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Eagles vs. Browns: What to Watch

Posted By Christopher Rowe On Aug 25 2011 @ 1:27 pm In Philadelphia Eagles | 5 Comments

Back to football is the slogan. Whether you care or not, we are two weeks into the NFL pre-season with two more games left to go. The games themselves are relatively meaningless but they do help determine roster decisions. This season in particular, these games serve as extended Training Camps or scrimmages for coaches to see their players in action. That in and of itself serves some useful purpose – but in no other sport would practice be televised. We’re talking about practice…” to quote a modern philosopher. “…practice!”

The Eagles should get used to having a target on their backs for most of the 2011 season. They were by far the most active team in free agency and have sent a message to the league (intentionally or unintentionally) that they are going for it all this season. No holds barred. All hands on deck. Batten down the hatches and damn the torpedoes full speed ahead.

A moratorium has been placed on the phrase “Dream Team” both in my column and in the Eagles locker room – but perhaps embracing it rather than ignoring it would encourage the media to let the damn thing die. Perhaps the focus should be on the previous season’s champion (Green Bay Packers by the way in case you’d forgotten) or one of the teams who made the Super Bowl (Pittsburgh Steelers for the short term memory impaired)? Whatever happened to deciding things on the field? Has the business of the NFL really gotten in the way of the games that much?

Interestingly, one Eagles statement that looked like sure-fire conflagration managed to escape unscathed. Said Philadelphia’s Juan Castillo, when asked about the fitness of his linebackers: “They’ll be ready to win the Super Bowl.” Apparently the defensive coordinator got away clean. However, his assessment of his linebackers was abject news to the rest of us, based on what we saw in the first two preseason games.

The Birds have loaded up on the defensive line and in the secondary via free agency, but apparently have maxed out the salary cap at the expense of that acreage located between the DL and the secondary. What’s that called again? Don’t ask Andy Reid and he’s never paid attention to the middle of the defensive backfield. Eagles linebackers are swift afoot, without a doubt, but against the run they have resembled something plastered on the grille of an 18-wheeler East-bound-and-down. You got it – Eagles roadkill.

All of the Philadelphia Eagles will have ample opportunity to reverse public opinion when they take on the hapless Cleveland Browns in tonight’s sure-fire yawner exhibition game. The third preseason game traditionally is the most significant with the most ardent competition for roster spots. The fourth and final preseason exercise in futility is strictly safety-first football, having the first-team starters bubble-wrapped in Teflon cocoons lest they be rendered incapacitated.

Thursday night will also afford Michael Vick the opportunity to allay all the fears that he raised with that putrid performance against Pittsburgh last week… Or not…

Call it rust from the long layoff or possibly the fact that Training Camp was less of a workout than a schoolyard game of two-hand touch, but the Eagles (and Vick specifically) looked like a team mailing in another CBA-mandated walkthrough. Vick, Vince Young and Mike Kafka will all see playing time tonight. Another three-pick effort by Vick should cause alarmists to light the roadside flares, turn on your flashers and start spelling out “H-E-L-P” using whatever items might be visible to airborne rescue parties.

There will be 31 teams rooting for just that. In the NFL, sympathy is forbidden. Especially for a “Dream Team.”

WILL VICK BOUNCE BACK?

Michael Vick had his AP Comeback Player of the Year trophy delivered this weekend — a huge, heavy, golden Lombardi look-alike that sat at the foot of his locker as he was being interviewed by reporters. When he asked about it, he told the story of how one of the equipment guys called it the “Three Interception Trophy,” seeing as he received it right after his Pittsburgh performance. Vick broke down and began laughing a relieved laugh, and admitted that was the first time he was able to joke about the ugly display last Thursday. Preseason. No harm done. Move on.

Poor play this week, though, can turn an accident into a trend. Vick has been working primarily on blitz pickup and efficiency this offseason, neither of which were on display against the Steelers (or we hope not based on performance). Vick and the first team will have an anticipated three quarters to get it right against Cleveland.

LINEBACKERS

Shocking, I know. But here is specifically what we should focus on collectively:

It was revealed by Jamar Chaney this week that the linebackers are being taught a unique method to shed blocks, where they use their hands and head instead of engaging with their shoulders. Most are using this approach for the first time, which could help explain why the group was easily swallowed up by Pittsburgh’s blockers. Is it a wise decision to teach a new technique to a group that already has its hands full? And have they progressed since their rough outing against the Steelers?

PAGE AND ALLEN

Jarrad Page is expected to get the start at safety as Nate Allen continues to work back from his torn patellar tendon. In five NFL seasons with the Chiefs and Patriots, Page has posted 12 interceptions and 210 tackles.

Allen is still working on building his strength and explosiveness, and is now dealing with tendonitis in his right knee. One man’s injury is another man’s opportunity in the NFL. This is Page’s chance to impress while it is Allen’s chance to rest.

KELCE IN THE MIDDLE

Rookie Jason Kelce received all the first-team snaps at center this week. Thursday should be considered an extended audition to see if the sixth-round pick is ready to open the season as the starter. Mike McGlynn remains a backup at center and guard. The center position battle between Kelce and Jamaal Jackson is the fiercest and most relevant on the team right now. The outcome will have a definite impact on this season, one way or the other.

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