When the Eagles take on Captain Hoodie and his minions Monday night in the Massachusetts wilderness, fans had better pay close attention, because it’s the last chance they will have to see if the team that opens the season in Cleveland will be worthy of playoff contention, much less the dynasty nonsense that a certain turnover-prone quarterback spewed earlier this summer.
After tonight, the Eagles still have two exhibition games remaining, but neither will have a shred of relevance. The Birds travel to Cleveland Friday, and it makes no sense to let regulars spend too much time on the field–if at all–a scant four days after another game. And since the Eagles open the regular season in the same Lake Erie garden spot, their gameplan against the Brownies will likely be blander than a political debate. As for the pre-season finale with the Jets, expect a parade of second and third-teamers, which is still have enough to flummox Tim Tebow.
Nope, it’s all about the Patriots, and there are some huge questions that have to be answered in the wake of the lackluster performance by first-teamers against Pittsburgh. Obviously, the Eagles won’t thrive or crash when the games matter if they look good or awful against the Pats. But a franchise that spent the off-season crowing about its talent and potential had better start to move things in the right direction, and fast.
Lucky Seven? Mr. Dynasty lasted all of six plays against the Stillers, failing to lead the offense to a first down and leaving the game with a bruised thumb. It’s time for Michael Vick to prove that he is not only capable of producing some points but also that he has improved his ability to read blitzes and make the proper decisions when pressure comes, rather than just freelancing.
Expect to see the Pats blitz Vick, and it will be interesting to see how he responds. Can he play patient football within the confines of the Eagles’ offense, or will he revert to form and try to force things, leading to turnovers? Last season, teams continued to come at Vick, as they had at the end of 2010, and the QB struggled. He has assured us that this off-season was well spent, with plenty of extra film study and tips from Marty Mornhinweg. Well, let’s see something.
High Pressure System: There is no question Pats’ QB Tom Brady does not like to be hit. Can’t stand pressure of any kind, really. In its short time against Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger last week, the Eagles’ front four created all sorts of mayhem. But New England’s offensive line is better than the Steelers’ (no Mike Adams to torment), so it will interesting to see if Brady has time to operate, or if the Birds will have to bring extra rushes, exposing a vulnerable back end (at least Jaiquawn Jarrett won’t be starting) and surrendering big plays to the New England tight ends.
Prince Dunlap: The big tackle’s ascension to the starting lineup has upgraded him from the Viceroy status to which he dropped with his uninspired play last year. He’s still no King. But the Eagles’ decision to import Demetress Bell after Jason Peter tore his Achilles demonstrated a lack of organizational confidence in Dunlap. We know now that Dunlap has impressed somewhat during the pre-season with improved footwork and a new ability to prevent blockers from using him as a turnstile. Since Vick is a lefty, he has the luxury of seeing whoever blows past Dunlap, but the big fella must be more reliable, or there will be trouble.
Mr. Moneybags: Since we know that professional athletics are all about getting paid, DeSean Jackson should be a happy man, thanks to his fat, new contract. Now, he must become a productive one. The big question regarding whether Jackson deserved a gigantic contract was if he was truly a tier one wideout or a more one-dimensional deep threat that puts pressure on defenses but can’t be used all over the field. If teams find out that they can defuse him with a safety over the top, it will help the Eagles’ ground attack but won’t make Jackson much of a weapon. Can he be dangerous across the middle and on deep posts? The Eagles have 15 million guaranteed reasons to hope he can be.
Juan More Time: The good news is that nobody in the world works harder than Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. He’s in the office 28 hours a day drawing up schemes and trying to figure out a way to coordinate a defense that begins with a front line over which he doesn’t have much control. Castillo is hampered by the Eagles’ safety problem and a crew of linebackers that hasn’t yet proven itself to be reliable. But the Eagles will face Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker and the crew for at least a full half. If the defense lacks discipline behind the great pass rush, it could be a repeat of last year’s Patriot rout.
Those are a lot of questions for a season that is supposed to be so wonderful, and the Birds have exactly one game left to get primed for the real stuff. No pressure, fellas. It’s just an exhibition game.
So, put on an exhibition.
- Jimmy Rollins: .239. Ryan Howard: .246. Chase Utley: .247. Cliff Lee: 2-7. That’s about $70 million of mediocrity. The bullpen is shaky. The third base situation is a mess. And there isn’t too much power in the outfield. But those four are as big a reason for the Phillies’ problems as anything. And guess what? They’re all back next year for even more dough.
- Notre Dame’s helmets for their game Oct. 6 against Miami are a disgrace. Their uniforms spit in the face of the school’s great tradition. Schools and apparel companies are using players as fashion models to push product. It’s cynical and a continued step in the sausage-making process that is big-time college football. If that’s going to happen, the players need a piece of the pie. Period.
- A player from San Francisco was caught juicing? That’s a shock. Anybody who thinks only a few baseball players are still cheating is pretty naïve. The chemists are always ahead of the testers. Cabrera was just sloppy enough to get caught–and then try to craft a hilarious cover-up that has now made him a target of federal gumshoes. There are others.