Preseason games are usually about the players trying to make the roster or earn more playing time. But Monday’s game at New England (8:20 p.m.) will primarily be about the Eagles’ first team.
The third preseason game is usually the best opportunity to gauge the progress of the first team. This year’s strange preseason schedule, however, has the Eagles playing the Browns on Friday, just four days after Monday’s game against the Patriots. Not only is it a short week, but the Eagles open the regular season against the Browns, so they won’t show the Browns very much during their preseason game.
The starters barely play during the fourth preseason game (Aug. 30, vs. the Jets), so Monday’s game is our best opportunity to watch the starters. After the first team’s poor performance during the Eagles’ 24-23 victory over the Steelers in their preseason opener, there are plenty of questions.
Will the first-team offense move the ball?
The first-team offense went 3-and-out on both of its possessions against the Steelers. Needless to say, improvement is needed.
Can the first-team defense stop the run?
This will be a more difficult question to answer than it was against the Steelers, who repeatedly ran the ball up the middle successfully against the Birds. The Patriots’ offense is more focused on the pass than the Steelers’ offense. But if the Patriots are able to run the ball up the middle, that’s a bad sign for the Eagles.
Will we see big plays from the Eagles’ playmakers?
With the first-team offense on the field for just six plays, we didn’t see much from DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy or Michael Vick. It would be encouraging to see a few big gains from this trio.
How will King Dunlap fare at left tackle?
After just one preseason game, the Eagles demoted offseason signee Demetress Bell and replaced him in the starting lineup with King Dunlap. Both Bell and Dunlap are a far cry from All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters, who is out for the season, but the Eagles at least need a reliable left tackle. Otherwise, it will be more difficult to run in that direction and they may have to keep tight end Brent Celek in for pass protection more than they would prefer.
Can the defensive line put pressure on Tom Brady?
The Eagles had seven sacks last week. Will they have the same success against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who is adept at finding open men and quickly getting rid of the ball? Keep an eye on Phillip Hunt, who was terrific against the Steelers.
Will DeMeco Ryans be a factor at middle linebacker?
Ryans was a non-factor last week against the Steelers. He didn’t even assist on a tackle even though the Steelers ran a number of plays right up the middle. It’s only the preseason, but if Ryans isn’t more of a presence against the Patriots, some people may start to rethink the prevailing opinion that having Ryans at middle linebacker greatly improves the defense.
What about the other linebackers?
Rookie Mychal Kendricks displayed a good nose for the football against the Steelers. Brian Rolle, in his second year with the Eagles, had a rough preseason opener. We’ll see if Rolle improves and Kendricks continues his fine play from his first game. The last thing the Eagles need is another season of revolving linebackers. (It would help if the defensive tackles can hold up the offensive linemen so they don’t get to the linebackers so quickly.)
Will the safeties be better than last year?
Jaiquawn Jarrett, starting in place of the injured Nate Allen, was a disaster against the Steelers. Missed tackles and poor communication on pass coverages were just two areas where Jarrett had difficulty. With Allen back in the lineup with Kurt Coleman, let’s see how well the safeties perform against the Patriots.
Will Nick Foles play well again this week?
All right, I know Foles isn’t a starter. But, with backup quarterback Mike Kafka fracturing his left (non-throwing hand) against the Steelers and Michael Vick putting a scare into Eagles fans when he needed his left thumb x-rayed during the Steelers game, it’s obvious that having a reliable backup quarterback is extremely important. Foles looked terrific during his Eagles debut. Let’s see if the rookie can make it two strong performances in a row.