Week 1 Pre-Game: at Houston

The Eagles open up with a road game in Houston against the Texans. There are some question marks for the Eagles, but most of them appear to have positive answers; at least at this point.

Philadelphia Eagles (0-0) at Houston Texans (0-0)

WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN?

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Brian Baldinger
SERIES: This will be only the second meeting between the two teams. The first one was played in Philadelphia in September of '02, the Texans' inaugural season. The Eagles won, 35-17.
2005 RANKINGS: Eagles: offense 19th (28th rush, 8th pass); defense 23rd (21st rush, 21st pass). Texans: offense 30th (15th rush, 30th pass); defense 31st (32nd rush, 24th pass)

PREDICTION: Eagles 23-13

KEYS TO THE GAME:

The Texans allowed an NFL-low four sacks during the preseason. If they can replicate that success during the regular season, new coach Gary Kubiak will be hailed a genius after the pounding QB David Carr has taken for three years. Kubiak brings the zone-blocking scheme over from Denver, but the Texans also have inexperienced running backs in Wali Lundy and Vernand Morency.

For Houston to have success against what should be an improved Philadelphia defense, Carr must take a major step forward now that he has WR Eric Moulds to complement Andre Johnson.

Eagles RB Brian Westbrook is over his foot injury and Philadelphia will try to use his versatility to loosen up the Houston defense and take shots against its injury-depleted secondary.

However, the Texans' strength is their defensive front, which will need to put consistent pressure on QB Donovan McNabb.

FAST FACTS:
Eagles: McNabb's 60-28 (.682) career record is best among active quarterbacks... Have lost four of their past five season openers... Are 15-9 (.625) against the AFC since 2000.

Texans: Gary Kubiak will make his head coaching debut... LB Shantee Orr has 6.0 sacks in his past six regular-season games... Allowed just three first-quarter points in four preseason games.

PLAYER UPDATES

Eagles:

  • RB/PR Reno Mahe continues to be listed as doubtful for Sunday's game against Houston and isn't expected to play. He's got a high ankle sprain.
  • CB Lito Sheppard is expected to replace injured Reno Mahe as the punt returner Sunday against Houston. Sheppard returned two punts last season.
  • DT Darwin Walker, who missed the final four preseason games with a broken rib, will start at right tackle Sunday, though he'll be part of a four-man rotation.
  • RB Brian Westbrook probably won't return punts Sunday if Reno Mahe can't play. It appears that Lito Sheppard will handle the job instead.
  • WR Donte' Stallworth will be one of the team's starting wideouts Sunday even though he's only been on the team less than two weeks. The coaching staff is comfortable with his grasp of the offense to this point.
  • Texans:

  • RB Ron Dayne remains probable for Sunday's game because of a foot injury that has limited him in practice this week. Dayne is the Texans' third-string running back.
  • FB Jameel Cook will start in the backfield for the Texans against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
  • DT Alfred Malone will see significant playing time against the Eagles. He moved up on the depth chart when the team decided to release Robaire Smith. Malone will be the top backup to Seth Payne and Travis Johnson.
  • WR Derrick Lewis didn't make an NFL roster last season, but has earned himself the number four receiver position with the Texans this season.
  • DT Thomas Johnson, who played in two games for the Dallas Cowboys in 2005 making three tackles, was signed.
  • News from the Eagles' nest...

    Running back and punt returner Reno Mahe continued to be sidelined Thursday with a high ankle sprain. And while special teams coordinator John Harbaugh wasn't ready to say he won't play Sunday against Houston, it appears cornerback Lito Sheppard will return punts.

    Sheppard and running back Brian Westbrook took punt return reps in practice again Thursday, but Sheppard will get the nod.

    "Brian is still in the mix," Harbaugh said. "Lito has taken the reps. Brian has taken the reps. We're comfortable with either one."

    Sheppard is coming off off-season ankle surgery and has said that he's still not 100 percent. Westbrook stretched ligaments in his foot in the first preseason game and didn't play another preseason snap. But he appears to be completely recovered.

    Mahe, who led the NFL in punt return average last season with a 12.8-yard average, is listed as doubtful, which means there's almost no chance he'll be able to play against the Texans.

    "Right now, we're planning on him not playing," Harbaugh said.

    Harbaugh also confirmed that running back Bruce Perry will be the team's main kickoff return man. Perry averaged 27.3 yards on 10 returns last year after being signed off the practice squad late in the season.


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