It's Week Three in the 2009 schedule that represents a key moment for both teams involved in the Chiefs and Eagles match-up. For the Eagles, the following week brings an early bye in the season and, afterwards, begins the much harder part of the schedule. The first three games against the Panthers, Saints and Chiefs are all winnable games and going 3-0 makes it much easier to withstand the rest of the season. For the Chiefs, the upcoming stretch is brutal, to say the least. At Philly. NY Giants and Dallas at home. At San Diego. To be optimistic is to say the Chiefs can go 2-2 in that stretch and to be realistic bumps it back a bit to a probable 1-3.
So what sort of a chance will the Chiefs have of winning this game? Some of the factors in play were above my pay grade, so we went to the uber-helpful JasonB, who runs the fine operation over at Bleeding Green Nation. He answered some key questions for us concerning the Chiefs-Eagles match-up:
What is Andy Reid's tendency with younger skill position players to get them up and going? It seems DeSean Jackson had a nice year, so how much should we expect Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy to be a part of things?
This is a question that I'd be far more prepared to answer after the preseason. A big reason DeSean Jackson played so much last year is that he had such a great preseason. As far as tendencies Reid has shown, basically he'll play guys that earn the time. So if Maclin and McCoy impress in preseason, I suspect you should see plenty of them (esp. Maclin). It's hard to say now.
How is the team feeling about Brian Westbrook's status?
Going by what they say, they feel good about it. They expect him to be 100% by the start of the season. Personally, I'm a bit more skeptical. Any time a guy has surgery in the offseason that will keep him out of a lot of the offseason program, that's a cause for concern. That said, I am happy that Westbrook did have the surgery this offseason. Knee and ankle injuries nagged at him all last year and really limited his effectiveness, so I'm glad that he finally got things cleaned out and fixed. I am optimistic about him being 100% this year, I just think it might take a couple weeks.
What about the health of Jim Johnson? Everything I'm reading uses the word "indefinite," so I'm wondering between Johnson being out and Dawkins' departure if the defense will be ready to go?
There's not many reports about just how Jim Johnson is doing, but it certainly doesn't sound good. I'll refer you to an article I wrote a few weeks ago about the subject.
If Jim didn't return that would be a big loss but I have a lot of confidence in his understudy, Sean McDermott. He was widely rumored to be a candidate for a number of HC & DC jobs around the league this offseason and the Eagles denied other teams' permission to speak with him. He's a younger guy that's worked under Jim Johnson for the past decade and has coached virtually every position on the defense. Plus, if you look at the success of former Jim Johnson proteges there's good reason to believe McDermott can fill his mentor's shoes. Steve Spagnuolo, Ron Rivera, Leslie Frazer, and Jim Harbaugh have all gone on to head coaching jobs, Super Bowls, top defenses, and have all had a lot of success after leaving the Eagles defensive system.
Thanks to JasonB for taking the time to answer our questions. With that said, it seems this how we can expect things to play out:How The Eagles Can Win
It's simple. Play up to their talent level. On paper, the Eagles are perhaps the best team in the NFL. With an already solid core in place, the Eagles added fantastic rookies like Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy and Courtney Ingram to go alongside major veteran additions like Jason Peters, Ellis Hobbs, Sean Jones, and Stacy Andrews. Again this is on paper, but it seems, at least, that the Eagles shored up any major shortcomings they have with a fine, fine off-season.
Last year, the Eagles ranked 6th in Points Scored in the NFL and 4th in Points Allowed and that's without the newly bolstered offensive line, speedy additions at the major skill positions and the continued maturation of DeSean Jackson, who almost had 1,000 receiving yards in his first season. Donovan McNabb showed he was able to stay healthy for a full year and should be in full command once again at this point in the Eagles schedule.
Defensively, the Eagles are just as impressive. Mostly it's Jim Johnson's blitzing schemes that receive the credit, but there's plenty of talent here as well with Trent Cole and Darren Howard rushing the passer. And while Brian Dawkins will definitely be missed in the defensive backfield, he was 35 and allowed to walk for a reason. Asante Samuel and Quintin Mikell are still in place to lead there and the linebackers should be fine between such talented units.
The Eagles match up quite well against Kansas City's primary attack. Philly's strongest point is their defensive line with impressive depth and talent at each position. Broderick Bunkley, Mike Patterson, Cole and Juqua Thomas all know these schemes by heart and a deep rotation ensures that Philly will rarely lose the battle in the trenches. Larry Johnson will definitely have his work cut out for him, although Jamaal Charles might have some success if he can break through to the second level.
Without Tony Gonzalez to break things up in the middle, it seems Samuel should be just fine covering Dwayne Bowe on his own. In fact, it's in a game like this that the Chiefs will be missing the future Hall of Famer the most. Matt Cassel had a penchant for taking a sack too much last season and Philly's schemes and d-line will only make it that much harder. Without a competent TE to catch the quick pass, Cassel might have a rough day. Thus, it's vital for Charles to get some key touches in this contest.
How The Chiefs Can Win
Get lucky. That's the first and primary way. Some other things could also fall into place that we just can't know at this stage of the season.
For example, Brian Westbrook's health is the ultimate question facing the Eagles at this point on the offensive side of the ball. If he's unable to produce at a high level and provide the typical Westbrook threat, the Eagles have proven themselves vulnerable to a defense that can hold its own.
The Eagles have never been known for their outstanding receivers (sans T.O.'s time with the team), but the Eagles hope their new additions in skill players Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy both make up for the lack of a dynamite receiver and Westbrook's health. Then again, at only Week Three, can those players be up to speed enough to make a true impact? That's a variable we just can't know at this point.
On the defensive side, much was made about the exit of team leader and playmaker Brian Dawkins. Sean Jones has many feeling good about his on-field replacement, but ask any Eagles player and they will tell you that the locker room took a hit with Dawkins leaving. It's possible the Eagles will still be finding themselves defensively this early in the season. Also, another interesting note: Jim Johnson's, the Eagles defensive coordinator and blitzing wizard, is on an indefinite leave of absence for cancer treatment, leaving more room for possible disillusionment on that side of the ball.
Perhaps the best thing the Chiefs have going for them is found in their head coach, Todd Haley. After all, it was his offensive schemes (and the head coaching job of Ken Whisenhunt) that thwarted the Eagles attack plan in the NFC conference championship and put up 32 points to take the underdog Cardinals to the Super Bowl.
One look at the Chief's chances tell it all - since really this game should be more about the Eagles beating themselves should the Chiefs win. Still this game comes to down one issue: pure talent. The Eagles have been at or near the top in most seasons in Andy Reid's 10-year tenure with the team with a 97-62-1 career record. They've accomplished this largely with an impeccable draft record and solid coaching. One look at this year's draft haul produces names like Maclin and McCoy and you realize they can afford the best player available to them.
For the Chiefs, they're just beginning to turn this ship around. It's a great road ahead for them with the perfect people in place to steer things, but the work will be hard and talent simply takes time to acquire. Perhaps the Chiefs can catch lightning in a bottle and take one from Philly on the road. Anything's possible in the NFL. But in making predictions like this, the talent disparity between the teams is simply too much.
Eagles 24, Chiefs 10