Question 1. When talking about the Eagles you have to start with QB Donovan McNabb. Is McNabb still in his prime and does he still have the full confidence of his team and fan base? How should the Panthers keep McNabb from having a good game?
JasonB: Yeah, in fact I'd say this is the most drama free offseason as far as McNabb is concerned that we've had in years. He's coming off two straight healthy seasons, he finished last season well, signed a new contract in the offseason, and seems poised to have a good year.
As far as how to stop him, I'd say you do what you'd do to stop any QB. Bring pressure and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. McNabb has never been one to throw many picks, but he will hold onto the ball too long on occasion. I would also to be efficient with your blitzes. McNabb isn't the same kind of threat to take off an run like he was early in his career, but he's still very elusive in the pocket and very good buying himself a few extra seconds to make a play.
The Panthers beat the Eagles in 2003 on their way to the Super Bowl. Maybe another victory of the Eagles will be the start of another such journey!
Question 2. Ever since the departure of Terrell Owens the Eagles receiving core has had been singled out as the Achilles heel of the offense. How do you think the current receiving unit rates with the additions of DeSean Jackson last season and Jeremy Maclin this year? Will the WR's deliver this season and be a strength on offense?
JasonB: I think it's the best WR corps the Eagles have ever had under McNabb and that includes the year TO was here. Certainly TO is better than any one guy in this group, but from top to bottom I think this year's group is much better. DeSean Jackson set pretty much every Eagles rookie WR record last year, Kevin Curtis had 1,000 yards in this offense just two years ago, Jason Avant has developed into a fantastic 3rd down WR, and now we've added Jeremy Maclin. Maclin certainly still has some learning to do after coming into camp late and playing in a spread offense in college, but there's obviously tons of raw talent there. Add in the fact that the depth of the group includes some decent players like Reggie Brown & Hank Baskett plus a surprise rookie in Brandon Gibson and I think it's a really good group.
McNabb and the passing game will be an early test for the Panther secondary. I've seen McNabb when he is ‘on' and it won't be pretty if the Panthers continue with soft zones and give him time to throw.
Question 3. Stopping RB Brian Westbrook is always a focus of the opposing defense. Is Westbrook healthy and can we expect a full workload from Westbrook? How much will we see of rookie RB LeSean McCoy?
JasonB: Well, they say he's healthy. He says he's healthy. He hasn't played at all in the preseason, but he has been practicing and working out for a couple months. Basically all indications are that he's ready to go and will be given a full load, but until we actually see him take the field finally it's really hard to predict what he'll do.
I think LeSean McCoy will get his touches, maybe 7-10?
Sounds like the path Jonathan Stewart took this preseason. We can only wait to see how both players respond.Fortunately for us Stewart is the back-up versus the starter.
Question 4. Moving to defense the departure of S Brian Dawkins has received a lot of scrutiny. Has he been adequately replaced or so you think the secondary will struggle without him? Who is the leader of the defense now?
JasonB: The Eagles secondary is still pretty talented. They've got really good corners in Samuel. Brown, & Hobbs and they've got a really good strong safety in Quintin Mikell who was a pro bowl alternate & last year. It was announced this week that rookie Macho Harris will start at FS, so that's obviously going to be a question mark. He did play well in preseason, but you never know with a rookie. The interesting thing is that Dawkins spent most of the second half of last year playing 3 safety sets where he would no longer play the centerfield type FS position he always has. He just didn't have the speed for it anymore. So while Macho Harris will play FS, he's not exactly going to play the same role as Dawkins did(and was very effective at) last year. We're not sure if that role will even exist.
The leaders of the defense are the same they were last year. Asante Samuel is a major vocal guy, Sheldon Brown is the elder statesmen, Quintin Mikell handles the press conferences. There's a lot of veterans on that unit and there was never one guy who was the only designated leader. Dawkins was certainly among the leaders.
The Panthers should be targeting the rookie FS Harris with 3 WR sets that split the zones. Let's see if the Panthers can take advantage.
Question 5. Give us a game plan for the Panther offense. How should they attack the Eagles defense to win this game?
JasonB: If I had to pick two things that the Eagles' defense has struggled with at times, its screen passes and throws to the TE. They come hard on the blitz and can be susceptible to those quick slip screens to the backs... and the Eagles' linebackers have struggled to cover TEs for years.
The Panthers have focused on getting the TE down the field and certainly have the RB's to run screens all day long. Sounds like a winning formula to me.