FOXBORO, MASS. — The Eagles take on the Patriots at 7:30 tonight in their second preseason game. Below are three things we’ll be watching.
1. Nick Foles – The Birds’ signal-caller got off to a shaky start against the Bears – two interceptions and a punt in three drives. As I’ve said earlier this week, weighing one quarter of preseason football over a 10-start sample size from 2013 is silly. But at the same time, it’d be nice to see Foles bounce back.
That, of course, won’t be easy, considering he’s likely to be without Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper. Even if Foles doesn’t light it up, Chip Kelly and the coaches want to see him make good decisions, a hallmark of his standout season a year ago.
2. The secondary – It was a good week of practice for the Eagles’ defense. The secondary was embarrassed by Tom Brady a year ago during the sessions at the NovaCare Complex. It’s not like the Eagles whooped up on Brady this week, but they looked like a competent, NFL defense that knew what it was doing.
That may sound like a backhanded compliment, but really it’s not. Given the personnel, this is not going to be a top-5 unit in the regular season. If the offense can lead the way and the defense can show it’s competent, good things are in store for the Eagles. Tonight, Billy Davis’ unit needs its practice work to carry over to the game. And the Birds have to get off the field on third downs.
3. The offensive line – The first team performed poorly against Chicago, but the guys up front should be a strength of in 2014. Like with Foles, there’s no reason to panic, but it’d be nice to see the offensive line bounce back.
With the second team, keep an eye on two guys: Matt Tobin and David Molk. Tobin was one of the Eagles’ most impressive offensive players against Chicago, playing left guard with the second team. And with Julian Vandervelde having back surgery, Molk suddenly becomes an important player. If Jason Kelce goes down, he’ll have to step in.
4. The two top picks – Marcus Smith II had some nice moments against Chicago, but that was a relatively small sample size. He’ll continue to get reps with the second team behind Connor Barwin, although Davis has said he wants to see how Smith looks against first-teamers at some point.
Jordan Matthews had a shaky debut with a couple drops and very little YAC. The hype on Matthews grew all camp long. He’ll look to carry over his practice performance to the game.
5. Henry Josey – We told his story back in the spring, but Josey hasn’t done much to separate himself from the pack this summer.
He should get plenty of opportunities tonight. Matthew Tucker and David Fluellen are both battling injuries. LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles are veterans who are unlikely to see a lot of touches. That means Josey will carry the load for the entire second half and get to show where he is in his development.
WHAT YOU MISSED
The Eagles’ defense used this week’s practices as a barometer and fared better against Brady and company.
Patriots defenders are impressed with tight end Zach Ertz, who appears primed for a breakout year.
“That’s where the NFL is going, but Kelly is already there.” A roundup of what they’re saying.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
“I think he’s underrated,” said Wilfork. “To be an undersized guy, especially to play the center position, and the strength he plays with, the technique he plays with, it says a lot about his game and his knowledge of the game. He’s a tough competitor. That’s one thing I noticed right away. He’s getting the line set, he’s making all the communication calls. You look at him on film, and he’s not the biggest guy, but he plays with a big heart.
“I think he’s one of the best centers in this league, and there are some good ones out there.”
ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss offers some practice observations:
Who’s winning one-on-ones?: In the secondary, cornerback Logan Ryan intercepted Eagles quarterback Nick Foles on a pass intended for Brad Smith. … Cornerback Darrelle Revis looked like he slowed up again while working against Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin. With Maclin leaving practice after he felt a “grabbing” of his hamstring, that was the big news story at practice. … Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard had an effective jam on receiver Josh Huff, as well as a notable pass breakup. … Patriots offensive linemen mostly had a tough time, perhaps with footing an issue. Right guard Josh Kline was steamrolled by undrafted rookie Frances Mays (Florida A&M), one of several decisive wins for the Eagles. … At center, Ryan Wendell seemed to have more success than Dan Connolly, who was pushed back by Cedric Thornton on one rep.
More game action tonight, and plenty of content leading up to it.