Eagles-Panthers Cheat Sheet: 10 Things To Watch

Greg SalasHere are 10 things we’re tracking during tonight’s Eagles-Panthers game:

1. The quarterbacks

You didn’t think we were going to start somewhere else, did you?

Nick Foles will get the start. He led the Eagles on an up-tempo, efficient touchdown drive last week vs. the Patriots. What do we want to see this week? Foles chuck it downfield. Last week, none of his attempts traveled more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. Foles has the arm, but he had issues with mechanics on the deep ball last year. It’d be nice to see him take a shot or two downfield in this one.

As for Vick, the Eagles slowed things down with him in the game last week. The guess here is he’ll be asked to operate the tempo package this time around. Vick looked great vs. New England, but he needs to show he’s capable of making sound decisions in an offense that gives the quarterback options. Hopefully we get a chance to see him in that environment tonight.

2. The progress of the O-Line

Lane Johnson looked like the real deal in the run game last week. The Eagles are looking for steady improvement from their first-round pick in the preseason.

Todd Herremans, meanwhile, did not play well last week. He’s got eight years of experience and 100 starts under his belt, so one quarter of one preseason game is nothing to panic about, but it’d be nice to see him play better vs. Carolina.

And then there are the depth spots. Allen Barbre will likely get the nod at left tackle with the first team tonight. He could end up being the top backup lineman on the roster – at both guard and tackle. The backup center battle continues with Julian Vandervelde, Dallas Reynolds and Matt Tennant.

3. Wide receiver depth

If Greg Salas continues to show up, he’s going to make it hard for the Eagles to cut him. Perhaps he’ll be bumped up the depth chart and get a chance to prove himself against better competition in the first half.

Russell Shepard is also fighting for a roster spot. Matt Barkley had a shot to connect with Shepard deep last week, but underthrew him. The undrafted free agent should see plenty of action in the second half.

4. Finding Zach Ertz

Ertz figures to have a prominent role in the Eagles’ passing game this season, but he looked shaky as a blocker vs. New England. Ertz missed much of the spring because of the NCAA’s graduation rules, but has had a pretty good camp.

Keep an eye on where he lines up and how he stacks up as a blocker tonight.

5. Fletcher Cox’s progress

The second-year player looked bad early on vs. New England. But 16 snaps in one preseason game is not enough to erase Cox’s outstanding rookie season.

As the Eagles move towards a 3-4, Cox is being asked to two-gap (explanation here) up front. He’ll need to continue to get more comfortable in the new scheme, and Billy Davis will have to make sure he’s putting Cox in position to succeed.

6. Defending a mobile QB

Within their division, the Eagles will face quarterbacks with different skill sets. For example, it could be Robert Griffin III one week and Eli Manning a few weeks later. That means incorporating a defense flexible enough to adapt to different offensive attacks.

Last week, the Eagles faced Tom Brady. This week, it’ll be Cam Newton. Newton ran for 741 yards last year, second among quarterbacks to only RGIII. The Eagles could get a glimpse of the read-option, but it’s not just designed runs they have to worry about. They’ll need to be disciplined with their pass rush as well.

7. Signs from Vinny Curry

The 2012 second-round pick was probably the Eagles’ best defensive player against New England. He looked comfortable in a variety of roles on the defensive line, using his quickness to create disruption behind the line of scrimmage.

Chip Kelly said earlier this week that he knows Curry can rush the passer, but indicated he’s looking for the second-year player to show he has a complete skill set. The Eagles are expected to rotate defensive linemen up front, but if Curry keeps improving, he could be in line for significant playing time once the real games start.

8. The Trent Cole/Brandon Graham transition

It’s been a storyline all offseason and will continue for the next several weeks. Cole, specifically, did not look good early on vs. New England. It’s not just dropping back into coverage. It’s new responsibilities in the run game and using different methods to rush the passer. Cole and Graham will continue to be under the microscope vs. Carolina.

9. Cary Williams’ debut

The Eagles’ new cornerback does not shy away from microphones. That much we know. He said last week that the defense needs to play with more of an edge, disagreeing publicly with the way Kelly handled the joint practices with the Patriots.

On the field, Williams missed most of the spring and has dealt with a hamstring injury this summer. By statistical measures, Williams was mediocre at best last year with the Ravens. He’s expected to start tonight and will get a chance to make headlines for his play, one way or another.

10. Safety? Hello? Anyone?

It’s a question for the Eagles pretty much every summer. Who will step up at safety? Patrick Chung looked like a sure tackler against his former team and is expected to win one of the starting jobs.

But the other one is up for grabs. Nate Allen continued to struggle against New England. And Earl Wolff got a chance to run with the first team earlier this week. The rookie could get a shot in the first half to prove he deserves serious consideration for the starting job.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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