Well, it's the eve of opening day and if you're anything like me, you won't be sleeping too much tonight. The Eagles will take the field at 1pm tomorrow in what we all hope will be the first step toward the Super Bowl.
The first team standing in their way will be the St. Louis Rams. More important than who they play will be how they play. The Eagles have a disgusting 3-6 record on opening day under Andy Reid and more often than not, those openers have been games the Birds should've won. They need to come out and send a message tomorrow. I'm talking a message like they sent to Dallas back in 2000. You remember the game. The Eagles used an onside kick to set the tone, Duce ran for 201 yards. That's the type of message I want sent tomorrow.
Before we get into the keys of the game, some news. Reggie Brown is listed as doubtful, meaning he isn't playing. This moves DeSean Jackson out of the slot and into the starting spot outside. It can't be good news when a weak position gets weaker (Greg Lewis is the #3 receiver at this point, I believe), but I am excited to see DeSean out there from the get go. He'll get an immediate chance to put his money where his mouth has been.
And now, my keys to the game. Offense
Starting field position - The Eagles have the potential to have something they've been sorely lacking this season, a return game. Demps and Jackson have both shown explosive ability returning kicks. It would be unbelievable if they could put points on the board, but more importantly, if they can give the Eagles good field position all the pressure shifts off McNabb and his hobbled recievers and onto the Rams' defense. The days of starting every drive at the 20, or worse, should be over.
Shawn Andrews - His ability is never in question. He's one of the most talented offensive linemen in the league, and the Eagles need him to play like that. I'm not overly concerned with his psychological state, there's not much to be done about that. What worries me is that he's going into the season with limited work in training camp. An injury to Andrews would be a huge blow to this offense. We need him in there clearing out the middle for Westbrook, and leading the way on short-yardage plays.
Number 5 - Just like everyone else, I've been looking forward to a full season with a healthy McNabb. He was not 100% for the first half of last season, and while he played better toward the end of the season, I'm not sure you can blame his first-half performance on his health alone. It wasn't his health that had him checking down on nearly every pass. It wasn't his health that caused him to ignore receivers unless they were wide open. We need to see a more decisive McNabb this year. He has to be willing to trust his receivers and put the ball into tight places when the down/distance calls for it. This may be a tall order considering the receiving corps he has around him. The Eagles will take a few shots down the field early on to make a point. Let's hope he connects on one of them and it builds his confidence.
Westbrook vs. Stephen Jackson - Put simply, if Westbrook outgains Stephen Jackson, the Eagles win this game.
The $57M Man - The Eagles went out and got their number one free agent target, Asante Samuel. Now it's time for him to earn his money. He'll spend most of the game lined up against Torry Holt. The Eagles were 18th in the league against the pass last season and had a league-low 11 interceptions on the season. Adding Samuel to the mix is the first step in remedying that situation. He needs to be able to handle Holt on his own and make a play.
Trent Cole vs. Orlando Pace - The second step in fixing the pass D is the pass rush, although in order of priority it should probably be first. The Eagles were 10th in sacks last season, thanks mainly to Cole. He'll be lined up against Orlando Pace, the Rams' best offensive lineman, for most of the game. Pace is getting up there in years and the injuries have piled up. If he doesn't have the lateral quickness to contain Cole's speed, it could be a long day for Bulger.
The LBs - Gaither, Bradley and Gocong can dictate the pace of the game to the Rams in more ways than one. Gone are the days of the Eagles LBs being undersized and pushed around. These guys were a big reason the run defense was so stout last year and they need to set the tone early, plugging holes and limiting Jackson's effectiveness.
Unleash Weapon X - This is the second aspect of the Samuel signing. Jim Johnson now has three corners he can count on in man-to-man coverage. That means more room for Dawkins to roam at the safety position. It also means Johnson can go back to sicking him on opposing QBs. We should see the Dawk Show blitzing from all angles and inflicting pain on Bulger throughout the game. I realize Dawkins is a year older, but I firmly believe that with the depth at the corner postition we're going to see a huge year out of him.
And on that note, I'll leave you with this video. Enjoy the game everyone.
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