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Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Don't Pop the Corks Just Yet, Part II

Boy, are they giddy in Philadelphia. The Eagles totally outclassed the Detroit Lions on Sunday in Detroit, and the Birds are off to a 3-0 start. You'll recall last year that they lost badly to defending Super Bowl champs Tampa Bay at home in the opener on Monday night, and then they followed up on that loss with a total stinker against the ultimate Super Bowl champs, the Patriots. Both games were at home, and they quickly went into an 0-2 hole. So despondent were the older fans with their vintage Bill Bergey jerseys, the middle-aged ones with their Reggie White togs and the younger ones with their Rickey Watters and Donovan McNabb jerseys that they were calling for the firing of Andy Reid and the benching of Donovan McNabb -- in favor of A.J. Feeley.

Well, you know how that turned out (and how Feeley's turning out). The Eagles righted their course, McNabb played a lot better than he did in the first two games, Reid got rewarded with a four-year contract extension before this season, and now the Eagles are 3-0 and playing in mid-season form. And their next opponent is Chicago, which will start Jonathan Quinn at QB in place of the injured Rex Grossman. Not a bad way to start the season.

If you're an unabashed Philadelphia Eagles fan, then you are thrilled about the following: a) the 3 sacks that Jevon Kearse had against the Lions, b) the numerous hurries and hits the D-line had on Joey Harrington, c) the play of all 3 Eagles tight ends, and d) the overall play of the defense until garbage time. You now think that no one can stop your offense, and that your defense is improving weekly. You think that the improved pass rush will take pressure off the defensive backs, and you think that having 5 healthy DTs on the roster should improve your run defense week after week. You're hearkening back to the hit that the Eagles' team and fans liked in 1980-1981, when they went to the Super Bowl, McFadden & Whiteheads, "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now." Before you know it, the Eagles will bring back the old offensive unit on that team and honor them. Does anyone know where Stan Walters, Petey Perot, Wade Key, Guy Morris, Woody Peoples, Jerry Sisemore, Keith Krepfle, Harold Carmichael, Charlie "Home Boy" Smith, Ron Jaworski and Wilbert Montgomery are?

But if you're a realistic Eagles' fan, you have to be somewhat concerned about one thing directly and one thing indirectly. The direct thing, as it were, is the injury factor. Already you've lost DE N.D. Kalu, RB Correll Buckhalter, G Shawn Andrews and now FB Jon Ritchie for the season with injuries. That's 2 starters on offense, one RB who would have gotten a lot of reps, and a DE who would have figured into the rotation and might have even started (although the Eagles do have depth at DE, with Kearse, Jerome McDougle and Derrick Burgess). You've lost 2 starters after 3 games, and you're on a pace to lose 10 starters roughly after 16 games. It's hard to believe that the pace will keep up, but the Eagles are bound to lose a few more players to injury.

And they'll be especially hurt if they lose another offensive lineman, a starting cornerback or Brian Westbrook, their starting running back. As for the offensive line, with Andrews gone, the Eagles elevated their top OL reserve, Artis Hicks, to guard. Which means now that their top backup is Steve Sciullo, who started 13 games last year for Indianapolis but was cut in pre-season. He's still learning the offense. That should make Eagles' fans nervous. As for Westbrook, he's somewhat underrated -- he's a very, very good back, but he's on the slight side, and many observers wonder whether he has the durability to last the season. (You'll recall he missed a few games last year and the playoffs, and his absence reduced the Birds' offense to an unfleet bunch). If Wesbrook goes down, you're left with Reno Mahe, a second-year player, and Dorsey Levens, the second oldest RB in the NFL (he's 34; Emmitt Smith is 37 and not exactly tearing it up in Arizona). So, if you lose an offensive lineman and Westbrook, you're offense suddenly becomes very one-dimensional. That's why Eagles' fans shouldn't pop the corks, at least just yet.

Still, Andy Reid has a proven track record, and he's always coached his teams well and rallied them back from adversity. No doubt, he'll figure out a way to fill holes in his lineup and avoid off-season personnel blunders (such as the Chiefs not improving their defense) or play-calling lapses (see Mike Martz). That said, he could face the Vikings again, or the Seattle Seahawks, whose take-no-prisoners defense should ring familiar to Eagles' fans.

The defensive coordinator for that unit is none other than Ray Rhodes. That could be quite a match-up.


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