What to Watch For: Philadelphia Eagles vs. New England Patriots
While there are plenty of questions and training camp battles that remain unsolved, hopefully some clarity can be offered before the NFL season begins.
Here are five things I’ll be looking at in this exhibition.
Can Nick Foles Repeat His Performance?
Third-string quarterback Nick Foles was undoubtedly the star of the Eagles’ first preseason game. His impressive performance coincided with Mike Kafka’s injury and gave him the automatic upgrade in practice.
With Kafka already ruled out of Monday’s game, expect a heavy dose of Foles once Andy Reid benches his starters.
Fans are already calling Foles the “quarterback of the future,” so expectations will remain sky-high. Whether he delivers on them or not remains to be seen, but regardless of what happens, I believe the battle for the backup is far from settled.
In his Eagles debut, Demetress Bell didn’t make anyone feel better about losing Jason Peters for the season. Instead of engaging the Pittsburgh Steelers’ ends, he merely let them run around him.
Now it’s King Dunlap’s turn to see if he can solidify an offensive line that ranked as one of the best in 2011.
We saw how out of sync Michael Vick and the offense were when faced with pressure coming off the edge. If the tackles can't keep Vick clean, there’s no chance the Eagles return to their explosive 2010 form, let alone have Vick make it through an entire set of 16 games.
Brandon Boykin in the Slot
The Patriots have plenty of options in the passing game, but their most consistent threat is Wes Welker. The NFL’s leading receiver should see plenty of action coming from the slot and will likely be defended by a rookie.
This matchup obviously favors New England, and is one they would look to exploit if it were a regular-season meeting.
Still, it should offer the Eagles some clarity as to how far along Brandon Boykin is in his development, and see if he can handle top-level NFL talent.
Joselio Hanson is still fighting for a roster spot as the team’s nickel corner and will push Boykin until Week 1.
A solid outing against the league’s best passing duo would do wonders for Boykin’s confidence, and should help separate himself from his veteran competition.
Nnamdi Asomugha's Injury
Andy Reid said the injury that Nnamdi Asomugha suffered from during a mid-air collision with Nate Allen was more “whiplash-type symptoms” than concussion, but this doesn’t mean the scare is over. There’s always the slight chance that the lingering effects of this injury turn out to be more mental than physical.
Now while I doubt this injury scare changes his physical style of play, it’ll be still be interesting to note how aggressively the cornerback attacks the ball in mid-air, or how willing he is to tackle bigger players in the near future.
Juan Castillo will also have to decide whether or not to deploy Asomugha in the slot—where the All-Pro will line him up against bigger and stronger tight ends like Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.
If it were up to me, I’d keep Nnamdi away from the middle of the field and limit him to outside coverage only.
Mychal Kendricks in Coverage
Mychal Kendricks showcased his sideline-to-sideline speed in his debut and was credited with four solo tackles. This week, against the team that drew the blueprint on how to utilize two-tight-end sets, expect him to be tested in a different way.
Both of New England’s tight ends run smooth routes and have soft hands. However, they are also very physical and extremely difficult to bring down after the catch.
Giving up a completion against this duo won’t be the end of the world, but what happens afterwards just might determine whether or not Brian Rolle and Jamar Chaney get extra looks as the nickel linebacker.
The way the former Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year performs against these elite pass-catchers will give us insight as to how fluid he is with Philadelphia’s coverage concepts.