HOUSTON VS PHILADELPHIA PREVIEW By Brad Lorkovic (LORK 88) A new season, a new start; something us Houston fans needed greatly. Ironically, the former SB losers need a fresh start after an injury-riddled 2005 season. Will this be the year Houston steps up to the plate and erases last year, or the year Philly returns to the throne of the NFC East? Maybe neither, maybe both, this game should give everyone a starch indicator. Houston’s Running Game vs. Philly’s Run D: This is Houston’s main form of offense. If Houston can get their running game going, they can do some damage and control the game. However, with Philly’s tenacious defense, it won’t be easy. This is my main key to the game as this is the only way to keep Philly’s defense in check and honest. The thing about Philly’s D Line is that their not big (not 1 starter over 300 lbs), but more so quick and good at penetrating the O Line. Luckily, Houston’s O line is implementing the Zone Blocking Scheme (ZBS) which should help negate some of their defensive speed. Houston’s Passing Game vs. Philly’s Pass D: This is where the problems could arise. Remember how I mentioned Philly’s defense as quick and tenacious? Take this in the form of a pass rush, throw in 4 pro bowl caliber Defensive Backs, and add in Jim Johnson’s blitz-crazy schematics and you’ve got what could spell trouble. Good news for us is that this isn’t 2005 and Houston has been running shorter routes that rely on AJ and Moulds doing what they can after the catch. The surprise element in this will be Owen Daniels, Houston’s rookie TE. What hurt us last year was the fact that Capers didn’t believe in TEs as receivers which will help Carr out under immense pressure. Philly’s Rushing Game vs. Houston’s Run D: The theme of our D line on running plays will be strength with every single one of our D Linemen over 285 lbs, and for good reason. Every single starting O Linemen for Philly is over 320 lbs. While Philly isn’t much of a running team, Reid has vowed to run the ball more. The biggest question about this is Westbrook; he’s never carried more than 200 times in a season. However, that problem will re-arise later in the season, until then Houston’s biggest problem is containing Westbrook. As long as he doesn’t bounce outside where he can use his shiftiness, Houston can reduce the threat of his big play ability and hopefully stop him in the middle. Philly’s Passing Game vs. Houston’s Pass D: Here’s where our defense needs to step up and show everyone that it’s changed for the good. On passing plays, it gets extremely fast with its choice of several former 3-4 OLBs, Mario, Weaver, Travis Johnson, and Seth Payne. Putting pressure on McNabb will be critical as our DBs are our weak spot on our D. If McNabb’s O Line can provide enough protection, expect our DBs to get picked apart. Dunta Robinson is the obvious leader of it, but there’s plenty of question marks everyone else. With plenty of receiving options for McSoup (only kidding Iggles), the lack of pressure will spell the end for Houston. Position Battle QB Advantage: PHILLY RB Advantage: PUSH WR Advantage: HOUSTON TE Advantage: PHILLY OL Advantage: PHILLY DL Advantage: PHILLY LB Advantage: PHILLY CB Advantage: PHILLY S Advantage: PHILLY K/P Advantage: PHILLY Key Factors To The Game 1) In my opinion, the team that can have the effective running game has a huge advantage. It’s not a knock against McNabb or Carr, but whoever can keep the other team’s defense honest, has the best advantage on offense for the simple fact that passing lanes will open up. If Houston or Philly can’t get their running game going, the other has the advantage and I expect that team to win. 2) Pass rush. It’s imperative that Houston gets pressure on McNabb so he doesn’t have time to pass. With all of his receiving threats, the more time he has to throw, the more time he has to beat you with his arm. It’s also huge that Houston stops Jim Johnson’s defense and the blitzes he loves to call. Only 2 players are starting from Houston’s horrid O Line, but a new system is in place that masks player’s weaknesses. Will it be enough or will it look like last year? 3) How fitting is it that the 3rd key to the game be about 3rd down? It’s the most important down in the game, but who converts more is the challenge. Last year, Philly was 29th in 3rd down conversions with a pitiful 32.7%. Not much better was Houston who was 26th in the league with a 34.2%. Whoever can string longer drives together will have the obvious advantage. 4) Philly this game is starting 0 rookies as expected. Houston on the other hand is starting 5 rookies out of a possible 6 currently on their 53 man roster. Those 5 are DE Mario Williams, MLB DeMeco Ryans, LT Charles Spencer, TE Owen Daniels, and RB Wali Lundy. On the positive side, Philly doesn’t know what to expect from the rookies. They could come out and just completely shine and surprise people. On the negative side however, rookies are rookies so you can expect some mistakes to be made. How the rookies play will be a huge theme not only this game, but all season long.