It has been a mostly lackluster and uninspiring preseason so far for the Eagles this year.
Other than Nate Sudfeld showing he has the potential to be a legitimate backup quarterback in the NFL, Shelton Gibson all but earning a roster spot with two big games at wide receiver, and second-round draft pick Dallas Goedert proving he is adept at catching touchdown passes, it’s safe to erase the first two sloppy games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots from our collective memory.
However, we might actually learn what this team will look like when the calendar flips to September in Thursday’s game against the Cleveland Browns. The starters should play at least the first half and possibly into the third quarter. Few, if any of them, will play in the final preseason game next week versus the New York Jets.
Since this is the one preseason game to truly focus on, here are three things to watch for:
1. Depleted offense
While it’s the key game to watch to evaluate the starters on each side of the ball for an extended period of time, the Eagles offense will, unfortunately, look incomplete.
Due to either injuries or opting to rest veterans until the season opener, the Eagles are going to play without a bulk of their starters, which includes their top three running backs Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, and Darren Sproles, No. 1 wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey, offensive lineman Jason Peters, and, of course, quarterback Carson Wentz.
Although the game won’t provide a full picture, it still gives Nick Foles a chance to rebound from last week’s subpar performance – and preseason debut – in New England. The reigning Super Bowl MVP completed 3-of-9 passes for 44 yards and was sacked three times before leaving the game with a shoulder sprain.
Look for offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai to try and bounce back from an awful night as well where he was continuously beaten by opposing defensive linemen.
2. Scary defense
Through the first two games, the defense, especially the line, has been fun to watch. The unit wasn’t crisp against Tom Brady and Co. but it still played well for a second straight week. The competition won’t be as high against the woeful Browns, but with another strong showing, the starting defense can head into the regular season brimming full of confidence.
In addition to the defensive line, the slot cornerback and third linebacker position battles are still up for grabs and should be intriguing to watch unfold. Sidney Jones has the inside track on the cornerback job, but De’Vaunte Busby is making a strong case as well. At weakside linebacker, Nate Gerry and Kamu Grugier-Hill are neck-and-neck.
3. The new helmet rule
The Eagles were flagged for three personal fouls for lowering their head and making contact with a ball carrier last week. They were also penalized twice against the Steelers in the preseason opener. It’s a new rule the league has implemented this season to try to reduce concussions, and it has been heavily enforced in the preseason.
Players chirped this week that despite watching film and hearing from NFL officials on what is and is not a legal hit, they still are confused. For the starters, this is probably their last week to figure it out before those costly 15-yard penalties occur in a real game.