Ladies and gentlemen, your 2011 NFL Offseason Champions: The Philadelphia Eagles.
In the unprecedented shortened offseason, the Eagles made the most noise by attacking the free agent market and signing players with well-known names such has Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Ronnie Brown, Anthony Hargrove, Cullen Jenkins, Donald Lee, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Steve Smith and Vince Young.
It was that final player who put a stamp on the Eagles’ “title” — which was snatched from the perennial champions the Washington Redskins — when Young called the Eagles the “dream team.”
Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Browns fans have been dreaming of landing a franchise quarterback since 1999. In two games this preseason, Colt McCoy has put up numbers not seen from a quarterback in a logo-less helmet in a long, long, LONG time. OK, well, we saw them last preseason from Jake Delhomme, but no one considered him as the long-term answer.
Will three solid performances from McCoy signify a trend? We won’t know until the games start to count, but if McCoy avoids taking any steps back in the preseason, that is a good thing. Even though it has been glorified practice, with McCoy at the helm, the Browns offense has been efficient. They have produced scoring drives a variety of ways and they are not settling for field goals. In nine possession led by McCoy, the Browns have scored a touchdown five times.
Last Thursday, the Eagles first-team defense was carved up by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who finished 8-for-12 for 125 yards and two touchdowns on two drives. The Steelers offense is not all centered on quarterback play. He needs help. Same goes for McCoy.
Against Philadelphia, the Browns receivers need to be able to get open to give McCoy a chance. The problem is the ability for this group of Browns receivers to get separation from defenders hasn’t been easy. The Eagles employ some of the best cornerbacks in the league and Thursday is, no doubt, the biggest challenge this preseason for the likes of Brian Robiskie, Greg Little and Josh Cribbs.
Defensively, the Browns have been underwhelming. For the second consecutive game, they are expected to be with their starting safeties in T.J. Ward and Usama Young and a starting linebacker in Chris Gocong. Couple that with Philadelphia’s Michael Vick coming off a three-interception performance, and the outlook is not promising.
Aaron Rogers and Matthew Stafford have had plenty of time to carve up the Browns defense the last two weeks. It could happen again, but it has been hard to gauge the effectiveness of this defense with so many variables not in play for preseason.
The Browns and McCoy have a chance Thursday to determine just how far they’ve come by playing the third preseason game — the game in which starters traditionally played the longest — against a team that many has already crowned the in season champs.
Positive, major injury-free progress has been on display in the first two preseason games. No performance will hand the Browns any championships Thursday, but a poor outing surely will sap the shaky confidence that is slowly building on the north coast.