Starting the season 0 – 2 is something no one thought would be possible for the Eagles, and with their backs to the wall, something’s got to give. This Sunday’s game against the surprising 2 – 0 Detroit Lions is a huge test for a banged up Eagles team. With some key players out for Philadelphia (L.J. Smith and Lito Sheppard) and others questionable for this game (Brian Dawkins and Brian Westbrook), obtaining their first win won’t come easy.
In my latest “Eagle Eye Five”, some of the following players have to step up, and others who’ve been playing well have to play even better against the Lions to have a chance at their first win.
With that said, here are the five Eagles I’ll be watching this weekend:
1. Donovan McNabb: This is a huge game for McNabb. He has to show the ability to run the offense the way it’s supposed to be run. I understand that he’s still hurting and that he’s not fully recovered from his ACL injury, but if he’s behind center for the Eagles – he has to produce. In the Eagles’ two losses against Green Bay and Washington, McNabb has been erratic and appears to be lacking confidence. The biggest obstacle at this point for McNabb may be to get the team back on his side. The offense’s inability to produce the points it’s capable of has really hindered the team to achieve what they expected when they broke camp at Lehigh. If the Eagles are going to get back on track and turn things around this year, it all falls on McNabb.
2. Sheldon Brown: Brown has played well the last couple of weeks, but he has to step up his play this week as he matches up with Lions Pro Bowl receiver Roy Williams. Williams is a big target and has a distinct advantage over Brown. Lions quarterback Jon Kitna relies on Williams to break free and get vertical downfield for big gains. It’ll be Brown’s job to limit Williams in this game and to keep him in check and not allow too many big plays. With Lito Sheppard out of the lineup for Sunday’s game, Brown has to take this opportunity to prove that he’s able to contend with the top receivers in the game. Rookie sensation Calvin Johnson is also a threat, and at times Brown may be asked to cover Johnson. But William James, usually the Eagles nickel corner, will draw Johnson the majority of the time.
3. Reggie Brown: I think Brown is getting a bad rap thus far. I don’t think he’s playing as bad as his numbers indicate. Granted, in the game against the Packers, he was shutdown by the combination of Al Harris and Charles Woodson. He only managed one reception against Green Bay, but if you watched the game against the Redskins, Brown ran good routes and was open. The problem with Brown stems from the inaccuracy McNabb has shown so far. Just like any receiver in the National Football League, they need the quarterback to deliver the ball in a timely manner so they can make a play. Football is the ultimate game of inches, and at this point, McNabb isn’t giving Brown the opportunities to make plays. If Brown continues to play the way he played against Washington and McNabb’s accuracy improves, there will be no more talk about Brown’s development.
4. Jevon Kearse: If anyone needs to step up on Sunday it’s Kearse. For the Eagles to have success against the Lions they have to pressure Jon Kitna and let him know from the beginning that he has to watch his back. Kearse, when he’s healthy, is a game changer. He has the ability to take over a game on defense. This is something Eagles fans have seen flashes of, but haven’t seen it on a consistent basis since his arrival in 2004. Through the first two games, Kearse has been invisible. He’s only recorded a tackle and half of a sack. For a player being paid as one of the top defensive ends in the league to only produce those kinds of numbers is disappointing. Kearse has a tough matchup on Sunday as he will have to battle with Lions mainstay Jeff Backus. Backus is one of the better tackles in the league, and Kearse will have to bring his “A” game to contend with Kitna’s blind-side protection.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber is the Editor in Chief of WarNest.com and an NFL Analyst for Scout.com. Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. If you have any questions for Chris, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.