Browns vs. Eagles: 5 Philadelphia Starters Who Must Step Up Against Cleveland
The Philadelphia Eagles need a bounce-back game Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns in order to go into the regular season with the same confidence and aspirations they had after a monster offseason. All the big names the Eagles acquired in the offseason have now been overshadowed by serious concerns about Michael Vick's first half against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the run defense.
Vick threw three interceptions in the first half of last week's preseason game against the Steelers, two of which resulted from passes thrown right into double coverage. Vick forced the issue all night and did not look like the player who may have finished second in the NFL's MVP voting a season ago (Tom Brady received all the votes).
The run defense didn't fair much better. The Steelers ran for 144 yards against the Eagles with most of those yards coming in the first half. The Eagles' run defense will get another test against Browns running back Peyton Hillis.
The Eagles appear to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The time to start proving just how good they can be starts Thursday night. It will be the last chance for the starters to play until the season opener September 11th in St. Louis.
For some, it's a great chance to lock up their starting spot; for the other players who are already guaranteed starters, it's a good chance for them to get back some confidence going into the season.
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Eagles quarterback Michael Vick isn't in any danger of losing his starting job, but he could use a good performance to get his confidence back going into the regular season.
Thursday night's contest against the Browns will be most of the starters' last game before the season opener in St. Louis on September 11th. Vick could use a few good series to get some momentum back for the first-team offense after it failed to gain more than 23 yards on any drive in the first half against the Steelers.
Vick should have more time to throw this week against the Browns' 4-3 defense that doesn't have a proven pass rusher like a James Harrison or LaMarr Woodley.
Vick should play at least a series or two into the third quarter, depending on how the offense looks. A touchdown pass or two would get this offense on track to what is supposed to be a pretty special season.
Jason Kelce has gone from being an undersized lineman that almost nobody wanted to waste a draft pick on to being a possible opening-game starter for the Eagles. Kelce has been getting all the first-time reps in practice this week at center in preparation for his first start against the Browns.
Projected Eagles starting center Jamaal Jackson hasn't underperformed during preseason, but new Eagles offensive line coach Howard Mudd wants to see Kelce work with the first-team offense. Kelce is about 50 pounds lighter than Jackson at 280 lbs but has a lot more athleticism, which is what Mudd is looking for in his linemen to run his blocking scheme.
A good showing by Kelce will give head coach Andy Reid and Mudd a very tough choice to make in a couple weeks at center.
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The path at right tackle has been paved perfectly for King Dunlap and he is starting to really take advantage of it.
Last year's starting right tackle, Winston Justice, is still recovering from offseason knee surgery and may not be ready until opening weekend. Ryan Harris was brought in from Denver to compete for the right tackle spot but back spasms have kept him out since the first preseason game.
So as of right now, the Eagles are thin at right tackle with King Dunlap first on the dept chart and backup guard Evan Mathis right behind him.
Dunlap had a solid game last week against the Steelers' 3-4 front. He picked up the edge-rushers with ease and looked very comfortable without any help.
Dunlap did make a few starts last season, including one against the Atlanta Falcons where he shut down Pro Bowl defensive end John Abraham with little help. He has shown the ability to be an effective starting tackle but has been inconsistent in the past.
Another good showing from Dunlap would make Ryan Harris expendable and make Dunlap the starting right tackle.
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No Eagles player drew more criticism than linebacker Casey Matthews. Matthews was dominated by Steelers blockers against the run throughout the first half. The Eagles defensive line's new scheme under line coach Jim Washburn is to attack the backfield, which does leave linebackers having to fend off 300-pound linemen on running plays.
Last week's game was Matthews' 21st day as an Eagle and clearly he has a lot of room to grow as a player. Matthews finished the game with just three total tackles.
Matthews is an excellent tackler with great football instincts. The more game experience he gets, the better he will be at middle linebacker.
Right now, Matthews' only competition at middle linebacker is another rookie, Brian Rolle. The Eagles coaching staff has shown a great deal of confidence in Matthews in a short period of time. The Eagles let last year's starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley sign with the Arizona Cardinals. The Eagles also moved Bradley's supposed replacement, Jamar Chaney, to the outside. The Eagles havn't brought in any veterans to challenge Matthews and that says a lot about the ability of Matthews at middle linebacker.
Matthews needs to show some improvement against the run. He got eaten alive against the Steelers linemen last week and needs to show that trend won't continue.
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Nate Allen may have actually had a worse night last week than Casey Matthews did. Allen looked slow in coverage and was responsible for two touchdowns. Allen will split time at safety this week against the Browns with Jarrad Page.
Allen was a promising rookie last year until he tore his patella tendon last December. He doesn't appear to be fully recovered quite yet and he has stated that he still has a lot of soreness in his knee.
Allen has the ability to be a starting safety in this league, but clearly is not completely healed from his offseason surgery.
Allen needs to prove to the coaching staff that he is healthy enough to start this season. Otherwise, he may be backing up Page to start the season.