mostly be counted on as a game-manager.
Kolb is not the only option to replace McNabb. Michael Vick will be available in week three, but he didn’t look anywhere near ready to play in the preseason. It would be surprising to see him on the field for a significant number of plays.
Jeff Garcia has been mentioned as a possible replacement if McNabb’s injury turns out to be long term. He is currently Jamarcus Russel’s backup in Oakland, so the Eagles would have to work out a trade to acquire Garcia. The Eagles are rumored to have interest in signing A.J. Feely, who was recently released by the team.
The team looked like a serious Super Bowl contender on Sunday. The defense was dominant, the offense was effective, and the special teams were special. It was only one game, though and the injury to McNabb is very concerning. Much of the season will hinge on his ability to recover quickly and fully.