Tonight is just a Week 2 preseason game, but it actually has some importance. The Eagles are going to play the starters for the whole 1st half and into the 3rd quarter. This is the dress rehearsal for the regular season.
The next PS game is Friday vs CLE, the Eagles opponent in the regular season opener. With the opponent being someone the team will face in 2 weeks and there being such a short turn around from today to Friday, Andy Reid felt like tonight’s game was the wiser choice for the dress rehearsal.
This means the Eagles will do some gameplanning. Nothing substantial, but more than last week. The starters will play the whole 1st half. They will come out after halftime, but how much they play will be determined by how well they do in the 1st half. If the starters are sharp, they’ll just play a series or two and that’s it. The goal is to let them break the seal on coming out of the locker room and playing in the 2nd half. It isn’t a huge deal, but this is something that coaches like to do once in every preseason.
There are various reports that the Pats might sit some key players. I’m not sure if that is true. They apparently have 3 games in the next 10 days and are trying to figure out what they want to do. I asked a Patriots blogger about his expectations and he felt the starters would play tonight. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
So what are the key things/players that I’ll be keeping an eye on:
Starting Offense – We need to see yards and points. I’m not greedy. Give me 3 scores, with at least 1 TD. That’s 13 points in 2 1/2 quarters. Seems reasonable. I have faith in Vick, Shady, DJax, Mac and the gang, but I do need to see some success to feel good about them.
LT – King Dunlap has a big opportunity. He can move closer to winning the starting LT spot with a good showing. The Pats are running a 4-3, meaning King will be facing off with a DE. This helps him. The Steelers short LBs that flew off the edge gave Demetress Bell fits last week. Dunlap is a natural pass blocker and knows the Mudd scheme. I expect him to protect Vick. I am curious to see his run blocking.
Bell is off the first team, but he’s not out of the picture. I’m hoping that he’ll play much better. Facing a 4-3 team could help him out. That’s what he’s practiced against all summer. It won’t be as much of an adjustment as last week. Bell needs to bounce back in a big way. He doesn’t need to be Jason Peters tonight, but he must play with more confidence and do a better job in pass protection.
Backup OL – I don’t really have a good feel for how the Julian Vandervelde vs Dallas Reynolds vs Mike Gibson vs Steve Vallos battle is going. It would be great if a couple of these guys would step up and play really well. I did like the way DJ Jones played last week. I’m not sure if he’ll play much this week. Hope he does.
3rd downs – Last week the offense was 1 of 11 on 3rd downs. The Steelers were 6 of 16. That’s not great, but several of those conversions were 3rd/long situations. The offense must do a better job of moving the chains. The defense must get stops, especially when they have a favorable situation.
FBs – We need the Eagles to run from the I-formation so that we can get a feel for Stanley Havili and Emil Igwenagu as lead blockers. Right now we don’t know how good/bad the FB candidates are. This isn’t a complex question. Run some isolation plays and let’s see which FB does a better job of taking out LBs. We need to know what is going on with these guys. Can they get the job done or do we need outside help?
Nick Foles – Nick will take over the game when Mike Vick sits. Trent Edwards won’t play at all. Smart move. We need Nick to get as many snaps as possible. We need to see how Foles handles playing against backups. The goal is to find out just how ready Foles is to play this year. Can he be the backup QB? The coaches love his long term potential. Just how ready he is right now…mystery. Last week was a good start, but you never want to make too much of the preseason opener. This week should give us a better indication of where Foles really is.
Damaris Johnson – Nothing bad with DJ. Just curious to see how much he plays, since the starters will be on the field so much. Are they going to mix him in with the starters again this week? Got that gig last week since Mac was out due to injury.
DL – Great showing vs PIT. Excited to see what they can do this week. I’m curious to see if Curry and Thornton can be so dominating against backups again. Will Antonio Dixon wake up?
LBs – This could be a very good test, depending on if Gronk, Hernandez, and Welker play. Those guys work the middle of the field better than any other trio in the NFL. Brian Rolle is the only returning starter at LB. DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks are new. We need them to cover well, as a group. Having talented, versatile guys attacking the middle of the defense would be a great way to see if the new LBs corps is going to going to work well together or what areas need to be fixed.
Run defense is also important. Last week the guys got off to a slow start. I’m hope that was just rust, from not being in game action for a long time. This week it would make all of Eagles Nation feel a hell of a lot better if Ryans and Kendricks looked good from the first snap of the game. I have confidence in them, but I sure can’t blame doubters. They’ve seen some ugly LB play since 2008.
I’m curious to see what happens at backup MLB. Casey Matthews is out. Will Ryan Rau get his snaps? Will Jamar Chaney slide to the middle and then Keenan Clayton to WLB? Not crucial, but interesting. Chaney is fighting for a starting job…at WLB. Would he want to play MLB or would it be best to see him outside. Missed the opener.
Nate Allen – I think the stench of Jai-Jar’s play in the opener somehow stuck to all the Safeties. Nate can ease a lot of concern with a solid showing. He doesn’t need to shine. Just go be functional. Make tackles. Play the right coverages. Don’t hit Vinny Curry when he’s trying to make a tackle. 2012 is a huge year for Nate. It would be great to see him play well and get off to a good start.
Jaiquawn Jarrett – One of the greatest aspects to sports is the chance for redemption. Orioles 1B Chris Davis had a nightmare game back in May, going 0 for 5 with 5 strikeouts in the first 9 innings. He was then 0 for 3 in extra innings, including a GIDP. However, he pitched the final 2 innings of the game and won. Gave up 2 hits and a walk, but also struck out 2 and kept the Red Sox from scoring. For 15 innings, Davis was a goat. For the final 2, he was great. I’ll never forget seeing him strike out Adrian Gonzalez with runners on. Amazing. The 0-8? No one remembers.
Jai-Jar was awful in the opener. Simple as that. This is his chance for redemption. He won’t play a ton, but that might be a good thing. Jai-Jar is still a talented guy. This isn’t a question of skill. This is all between his ears. He’s confused. He’s hesitant. He has no confidence. Let’s hope the PIT game was rock bottom and he bounces back. No matter what you think of him as a player, you hate to see a young man’s football dreams fall apart so quickly.
Back in January we all hoped Jai-Jar would take advantage of the offseason and be a changed man. If he plays like he did in the opener, Jai-Jar has basically zero chance to make the team. I hope he’s able to play well. Show us something. Show the Eagles something. Fight for your future. Don’t go out in a blaze of missed tackles and blown assignments. That’s the kind of thing that can haunt you for the rest of your life. If you aren’t big enough, fast enough, or talented enough…okay. That’s life. If you fail because of mistakes and sloppy errors…I can’t imagine having to deal with that. Big game for Jai-Jar. I really hope he shows up ready to play.
CBs – The Steelers didn’t throw much last week. That limited our chance to judge Boykin, Marsh, Hughes, and the guys. The Pats like to throw the ball. Hopefully they will test the young DBs and give us a chance to see where these guys are at. Marsh needs some passes thrown his way.
I hope Boykin gets some snaps against Welker, if Wes plays. I’d love to see how Boykin stacks up. One of the reasons we drafted him is that Hanson struggled so much last November against Welker.
P – McBriar vs Chas Henry, round 2. May the best leg win.
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Jimmy Bama and I did a podcast previewing the game. Good discussion about Boykin, Hanson, and the Nickel Corner spot for tonight and the future.
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How cool is this? Kelce and Mathis doing an ad for Flight Night. Great ad.