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NFL Preview - Green Bay (0-0) at Philadelphia (0-0)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - If Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb needs any reassurance that replacing the face of an organization can go smoothly, he can look across the sidelines Sunday at Green Bay Packers Pro Bowl signal-caller Aaron Rodgers.
When the Eagles selected Kolb in the second round of the 2007 draft, many believed the end of the Donovan McNabb era was near. It took three years for that to come to fruition after Philadelphia traded McNabb, the No. 2 overall pick in 1999, to the NFC East-rival Washington Redskins on Easter Sunday.
The blockbuster deal proved that head coach Andy Reid has confidence in Kolb, who will begin a new era against Green Bay in the 2010 season lid-lifter between last year's NFC Wild Card teams at Lincoln Financial Field.
Kolb has tremendous shoes to fill in Reid's 12th season and first without McNabb, but polished his skills with a steady training camp and preseason. He built a strong rapport with receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, along with tight end Brent Celek.
"There's a lot of young guys who need to step up and become leaders on this team," Celek said after the McNabb deal. "I think they will and we're all excited for the opportunity."
Philadelphia's offense has all the tools to score points, but protecting Kolb could be an issue. Center Jamaal Jackson is coming off a knee injury but is still expected to start Sunday, while projected right guard Stacy Andrews was traded to Seattle, leaving the team with Nick Cole and Todd Herremans and tackles Jason Peters and Winston Justice in the starting lineup. Kolb has been sacked five times in his NFL career, but that number will surely grow in time.
The Eagles are coming off an 11-5 campaign and have reached the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. Reid is 3-1 in the last four season openers and hopes second-year defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will have even more success in 2010. Injuries and a lack of talent at various positions put the unit in tough situations last season, and perhaps a few additions and returning players can get the Eagles back to their intimidating ways.
Rodgers, meanwhile, has been at the controls of Green Bay's offense since taking over full-time for future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre in 2008. Much like Kolb, Rodgers went through the rigors of doubt and dismay before patiently becoming a star in this league. Keeping Rodgers on his feet, however, has been an issue after he was sacked 50 times in 2009.
What can you say about an offensive line that allowed that many sacks? Not much, but the Packers still feel confident with veteran tackles Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton in the fold. Tauscher bounced back slowly from knee surgery and Clifton's body isn't getting any younger, however, forcing the front office to choose tackle Bryan Bulaga out of Iowa in the first round. Bulaga is listed as a backup at both left tackle and left guard, behind Clifton and Daryn Colledge.
Green Bay also finished 11-5 last season and bowed out to Arizona in the first round of playoffs. It returns one of the top offenses in the league, with wide receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver returning as favorite targets for Rodgers. The Packers also have arguably one of best defenses in the NFC, as Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme took off in the Land of Cheese a year ago and is hungry for an encore performance.
The Packers, who are on the road for three of the first five weeks of this season, have won three straight season openers and know it's going to be a difficult task quieting the raucous Philly crowd. If Rodgers can do it with both the Green Bay and national media, the Eagles may not stand a chance on the day they'll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of their 1960 NFL Championship victory over the Packers.
Green Bay has a 23-13 advantage in its all-time regular season series with Philadelphia, including a 16-13 home victory when the teams last met, in the 2007 regular season opener. That result snapped a four-game winning streak for the Eagles, with Philly's most recent such win coming in 31-9 fashion at Lincoln Financial Field in 2006.
The Eagles hold a 2-0 advantage in the postseason series with the Packers, winning a 2004 NFC Divisional Playoff (20-17 in overtime) and the 1960 NFL Championship (17-13).
Including playoffs, the Packers are 0-9 in Philadelphia since last winning there in 1962. Reid is 5-2 against the franchise for which he served as an assistant coach from 1992 through 1998. The Packers' Mike McCarthy is 1-1 against both Reid and the Eagles as a head coach.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
Rodgers (4,434 passing yards, 30 TD, 7 INT) threw for a career best in yards last season and became the first quarterback in NFL history with 4,000-plus passing yards in each of his first two years as a starter. His rating of 103.2 was the second-highest in team history. Rodgers, who has started 16 games in back-to-back campaigns, had problems holding onto the ball too long, however, resulting in a high sack total. He was, however, part of an offense that helped Green Bay win seven of its last nine regular-season games and finish tops in the NFC in third down percentage. He can only hope his exceptional preseason carries over into the 2010 campaign. Jennings (68 receptions, 1,113 yards, 4 TD) and Driver (70 receptions, 1,061 yards, 6 TD) will be Rodgers' main targets again this season. Jennings has emerged as one of the top wideouts in the game and has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in two straight seasons. Driver led the team in catches, ranked second in receiving yards and first in touchdown receptions in 2009. A lot of hype is circling around emerging tight end Jermichael Finley (55 receptions, 5 TD), who finished tied for the NFL lead among tight ends with 12 receptions for 163 yards (13.6 avg.) and two scores in the preseason. Running back Ryan Grant (1,253 rushing yards, 11 TD) had a career year in 2009 despite working behind a patched-up line.
The biggest addition to Philadelphia's defense this offseason was probably the return of middle linebacker Stewart Bradley, who was lost for the entire 2009 campaign after tearing a knee ligament during a training camp scrimmage. McDermott tried putting pieces to the puzzle in Bradley's absence, but it never panned out. Joe Mays, who was traded this offseason, Omar Gaither and even the return of Jeremiah Trotter all proved not to be the answer in the middle. The Eagles did trade for ex-Lion Ernie Sims (49 tackles) in the offseason and hope he'll be the answer on the outside. Since the Eagles had trouble in pass defense, especially against tight ends, the addition of Sims and Bradley's return should shore up the holes in coverage. Rookie end Brandon Graham was the team's first-round pick in April, and McDermott is counting on him to take pressure off of All-Pro counterpart and sack master Trent Cole (57 tackles, 12.5 sacks), who gets double-teamed on a weekly basis. Rodgers was sacked 50 times last year, so expect the Eagles to pin their ears back and go QB hunting. The secondary has a new face in coach Dick Jauron, while cornerback Asante Samuel (40 tackles, 9 INT) returns as the leader of the defensive backs. Rookie Nate Allen will start at safety and will always be known as the guy the Eagles took with the pick they obtained in the McNabb trade.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
Two staples of Philadelphia's offense are gone, as McNabb is now with the Redskins and running back Brian Westbrook headed West to join the 49ers. Now it's up to Kolb (741 passing yards, 4 TD, 3 INT) and second-year running back LeSean McCoy (637 rushing yards, 4 TD) to lead one of the youngest offenses in the NFL. It will be a challenging task for Kolb to replace a six-time Pro Bowl selection, but he has the background and poise to make it happen. A son of a football coach, Kolb appears ready to take the reigns and lead the Eagles back into the playoffs, something McNabb did in eight of the previous 10 seasons. Backup Michael Vick (86 passing yards, 1 TD) will be used in the Wildcat formation as well as a handful of other plays, including goal-line situations. DeSean Jackson (63 receptions, 1,167 receiving yards, 9 TD), Maclin (55 receptions, 4 TD) and Celek (76 receptions, 8 TD) are Philly's top three threats on offense. Celek has been the tight end the Eagles have been looking for since Keith Jackson donned the Kelly green uniforms back in the 1990's, while Jackson is one of the most explosive players in the league. Green Bay knows that, and the Packers are also aware that if Kolb doesn't get enough time to find any of his playmakers, it's going to be a long day for the new quarterback. Fullback Leonard Weaver (323 rushing yards, 2 TD) is coming off an All-Pro season and will serve as an extra blocker at times.
Green Bay must get to Kolb early and often before he gets into a rhythm with one of the most talented corps of young receivers in the NFL. Cornerback and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson (74 tackles, 2 sacks, 9 INT) is still a playmaker in the twilight of his career and was a big reason why Green Bay ended first in takeaways (40) a season ago. Safety Nick Collins (53 tackles, 1 sack, 6 INT) finished second on the squad with six picks. Rookie Morgan Burnett will start at strong safety, replacing Atari Bigby, and will be tested early. The Packers were fifth against the pass in 2009 and hope cornerback Al Harris (34 tackles, sack, 2 INT) will be 100 percent after reconstructive knee surgery in the offseason. Tramon Williams (56 tackles, 1 sack, 4 INT) filled in nicely when Harris was out and contributed to Green Bay's league-high takeaway total. With Aaron Kampman gone, defensive ends Cullen Jenkins (32 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 INT) and Ryan Pickett (33 tackles) will play opposite of each other in Capers 3-4 scheme. Capers' unit finished the 2009 season with 37 sacks, tied for 11th in the league. Tackle B.J. Raji (25 tackles, sack) is expected to be in great shape after hobbling through last season with a balky ankle, while second-year pro and 2009 sack leader Clay Matthews (50 tackles, 10 sacks) leads a talented group of linebackers that also contains Nick Barnett (106 tackles, 4 sacks) and A.J. Hawk (89 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT).
Fantasy points will be in abundance on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, with most of the attention coming from a high-powered Green Bay offense. Rodgers and his trio of targets in Jennings, Driver and Finley should get there fair share of points for the favored Packers, while the defense has high expectations for an encore performance of last year. Woodson and the Green Bay linebackers are too talented not to start this week in spite of Philly's young and sometimes explosive offense. Packers kicker Mason Crosby made just 27- of-36 field goal attempts a year ago, but is a top choice in practically every fantasy league. It's a tough call to start Kolb against this tough defense, so only start him if there's no other favorable matchup in Week 1. DeSean Jackson, Maclin, Celek and McCoy are being counted on as the Eagles' playmakers. This would not be an ideal week to put Philadelphia's defense in the mix, because Rodgers could easily throw for more than 300 yards on the afternoon. Eagles kicker David Akers was 32-of-37 on field goals last season.
The Packers have a favorable chance of ending their road woes against Philadelphia, since they're a heavy favorite to represent the NFC in this year's Super Bowl. They may still have a bitter taste in their mouths from last year's playoff loss in Arizona, giving Rodgers and the high-powered offense more incentive to spoil Kolb's debut as the Eagles' new No. 1 quarterback. Green Bay has the defense to do that, but can't get too overconfident against a Philadelphia team that Reid declared is not in rebuilding mode. The only thing that may need rebuilding is Philadelphia's confidence for Week 2.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 27, Eagles 13
09/09 17:18:50 ET