Eagles - Browns: Greg's Game Preview

Greg Hensley takes a look at each unit facing off in today's pre-season game.

The Philadelphia Eagles made their preseason debut against the Oakland Raiders just four days ago and if the play of their starting units is any indication, the Eagles are back and ready to contend. While the Eagles will likely only play their starting offense and defense for one or two series, this should provide a good measuring stick for the Browns.

Eagles Offense

The Eagles pass happy west coast offense appears to be making the shift to a more run based approach to the game. The primary reason for this shift in philosophy is the desire to limit the hits taken by quarterback, Donovan McNabb. Also when you have two outstanding backs in Brian Westbrook and Ryan Moats, running the ball should be a top priority.

Donovan has shown no signs of last years season ending injury. The ball is coming out quick and most importantly, he is hitting his targets in stride. He has a live arm that can truly stretch the field. His ability to buy time with his legs can frustrate opponents. Donovan will provide an excellent test for this revamped Browns secondary.

The Browns will likely receive a heavy dose of backup quarterback (and former Brown) Jeff Garcia. Garcia has neither the arm strength nor the accuracy of McNabb but he can dishearten opposing defenses with his ability to avoid pressure by getting outside the pocket and making plays with his legs.

The Eagles enjoy using the RB as the safety valve in the passing game. The Eagles are very effective in using the running back screen as a potent weapon, when they spread the field with multiple receivers. The Eagles also appear set on running everything to the right side.

When it comes to the offensive line, the Eagles support one of the best in the game, especially along the right side. Veteran right tackle Jon Runyan and Shawn Andrews can open up the running game with ease. Jon makes very few mistakes and he is providing tremendous leadership to this line. For those young tackles out there, watch Jon's use of hands as he is pure textbook in how to control the defender.

Shawn Andrews is one of the best young guards in the game and a slimmer, quicker Andrews looks poised to have an outstanding season. Shawn has lost over 50 pounds but he is still a solid 340 lb athlete. He has the long arms and quick feet to hold up to the pass rush but when it comes to run blocking it is hard to find anyone better.

The Eagles receiving corps has endured a great deal of change but the most intriguing prospect on this roster is undrafted rookie Hank Baskett. Hank is having a tremendous camp and with veteran Todd Pinkston and second year sensation Reggie Brown nursing injuries, Hank has made the most of his opportunity. The 6-4 220 lb receiver has shown solid hands and the ability to fight the ball away in traffic.

The Eagles also have the weapon everyone forgets about, until he makes the big play. L.J. Smith hauled in 61 catches last year for nearly 700 yards. L.J. appears to be much improved in his route running while giving Donovan McNabb the big target that is willing to go over the middle of the field.

Eagles Defense

Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has to be smiling with what could very well be the best front four in football. "The Freak", Jevon Kearse is a 3 time pro bowl defensive end. He is coming off of another solid year in which he led the team in sacks. The Eagles signed former Saint, Darren Howard in free agency. Howard is renowned for being an elite sack artist.

The interior of the line should also be improved with the drafting of rookie Broderick Bunkley. Bunkley was the highlight of this year's NFL combines and should find himself in the starting lineup before the opening game. The Eagles used their first round draft choice on this beast of an interior lineman. Next to Broderick will be Mike Patterson, the Eagles 2005 first round draft choice. Defensive tackle Mike Patterson is looking to build upon his rookie campaign in which he led the team in tackles.

The Eagles linebackers may be the weakest unit on this team. Jeremiah Trotter is a force in the middle against the run or when asked to blitz but when he drops into coverage, he becomes a liability. Dhani Jones doesn't have many glaring weaknesses but he is more of a competent linebacker than a play making linebacker. Matt McCoy may be the surprise of this group as he has sensational speed that allows him to get to the ball quickly but he will need time to become comfortable in his new starting role.

The Eagles secondary is as good as it gets in the NFL. Brian Dawkins is entering his 11th year in the NFL and although he may have slowed a bit, he makes up for it with experience. Brian is one of the truly elite safeties in the game today. Alongside Dawkins is free safety Michael Lewis. Lewis has excellent cover skills and is solid in run support.

The corner tandem of Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown are just as talented as the safeties. Both have solid coverage skills, elite speed and a willingness to make the open field tackle. Both however lack height and this can be an issue when covering the larger receivers. They negate the height issues with good technique and a knack for jamming the receivers close to the line.

Browns Offense

The Browns have weapons everywhere you look on offense but unless this offensive line finds a way to open up running lanes and also protect quarterback Charlie Frye, these weapons may not materialize. Losing LeCharles Bentley, the best center in football is bad enough but when backup center, Bob Hallen, complains of back problems and leaves the team, you truly have issues. This is magnified with veteran right tackle Ryan Tucker's absence while he recovers from knee surgery. The Browns will certainly find out how good this line really is as they face one of the best defensive lines in football.

With the losses of Bentley and Hallen, the Browns will turn to former Eagle, Alonzo Ephraim to anchor the middle. Alonzo is new to the team and no one is certain in just how well he will perform or whether he has even mastered the playbook enough to make the line calls. If he struggles, it will be a long night and possibly a long season for the Browns offense.

Veteran guards Joe Andruzzi and Cosey Coleman are healthy and looking to improve upon last year's performance. The pair of veterans got off to a great start last year but hampered with injuries down the stretch, neither finished out the season with strong performances. Backup guard Atlas Herrion had a great year in NFLE and has looked very good in camp this year. Keep a close eye on this virtual unknown when the backups enter the game. Atlas may be the dark horse surprise of this year's camp.

Left tackle, Kevin Shaffer has not shown any glaring weakness in pass protection. He has adequate footwork but his hand usage is outstanding. Kevin is a beast of a run blocker that improves as the game wears on. Look for the Browns running backs to run a great deal behind Kevin Shaffer, especially when Jerome Harrison is in the game.

The right tackle position is still up for grabs but Nat Dorsey appears to have the lead. Dorsey must have a great showing. Ryan Tucker will likely be back by the start of the season but his long term future is in doubt. This is a great opportunity for Nat to not only showcase his talent but also to lock down a long term contract as the starting right tackle for the Browns. Jon Dunn will be the number two behind Dorsey and although Dunn may not be as good of a pass blocker, he could very well be the best run blocker on this team.

Quarterback Charlie Frye will likely play the first quarter depending upon the performance of his offensive line. There isn't a great deal of talent behind Charlie, so keeping him healthy is the most important thing. Charlie has put together a solid camp and shown better mechanics than in the past but he needs to show that he can be the quarterback of the Browns. It will be interesting to see how he handles the blitzes that Jim Johnson will send at the second year quarterback.

The battle for the number two quarterback thus far is between Ken Dorsey and Derek Anderson but depending on this performance, the Browns could look to bring in a vet to compete. To be honest, Ken would be last on the depth chart behind Darryl Hackney and Lang Campbell.

Kellen Winslow Jr. will be suiting up Thursday night. Kellen has done a great deal of talking and it is now time for him to show the world that he can back up his comments. Kellen is a tremendous mismatch against the Eagles linebackers and could have a great deal of success especially with yards after catch. If Kellen is drawing safety help, look for Travis Wilson and Joe Jurevicius to have a great game against the small Eagle corners.

Braylon Edwards is not expected to play. This will give the backups a chance to not only show their talent but to earn that all important roster spot.

One of the more intriguing Browns positions is the running back. It is uncertain if the Browns will look to get starting back Reuben Droughns back into the flow of carrying the rock or will they look to see what rookie Jerome Harrison can do against NFL competition. The likely answer is neither. Look for the Browns to showcase William Green and Lee Suggs as one if not both may become trade bait as teams like the Eagles are hit with a rash of injuries at the running back position. The Eagles are thin at running back and the best way to sell a running back to a team, is to have the trade bait back shred the defense.

Browns Defense

The battle upfront with will go a long way in seeing how far this front seven of the Browns have come. The Eagles line is big, physical and most of all talented. It will be great to see what kind of difference Ted Washington has made in the middle and how his demand of the double team affects the play of Alvin McKinley and Orpheus Roye. The third down line will be the most intriguing as this will decide the backup spots.

The Browns linebacker corps has endured a tremendous overhaul. This is a great opportunity for the Browns rookie linebackers to make a statement. With Chaun Thompson recovering from a leg injury, D'Qwell Jackson will get the start. D'Qwell has been impressive in camp with thunderous hits but his most impressive aspect is his ability to play through traffic while finding the football. D'Qwell can go a long way in locking down his starting role with a good performance. Also Andra Davis is feeling the heat from rookie Leon Williams. Andra will either step it up especially in making plays at the line of scrimmage or he may find himself stepping out of the way for the freakish athletic rookie.

The outside linebackers are Matt Stewart and Willie McGinnest. Willie hasn't shown any signs of age and appears ready to put together another pro bowl caliber year. Matt Stewart may not be able to hold down his starting role for any amount of time with first round draft pick, Kamerion Wimbley showing improved coverage skills and an unrelenting pass rush attack. The key for Kamerion is his ability or the lack of ability to stop the run.

The Browns secondary is poised to have a break out year. Leigh Bodden and Gary Baxter are two of the best open field tacklers at their position. Both are solid in coverage with the ability to make plays on the ball. The depth behind the two starters is thin with injuries to Daylon McCutheon and DeMario Minter. The backups should get a great deal of playing time and their football careers may very well depend on this opportunity.

The safety position is hosting one of the most highly contested battles between Sean Jones and Brodney Pool. It appears as if Sean has a leg up but Brodney is progressing well and will receive a great deal of playing time. Keep your eye on backup free safety Justin Hamilton. This kid loves the big hit and has a knack for reading the eyes of the quarterback. That can be a very dangerous combination for opposing receivers. Bryan Russell is the incumbent free safety and it will take a solid showing for anyone to unseat him at the moment but don't be surprised if Brodney Pool and Justin Hamilton make a hard push for playing time as well as a starting role.

Special Teams

The best battle in this game is certain to be between two excellent special teams units. The Eagles have a great long snapper in 12 year veteran Mike Bartrum while the Browns have one of the best young long snappers in Ryan Pontbriand.

Dennis Northcutt can take it the distance at any time returning punts but the Eagles have Reno Mahe. Mahe lead the league last year averaging almost 13 yards per return. He will also likely be returning kickoffs with injuries to both Westbrook and Perry. Josh Cribbs is becoming a tremendous threat returning kickoffs with a fearless approach to his return duties.

Phil Dawson and David Akers are two of the best and most consistent kickers in the game. David has the stronger leg while Phil is Mr. Consistency.

Eagles' punter Dirk Johnson is healthy and seems to have a stronger leg than before. He has a knack for pinning the ball inside the 20. Browns punter Dave Zastudil may be the best punter in the game today.

Bottom Line

It is only preseason and the one thing all fans should hope for is no injuries. This is a good test for both teams' starting units. The fun of preseason is the second and third string players that are giving it everything they have to make the team. Defenses will likely dominate this game and as a result it will become a game of field position and special teams play.

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