Like a classic tag team wrestling match, this week's Matchup to Watch features two of the Eagles' most game-changing defenders against the offensive tackles of the Vikings, whose job it will be to keep the pass rushers off of Kelly Holcomb, as the pairing of Trent Cole and Bryant McKinnie and Jevon Kearse and Ryan Cook hook up Sunday afternoon for an old-school smackdown.
The Eagles have always had strong defensive ends and, in the Jim Johnson defense, they are given a lot of freedom to explode off the snap and try to meet at the quarterback. Kearse, whom the Vikings tried very hard to land in the 2000 draft even after drafting Daunte Culpepper, came to be known simply as The Freak for his amazing pass-rush moves and ability to make offensive tackles look sick. For years, he made the Tennessee defense one of the most feared in the league. But due to injuries and the Titans' unwillingness to spend huge free-agent money on a long-term contract, he was allowed to leave and join the Eagles. While his production has slipped and he played in just two games last year, he is still one of the most explosive defensive ends off the snap in the NFL.
Cole is a different story. A fifth-round draft pick in 2005, he came into the league with almost no fanfare and not nearly the money the Eagles had to shell out for Kearse. Finally given a chance to be a full-time starter, he has responded with a huge early part of the season – registering seven sacks in the Eagles first six games and putting himself on the NFL map as a player who can be a huge difference maker.
Both Eagles ends are no strangers to getting to the quarterback and both know that, if they get Holcomb in their sights, he likely isn't going to be able to get away from their pass rush. The job of keeping them off Holcomb is going to fall to Bryant McKinnie and Ryan Cook. McKinnie has become a mainstay at left offensive tackle and his ability to neutralize some of the game's top pass rushers has earned him the respect of his peers. Cook, on the other hand, is still learning the right tackle position and needs to be wary of a skilled veteran like Kearse, who has multiple pass-rush moves that can confuse even the most veteran of O-tackles, much less a player who is still relatively wet behind the ears at the position.
The Eagles have made a living off big plays from their defensive linemen – the kind of game-changing plays that kill drives and cause turnovers. If they are on their game, Holcomb will get hit often and get hit hard. It will be up to McKinnie and Cook to keep them off the veteran QB. Many teams have one pass rusher that can do damage and they design defensive schemes to get that player singled up on a tackle. The Eagles have two such players whose only goal is to meet in the backfield at the quarterback. If McKinnie and Cook fail to keep them off of Holcomb, the Vikings offense will continue to struggle. If they can buy Holcomb the time he needs to make completions down the field, the Vikings can exploit a banged up and thin secondary of Philadelphia. One of these tag teams will finish the game with the victory – most likely the same team that comes away with a "W" – making this the Matchup to Watch this week.