This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns will square off against the Philadelphia Eagles. In our weekly scouting report this season, which will be posted Thursday nights, we will take a look at a five key points about our upcoming opponent. Typically, the points will try to focus more specifically on our opponent rather than the Browns.
#1 - Lack of Confidence in QB Michael Vick: The Eagles' starting quarterback only played 12 snaps the entire preseason due to injuries. In the first preseason game, he suffered a bruised thumb on his throwing hand. In the second preseason game, he bruised his ribs early on and did not return. He did not play against the Browns the following week, and the big concern with Vick is that he is injury-prone. He often has no regard for his body when he takes off and runs, not realizing that he needs to protect himself sometimes by sliding to avoid the big hit. It's how quarterbacks survive in this league.
Vick says he is 100 percent, and while that may be true, it is only a matter of time before something else comes up. In terms of performance, Vick lacks accuracy and will probably be just as prone to turning the ball over as Brandon Weeden will be. Vick is still a weapon when his abilities are harnessed in the right ways, but he was part of the reason the Eagles did not live up to their "dream team" expectations in 2011.
#2 - Trouble on the Offensive Line: For as much credit as Browns fans give to left tackle Joe Thomas, Eagles fans feel the same way about left tackle Jason Peters. Peters suffered an Achilles' injury back in March and will miss most, if not all, of the season. Even though things go a bit backwards in responsibility with Vick being a left-handed quarterback, not having Peters can't help his cause.
Peters' replacement is King Dunlap, a seventh-round pick from 2008 who has started seven games in three years. He was named the starting left tackle for Week 1. It isn't like he is going up against an elite lineman, but this will be a nice early chance for the Browns' big free agent acquisition, defensive end Frostee Rucker, to prove his worth. Without Peters, you can picture a trickle down effect on the offensive line, especially with left guard Evan Mathis. Just imagine how things would look for the Browns on the left side if Thomas went down; I think Jason Pinkston would be in line to struggle, at least for a few weeks.
#3 - The LeSean McCoy Show: Circle this guy's name, because McCoy is the player the Browns' defense will have to worry about on gameday. The absence of Peters will also have a negative effect on McCoy. For as good of a pass blocker as Peters is, he was even better in run blocking, especially near the goal line. Unlike other backs in the league, McCoy has the speed and versatility to overcome his absence and still put on a show.
You can no doubt imagine that the Eagles will try to exploit the Browns' inexperienced outside linebackers, Kaluka Maiava and L.J. Fort, after seeing how the defense has had some issues defending cutback runs. There is no telling if Cleveland's defense will be able to cover McCoy properly out of the backfield either. McCoy has never faced the Browns in the regular season. Cleveland will have to hope the return of safety T.J. Ward and the addition of Rucker on the defensive line help stabilize the team's run defense in 2012.
#4 - Speed, Speed, and More Speed Up Front: Everywhere you look on the Eagles' defensive line, there is a dangerous pass rush. DE Jason Babin had 18 sacks a year ago and is scheduled to go up against Browns rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. DE Trent Cole finished next with 11 sacks and will go up against Thomas. Say what you will about Thomas, but even he succumbed to the Eagles' pass rush during the third preseason game, giving up a sack to backup DE Daryl Tapp.
On the inside, defensive tackles Cullen Jenkins and Derek Landri are tough to deal with too. That doesn't even touch the surface of Philadelphia's backup defensive linemen. People in Cleveland were even lamenting about not retaining DE Phillip Hunt a few years ago, a guy who now looks like a promising pass rusher for the Eagles. Cleveland's gameplan has to be ready for the pressure Philadelphia will bring. They weren't ready the first time around.
#5 - Taking Advantage of the Linebackers: The Eagles have a fair bit of talent at the cornerback position, even though the trio they had a year ago tanked. For all the strengths they have on the defensive line, though, they are not in very good shape at linebacker. In fact, when you stack Cleveland's injury-depleted group of linebackers up against the Eagles' starting unit, I think I'd still take Cleveland's unit. I wish the best for middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans in his comeback attempt, but he has not stood out since joining the Eagles and I don't think he is going to return to his Pro Bowl form.
At right outside linebacker, Akeem Jordan has been a part of the Eagles' defense for a few years now, but I would define him as the epitome of average, otherwise known as "Chris Gocong prior to last season." Here is a post from our Eagles' affiliate with screencaps talking about the team's situation at outside linebacker. At left outside linebacker, rookie second-round pick Mychal Kendricks looks pretty promising and will be an intriguing player to watch on gameday.