By Justin Adkins:
The Eagles head into this week’s game at Tennessee riding the high of an impressive win over a quality Falcons team and looking to continue their current two game winning streak. Most so-called experts had the Falcons pegged as the cream of the NFC crop, with the Eagles more of a sideshow than a contender.
Defeating a talented Titans squad would put the Eagles at 5-2, not only proving that the Falcons game wasn’t an aberration, but serving notice to the league that the Eagles are squarely on the map in the jumbled conference race.
With that said, let’s take a look at some of the more intriguing story-lines to watch for come 1:00 pm Sunday:
– How well will starting quarterback du jour Kevin Kolb perform coming off his NFC Offensive Player of the Week award-winning showing last week?
Regardless of how Kolb performs, this game will no doubt fuel the nonstop quarterback discussion right through the bye, which follows the game this week. To make sure he comes out on the positive side of the firestorm, Kolb needs to continue to dominate. Unfortunately, he’s going up against a Titans defense ranked second in the NFL that also leads the league in sacks, so it’s going to be an uphill battle.
In order to succeed, Kolb will need to continue to be decisive with the football, and the gameplan will need to allow him to push the ball downfield to keep the Tennessee secondary honest. Head coach Andy Reid will also need to keep running back LeSean McCoy involved by utilizing an effective ground game (likely wishful thinking), preventing the overachieving Titans defensive linemen – featuring Eagles castoff Jason Babin, currently ranked fourth in the NFL with 6 sacks – from pinning their ears back and disrupting an already fragile Eagles offensive line.
– With DeSean Jackson sidelined by a concussion, can Jeremy Maclin continue to step up, as he did last week?
The recent play of Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin shouldn’t be that big a surprise, considering he’s an incredible talent who deserved to go even higher than where the Eagles took him in the first round of the draft. However, paired opposite the dynamically explosive DeSean Jackson, Maclin plays second fiddle. But cut to the devastating illegal hit DeSean Jackson took from Falcons’ cornerback Dunta Robinson, and all of a sudden Maclin became target numero uno.
And he didn’t disappoint.
Maclin torched the Falcons with 7 catches for 159 yards and 2 touchdowns, including an incredible 83 yard catch and run on an expertly thrown bomb from quarterback Kevin Kolb. If Maclin can duplicate that performance, it’s likely the Eagles can emerge with a victory.
This week however, the Titans will prepare for Maclin as the primary target, and with rookie Riley Cooper likely starting in place of DeSean Jackson, Maclin will be pressed to carry the team’s passing attack despite likely double teams throughout the game. Not an easy task against a defense like Tennessee’s. Hopefully Maclin is up to it and can play deja vu with his stat line.
Will King Dunlap have two good games in a row?
Eagles left tackle King Dunlap has a couple good reasons to play well Sunday in Tennessee. First and foremost will be establishing that he can play consistently at a high level. An intriguing late round project, Dunlap had previously looked overmatched, most recently when called in to finish for an injured Jason Peters during the Eagles victory over the 49ers two weeks ago.
Dunlap, a massive 6’9″, 330 pounds, was then inserted into the starting lineup against the Falcons. He rebounded well and played effectively this past week, especially considering he was matched up against a veteran pass rush specialist in John Abraham.
Said Dunlap of being a starter, “I’m not trying to get caught up in all that. It’s nice to be recognized, but my mentality is I’m going to go out every week and at least get better at something and not make the same mistakes.”
This week, he will go up against the surprising Dave Ball, who has five of Tennessee’s NFL-leading 24 sacks. Said Dunlap of Ball, “he’s not the athlete that Abraham is, but he’s real good with his hands.”
So the third year tackle will again be challenged to step up, but this time however, it’s personal. Dunlap is a Nashville native, and he’ll be returning home t0 play in front of numerous family and friends. Even with the added pressure, he’s trying to keep everything in perspective.
“I’ve got to not get all hyped up,” Dunlap said regarding playing in his hometown in front of his family. “I didn’t think I would be starting. Neither did they.”
The Eagles hope that he impresses fans and family alike.
–Can the Eagles defense continue to perform effectively against the run?
The Eagles defense has done an impressive job stopping the run so far this season, some would say surprisingly so. Most recently, they held high profile running backs Frank Gore and Michael Turner to pedestrian numbers in consecutive weeks.
The problem is, Tennessee’s Chris Johnson is on another level from any back the Eagles have played.
Said Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott of Johnson, “He’s unlike any back I’ve seen. He’s explosive. He’s quick . . . If he’s not the best, he’s close to the top in the league.”
While his production is down for his standards, and his prediction of a 2,500 yard season is not going to happen, Johnson is a Ruthian level home run threat on every play. His quickness, vision, and blistering speed set him apart from pretty much any runner the NFL puts out there every Sunday.
With a defense playing without starting defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, a key cog in the run stopping phase of the game plan, and a carousel at strongside linebacker imitating the Eagles quarterback situation – just without the high performance – the idea of facing Chris Johnson should have both the players and fans sleeping a bit uneasy Saturday night. Hopefully the Phillies provide a positive distraction to what will likely be the toughest test the Birds’ defense will face this year.
* thanks to PSC message board poster MTCal for the question suggestions…
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