WHAT TO WATCH FOR: After looking at the tape of last week’s win in Detroit on Monday night, Eagles coach Andy Reid had no choice but to start Michael Vick. It was the first time that Reid had game-planned a game for Vick and the new starter was superlative. The Eagles will stick with their three-receiver formation (although they have only four wideouts on the active roster) that they used on 36 of 65 offensive plays last week. All but 13 of running back LeSean McCoy’s career-high 120 rushing yards came out of those sets. So did 173 of Vick’s 284 passing yards. The Eagles need to spread the Jaguars out because their offensive line remains injured and in bad shape. The spread allows Vick to pick his own opportunities or simply stay with the play called.
Jaguars QB David Garrard is feeling the pressure after a four-interception game, but with the loss of Luke McCown (torn ACL) last week, coach Jack Del Rio has run out of options. They did re-sign Todd Bouman, 38, who was coaching high school football in Minnesota, to be the backup. It’s Bouman’s fourth stint with Jacksonville. Maurice Jones-Drew is bothered by a severely sprained ankle, which will help the Eagles’ defense that returns MLB Stewart Bradley.
CZAR’S SCOOP: Del Rio has lost personnel decisions over his roster to GM Gene Smith. Vick heads into the Jacksonville game ranked fourth in the league in passing with a 105.5 passer rating. He’s also 13th in the league in rushing. While Reid denied it, a major reason for his decision to go with Vick is the struggles of his offensive line, which has given up 12 sacks in the first two games. It’s the first time since 1997 that the Eagles have allowed six or more sacks in consecutive games. The Eagles lost starting center Jamaal Jackson in Week 1 when he suffered a season-ending arm injury. He’s been replaced by inexperienced Mike McGlynn, a college tackle who has little experience at making line calls.
What’s interesting about the quarterback switch is that Vick and Kevin Kolb are good friends. Kolb reached out to Vick after the shooting incident at Vick’s birthday party. Most of the younger players on the Eagles also look up to Vick. Kolb seems to be taking the benching in stride. He also expects to be the team’s starting quarterback again at some point. Vick is in the final year of his contract ($5 million) and will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. After Donovan McNabb was traded, Kolb got a one-year extension that carries him through the end of 2011. “I have faith that it will work out here and look forward to starting here again one day,” Kolb said. “As of right now, I’m the backup, and I’ll do what’s best for the team and for Michael.”
Washington at St. Louis, 4:05 ET
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Instead of blitzing Rams rookie QB Sam Bradford, the Redskins are going to drop into coverage, believing that Danny Amendola and Mark Clayton can’t beat the Washington secondary. The Rams won’t have WR Laurent Robinson again and, of course, they are playing the season without their top receiver, Donnie Avery. Rookie WR Mardy Gilyard will see some extended playing time for the Rams, who will also be starting TE Daniel Fells after losing their first two tight ends to injury. Darcy Johnson and Fendi Onobun will also play the position.
Redskins QB McNabb, who passed for 426 yards last week, will test the Rams in the deep middle where James Butler is playing for SS Craig Dahl while Kevin Dockery is starting at right cornerback. To deal with Steven Jackson, DT Albert Haynesworth will play in the regular rotation besides his customary nickel pass-rush role. The Redskins will be minus No. 1 pick Trent Williams, meaning Stephon Heyer will start at left tackle.
CZAR’S SCOOP: The Rams stunned the Redskins in 2008 and Clinton Portis said that “this is a game we can’t lose.” Of course, he added: “I don’t think you can overlook any team in the NFL.” The Redskins’ next three opponents are 2009 playoff qualifiers Philadelphia, Green Bay and Indianapolis. The Rams have gone 1-17 since they didn’t give interim coach Jim Haslett the job at the end of the 2008 season. The Rams don’t know what to expect from Haslett, now the Washington defensive coordinator. The Rams will probably be asked all season why they didn’t pursue Brandon Marshall and currently suspended Santonio Holmes in the offseason in hopes of giving Bradford a proven threat. They did talk to the Chargers about Vincent Jackson, but in the end were reluctant to part with two draft picks for a player of questionable character. They passed on Holmes, whom the Jets stole from Pittsburgh, for the same reason. But any of those three receivers are better than any deep threat the team currently has.
New majority owner Stan Kroenke reportedly will make his first financial payments to Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez by the end of this week. One big reason the NFLPA listed the Redskins as No. 1 in salary-cap expenditures this season is because they smartly dumped most of Haynesworth’s $41 million in bonus money into this uncapped season. The Redskins won’t trade Haynesworth unless they get some money back, plus a second-round draft pick. The Rams have 14 rookies on their 53-man roster and 10 of them were active last Sunday against the Raiders. They have 21 players with two years or less of experience.
Other Sunday games
Tennessee at N.Y. Giants: The Giants figure to imitate Pittsburgh’s eight-man fronts against Titans RB Chris Johnson and dare Vince Young to complete some passes against single coverage. Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher will have a quick hook with Young if he struggles, as he did last week. New York’s offensive line simply isn’t what it used to be a couple years ago and it figures to be worse if center Shaun O’Hara (Achilles) must be replaced. It’s been 13 games since the Giants have had a 100-yard rusher and who knows where Brandon Jacobs’ head is at?
Cincinnati at Carolina: The Jimmy Clausen era starts today and again the Panthers will try to help him by getting their two running backs, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, untracked against a Bengals defense that is allowing 4.9 yards a carry after two games. Of course, Carolina’s run game has been hurt by the absence of RT Jeff Otah. The Bengals have lost five straight road games and must play a more complete game to beat the Panthers. Clausen doesn’t figure to have much success against Cincinnati’s two fine cornerbacks, Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall. Those two guys basically shut down Joe Flacco last week.
Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay: The Steelers are 21-4 in their last 25 games against NFC opponents and are obviously the best team the unbeaten Bucs have seen this season. QB Josh Freeman has struggled against a 3-4 defensive look and must play smart and not force passes against an opportunistic Pittsburgh secondary. QB Charlie Batch starts for the Steelers, who will be relying on RB Rashard Mendenhall. Rookie Cody Grimm, the son of Hall of Famer Russ Grimm, will start at safety for the suspended Tanard Jackson, who failed another drug test and is gone for the season. The Steelers are passing for only 116 yards per game during their 2-0 start. QB Byron Leftwich (left knee) will be the Steelers’ backup.
Buffalo at New England: The benching of QB Trent Edwards by Bills coach Chan Gailey undoubtedly means that his career is over in Buffalo. The switch to Ryan Fitzpatrick was endorsed by the Bills’ best offensive player, WR Lee Evans, and we’ll see if Fitz can win a shootout with Tom Brady. Fitzpatrick is 8-14-1 as a starter over five seasons, although he did win five starts last season. New England has won 13 straight against the Bills, dating back to 2003. The Bills haven’t had a 300-yard passer in 58 consecutive games. Buffalo’s Donte Whitner said that the Packers, including quarterback Aaron Rodgers, were laughing at them at the end of last Sunday’s loss.
Cleveland at Baltimore: Seneca Wallace last week became the 14th Cleveland quarterback, since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, to lose his first start . The Browns did talk with the Eagles, who have no interest in trading benched Kevin Kolb right now. Jake Delhomme remains out with a high ankle sprain. James Davis figures to be Cleveland’s featured back, although the team continues to talk about giving Josh Cribbs more opportunities in a wildcat formation, plus as a wide receiver in the base offense. Baltimore’s Joe Flacco is off to a rough start, throwing for four INTs last week, and now is the lowest-ranked starting quarterback in the NFL.
Indianapolis at Denver: The Broncos held a private memorial service for Kenny McKinley on Friday and will wear his No. 11 on their helmets today. The Colts pounded the Giants last week, dominating the line of scrimmage with a more physical offensive line. They ran it 43 times — the most in the Peyton Manning era — for 161 yards. The Broncos should expect more of the same. RB Correll Buckhalter starts for the Broncos, who will use Laurence Maroney, too. Knowshon Moreno might be out a couple weeks for the Broncos after injuring his other hamstring. Colts WR Pierre Garcon is out.
San Diego at Seattle: The big news was that LT Marcus McNeill signed his $630,000 tender with the Chargers, meaning he would be eligible to play against the Rams on Oct. 17. When the Chargers held firm on Vincent Jackson, McNeill knew he might as well return and play and then see about getting a long-term contract. The Chargers will be without rookie RB Ryan Mathews, so look for Mike Tolbert and more of Darren Sproles on third down. This is a big game for Matt Hasselbeck. The Seattle quarterback must play better than he did last week or coach Pete Carroll won’t hesitate to play Charlie Whitehurst.
Oakland at Arizona: There should be a lot of running in this game. Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt has taken a run-first approach with his offense, not knowing what Derek Anderson will do consistently. Beanie Wells is expected to play some after having arthroscopic surgery a few weeks ago. Wells brings more power to the running game, but Tim Hightower will start. Raiders coach Tom Cable switched quarterbacks last week and will sit Jason Campbell in favor of Bruce Gradkowski, who came off the bench to beat the Rams. RB Michael Bush is expected to see his first action of the season and definitely will cut into Darren McFadden’s carries for the Raiders.
N.Y. Jets at Miami: You won’t see a dirt infield tonight in Sun Life Stadium thanks to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross ordering turf installed while the Marlins are away. The unbeaten Dolphins stopped Brett Favre last week and now must deal with a confident Mark Sanchez, who had his best regular-season game last Sunday in whipping the Patriots. Sanchez will have WR Braylon Edwards in the lineup despite Edwards’ DWI arrest earlier in the week. Minus CB Darrelle Revis, the Jets will put more pressure on Chad Henne in order to protect cornerbacks Kyle Wilson, a rookie, and Antonio Cromartie, who was a starter for the Chargers a couple years ago when new Dolphin WR Brandon Marshall caught 18 passes in a single game against San Diego.