The Philadelphia Eagles enter this season with many new and younger faces, and Kevin Kolb is now running the show.
This is the first of a three part look at the 2010 Eagles schedule, focusing on weeks one through five, and looking at the Eagles main advantages and concerns for each game.
Now, I know it is extremely early to do this, and no doubt we will learn things along the way about each team that we do not know now. However, we already do know enough to get the general idea of what each team does well and what each team struggles with.
With that said, the Eagles have the daunting task of playing the entire AFC South and the NFC North. Their other two non-division opponents are the Falcons and 49ers (because all three teams finished second in their respective divisions).
Enough for the preliminaries, let's get to the schedule.
2009 Record: 11-5 (lost in NFC Wild Card to Cardinals)
The Packers earned a Wild Card spot last year and are definitely in Super Bowl contention. They have one of the best young quarterbacks in the league in Aaron Rodgers and a defense that is led by defensive player of the year Charles Woodson. The Packers ranked near the top of the NFL in most major defensive categories.
Quarterback Pressure: The Packers have given up 88 sacks over the past two seasons. They drafted Bryan Bulaga in the first round, but he is still a rookie and the Eagles will test him early and often if he is the day one starter. The rest of the Packers' line is still the same as it was in 2009.
If the Eagles stay aggressive, they can get up to seven or eight sacks and really disrupt the rhythm of the Packers' explosive offense.
Speed: Starting corners Charles Woodson and Al Harris are both capable starters, but at ages 33 and 35, they might have issues with the younger and faster Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
Establishing the run: This is something that the Eagles have always had trouble with under pass happy Andy Reid. However, the Eagles need to use running backs Lesean McCoy, Mike Bell and fullback Leonard Weaver to establish a consistent running game all season to take pressure off Kolb.
That job is made even more complicated by the fact that the Packers had the best rush defense in the league 2009, and there is no reason to believe that it will get any worse heading into 2010.
Strength of the Eagles' receivers: Remember how I said the Packers corners are slower than the Eagles receivers? The problem for the Eagles is that Woodson and Harris are two of the most physical corners in the league, and the Eagles' receivers aren't known for being physical. Jackson and Maclin have to make sure that they get off the line and avoid getting jammed.
Packers' Receivers: Greg Jennings and Donald Driver are one of the best receiver combos in the league. Asante Samuel is the type of player that can create big interceptions, but isn't spectacular at shutting down receivers. Hobbs is a decent starter but Driver and Jennings have the advantage in that matchup.
This is why quarterback pressure is important for the Eagles. If the pressure isn't there, Jennings and Driver will post some big numbers.
2009 Record: 2-14 (missed playoffs)
The Lions have had a couple of solid drafts in a row and are looking like a team on the rise. However, they are still young and have so many holes that it is hard to see them contending just yet. The Eagles should be able to win this game.
Overall better team: Most matchups do favor the Eagles in this game. Dre Bly is the only corner on the Lions roster that matches up favorably with any of the Eagles' receivers, and the Eagles have Jackson, Maclin, Avant and Celek who can attack the rest of the secondary.
Ndamukong Suh is one of the best defensive tackle prospects in a long time. However, history does not favor rookie defensive tackles. While that doesn't make it impossible for him to succeed, the chips are stacked against him early.
Complacency: The Eagles have the better team, but they have to come out and play like the better team to avoid a huge upset. They have had a couple of games over the past two years in which they were favored to win big but didn't get the job done (2008 against the Bengals, 2009 against the Raiders). This is one of the few easy games on the schedule, and the Eagles will need to get every win they can in the competitive NFC East.
2009 Record: 7-9 (missed playoffs)
The Jaguars are a team that has struggled to make the playoffs the past couple of years. They have some solid players on their roster like Maurice Jones-Drew, David Garrard and Rashean Mathis, but they haven't been able to turn it into consistent success.
Quarterback pressure: The Jaguars gave up the 25th most sacks in the league last year. With Trent Cole as well as the Eagles' blitz packages, the Eagles should be able to put pressure on Garrard early and often.
Throwing the football: The Jaguars were 27th in the league in pass defense and 30th in quarterback rating allowed last season. While the aforementioned Mathis is a good corner, the Jaguars don't have much in the secondary other than him.
Good games against both the Lions and Jaguars can serve as a good confidence builder for Kolb before he goes up against some of the tougher pass defenses on the schedule.
Maurice Jones-Drew: Jones-Drew is a game changer at running back, and the Eagles have to make sure that they keep him in check. Other than Jones-Drew, Mike Sims-Walker seems to be the only viable option the Jaguars have at the skill positions.
Jaguars need wins: The Jaguars are a team that's at serious danger of being forgotten by its fan base. They need to make the playoffs; they need something to keep their fans interested, so that could spur the team on to a season that is more impressive than what is generally expected.
2009 Record: 4-12 (missed playoffs)
This is a big game for several reasons. First of all, it's an NFC East division game. Secondly, it's Donovan McNabb's first game in Philadelphia playing for the other guy. It will be interesting to see how the notoriously hostile Eagles crowd reacts to McNabb as a Redskin.
Quarterback Pressure: If you haven't caught on yet, the Eagles are pretty good at getting after opposing quarterbacks. For the second time in four games, they are going up against a team that might be starting a rookie at offensive tackle. I expect former Pro Bowler Jammal Brown (acquired from the Saints) will be the starting left tackle and rookie Trent Williams will man the right side for the Redskins.
Trent Cole is clearly the starting right end, but the Eagles have several players that they can line up across from Williams, including Juqua Parker, Daryl Tapp and rookie Brandon Graham. If they can use a rotation of the three players throughout the game, Williams will constantly be facing rested pass rushers, which will be a handful for him.
Redskins' Lack of Clear Cut Number One Receiver: The Redskins have the same problem that the Eagles had for most of McNabb's tenure: they have plenty of number three or number four receiving options, but nobody that stands out as a clear number one. McNabb will get the most of what the Redskins have, but there isn't much to work with.
Rivalry: These teams are so familiar with each other that most of the analysis could just be thrown out the window. Eagles vs Redskins games are always close, and either team could walk away with this one.
Donovan McNabb: Think Brett Favre against the Packers. McNabb wants to prove that the Eagles were wrong for trading him, and he'll be extra motivated to have a big day. He's been around the Eagles' defense for over a decade. There's no doubt he's familiar with how it works even if he is an offensive player.
2009 Record: 8-8 (missed playoffs)
The 49ers are a team with serious playoff aspirations this season. More specifically, they are the favorites to win the NFC West. They are led by the running game with Frank Gore and Glenn Coffee, and an offensive line that was fortified during the draft. The improving defense is led by one of the best young linebackers in the league: Patrick Willis.
Quarterback pressure: Go figure. For the third time in the first five weeks, the Eagles will be playing an offensive line that might be starting a rookie (the 49ers might be starting two). While it's not impossible for rookies to succeed, the Eagles will go after the 49ers new offensive line with plenty of elaborate blitzes.
Turnovers: The 49ers still have uncertainty at the quarterback position. Alex Smith took positive strides last season, but it's hard to say how he'll fare this year. The Eagles have an opportunistic defense that should be able to get interceptions.
Running the football: I've already pointed out how this is important for the Eagles. Well, the 49ers had the second lowest rushing yards per carry allowed last year and are very effective at taking opponents' running games away. The aforementioned Willis is one of the better run stoppers in the league right now.
The Eagles cannot get one-dimensional in this game (although with Reid's history they likely will).
Stopping the run: Mike Singletary has made it clear that he wants to run the football. The Eagles need to stop Frank Gore and Glenn Coffee and force Alex Smith to beat them with his arm. If they do, they can shut down the 49ers' offense and get a win.
I will be publishing Weeks Six through 12 within the next few days.
In the meantime, any feedback or commentary is welcome.
I hope you enjoyed the show!!!