Game time: Sunday, Sept. 9, 1p.m. ET, Cleveland Browns Stadium
Weather: Low 70s, mostly cloudy
Records: Eagles (0-0), Browns (0-0)
When the Eagles are on offense: This is Michael Vick's team. Which means for Philly to be successful he has to stay on the field. Vick will be wearing his invincibility vest (actually, it's a Kevlar flak jacket but to hear the manufacturer tell it, you'd think it was made from the same material as Superman's get-up) and hopefully that portends a long, healthy season. He'll be joined by some of the most dynamic playmakers in the league. LeSean McCoy could be even better in 2012, and fans are hoping that DeSean Jackson and his new contract will show up every week after he admitted to something less than that last year. Then there's tight end Brent Celek who, along with Jeremy Maclin, could be the beneficiary of Vick targets because defenses understandably focus on McCoy and Jackson.
The biggest issue could be a lack of cohesiveness due to Vick missing much of the preseason with injuries. But such things don't bother Eagles' offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinwheg.
“I have no concerns at all, because we have great confidence in each other," Mornhinwheg said. "Now, strange things tend to happen in openers, so you’re always a little concerned about that. So we do everything we can to avoid all these strange things that happen in opening games and we rely on our hard work and our preparation.”
As for the Browns' defense, it appears that cornerback Joe Haden will be in the lineup despite a looming suspension. He's not only one of Cleveland's best defenders but he's one of the NFL's best young cornerbacks.
“Joe Haden is I think one of the best, well I know, one of the very best corners in the league," Mornhinwheg said Thursday. "He’s an excellent cover man. He does an excellent job from bump-and-run, as well as off. He is physical. He’s got very good instincts. So, yeah, he’s a fine player.”
There's also second-year defensive end Jabaal Sheard, who had 8.5 sacks and five forced fumbles as a rookie. D'Qwell Jackson is solid at middle linebackers and former Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown returns to Cleveland's secondary for another season.
When the Eagles are on defense: It's year two for defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, which means the grace period ended, oh, 51 weeks ago. But after some early growing pains, Philly's D came together late in the season and with a full offseason under their collective belts, there's no reason to think that that success won't continue. It helps to be playing a punchless Browns offense that will feature rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Rookie running back Trent Richardson could also play, but he's coming off arthroscopic knee surgery which could limit his effectiveness. The Eagles' biggest weakness a year ago was stopping the run, but the plan will be to load up against the Browns' rushing attack, make them one-dimensional, and force Weeden to beat them. Castillo talked about Richardson Thursday.
“With the scheme that (Cleveland) runs it is basically the same scheme he ran at Alabama," he said. "So really what we try to do [and] what we’re working on is just taking care of our gaps and being gap sound. When he gets through that gap we have to make the tackles. We know what he looked like in college [and] we know he’s a great football player and they’re not really going to run different schemes than what we’ve seen which are the schemes that fit the type of runner that he is.”
X Factor: The Browns' most explosive player might be jack-of-all-trades Josh Cribbs, who's most dangerous as a return man. In fact, he might be Cleveland's best hope at putting points on the board. Special teams coach Bobby April is well aware of this.
“Boy, he’s a good player," April said earlier this week. "He hasn’t played much in the preseason, but over the last eight or nine years, he has to be in everyone’s top two or three as the best special teams player. He’s got to be. He’s a dynamic player. He can cover kicks. Boy, he’s strong. He’s tough and can return [kicks]. He can do a lot of stuff. We talked about him today, and we talked about him yesterday as well as far as coverage, wrapping up, finishing the play. He’s really good and he’s fun to watch. If you’re a football fan, he’s one of the guys that you have to love watching as tough as he is and as physical as he is. I look at him that even though is a big threat, he’s the guy to watch. I really like being in the game against him because you know you’re going against a guy who is really going to compete and put his heart and soul into it.”
The season's here. Finally.