September 24, 2008

The Eagles Challenge Brian Urlacher to an Honor Du-el

Enjoy before reading.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, enough cannot be said about the Eagles' defensive performance last Sunday. Anyone who has followed Brian Dawkins throughout his career should have seen an angry, dominating performance on the horizon after the shellacking he took in the media last week, but somehow, we all ended up surprised. Pleasantly surprised, of course, as Dawkins showed both fans and press that he's still got much more in the tank.

But really, I can't specifically remember a pass rush being that effective. Not only that, but Broderick Bunkley, Mike Patterson and company continued their quest to be recognized as the best run defense in the NFL, and right now, there's no competition. Statistically, they're the best in the whole league at 45.7 yards allowed per game, and that's after facing Steven Jackson, Marion Barber and Willie Parker. Few would argue that they're all among the top ten backs in football, and only Barber had anything close to a decent game. Jim Johnson has always been primarily known as a blitzing, pass-rushing defensive coordinator, but it looks like (whether he likes it or not) he's assembled the most stout rushing defense in recent Eagles history.

Which should prove handy this weekend against the Chicago Bears. Kyle Orton may have once had a terrific beard, but he's now just a subpar quarterback. If Big Ben could not handle the Eagles' pressure, who knows what will happen to Orton if the Birds send six or seven guys consistently? Orton's biggest "threats" at wideout are retread Marty Booker and out-of-place kick returner Devin Hester, who may not even play on Sunday. The only player I'd be nervous about is tight end Greg Olsen, as TEs have been the Eagles' Achilles heel thus far. Even Steelers TE Heath Miller had 4 catches for 63 yards, by far the most impressive offensive output produced by Pittsburgh. If coach Lovie Smith sticks to a gameplan centered around Olsen and other short pass plays, they may keep Orton upright long enough to put some points on the board.

But, if they decide to try and dominate the ground game with rookie sensation Matt Forte, well, we've seen how that works out for opposing teams. Right now, the down tackles look big, the ends look athletic, and the linebackers look like the perfect combination of both. That's a dangerous situation to go to war against, and I'm sure Jim Johnson would love to stuff Forte early, allow the offense to build an early lead and force Orton to put the ball in the air. Orton makes mistakes, and unlike last year's team, this Eagles defense has shown a nose for the ball in the first few weeks.

And then there's the vaunted Bears defense. Despite a lot of hype (and the genuinely scary Brian Urlacher of the previously mentioned commercial), the Bears recorded zero sacks on 67 Tampa Bay pass attempts last week. 67! Now, my knowledge of the Tampa offensive line is subpar at best, but if you can't get to the quarterback once in that many tries, it speaks as much about your pass rush as anything else. So far, the Bears are allowing 321 yards per game, good for only 18th in the NFL, and they've recorded just five sacks. For an Eagles team who would like to keep Donovan McNabb as healthy and untouched as possible, that is a good sign.

The real question this week is: Play Brian Westbrook? Despite how anemic the offense looked without him, I think if a weekend off is medically confirmed to do him some good, there is no reason to play him. The Bears will not be a pushover, but the Eagles look like a genuine playoff team, and with a healthy Westbrook (and everyone else, of course), there's no reason they can't compete for a Super Bowl berth. It is a little early to be looking that far ahead, but when you're talking about arguably the most talented player in the whole National Football League, his continued health is the number one priority. As exciting as last week was, seeing both McNabb and Westbrook injured as enough to ruin even the most satisfying defensive trouncing.

The Bears are a decent team, but they are beatable in almost any circumstance. In the past, the Eagles have won, despite frequent McNabb injuries, with a combination of Westbrook and defense. This year, they could be lucky enough to keep the old no. 5 around and have a trifecta of overwhelming positives, but the key element in this whole brew is no. 36. The honorable thing to do in this week's du-el is give Brian a week to rest his weary bones and pound Kyle Orton and Matt Forte like their names are Roethlisberger and Parker. Urlacher might be on the opposing sideline, but I think he'd still understand.

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