Six Things We’re Watching In Tonight’s Preseason Game

Tonight, the Eagles will take on the Cleveland Browns in the third preseason game of the season. So far things haven’t gone the Eagles’ way in the win column, although that might not be such a bad thing. Regardless, there are some things Eagles fans would like to see cleaned up during what is typically the most important and telling preseason game on the schedule. Here are some of the things we’ll be watching tonight as the Birds continue to tune up for the regular season and their Super Bowl title defense.

Nick Foles

This one is painfully obvious but needs to be included. Foles did not look good in his first preseason action last week against the Patriots, going 3-9 for just 44 yards. Granted Foles got little help from his offensive line, as he was continually harassed by the Patriots defense, but in the NFL there are going to be games where the quarterback is pressured and needs to handle it. Even when he had time, Foles’ throws weren’t crisp or particularly accurate, costing the Eagles several would-be completions.

With Carson Wentz’s status still in doubt, the Eagles and their fans would feel much better if they saw a more steady and clean performance from Foles Thursday night. We’ve seen very little rhythm from the Eagles offense so far, and while injuries have played a role, it would be nice to see things click against the Browns.

Shelton Gibson

Gibson has had a very good summer and will likely make the 53-man roster. In a preseason that’s been marred by sloppy play and that has seen a lot of expected week 1 starters staying on the sideline, Gibson has been one of the few players that has been fun to watch. Thursday night could provide some insight into how Gibson will contribute in the regular season.

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Michael Bryant / Philly.com

Tackling

To be fair, tackling is always a little sloppy in the preseason. The combination of player safety initiatives from the league and teams wanting to keep players from getting dinged up has limited true contact during the summer, and that is usually evident throughout the preseason.

However, there were some egregious tackling errors in the Patriots game, many of which came in crucial situations. There were several instances where the Eagles had the Patriots in check only to see the good defensive effort thwarted by a missed tackle. It would nice to see the tackling cleaned up on Thursday night and have the Eagles finish plays they are in position to make.

The Linebackers

Speaking of tackling and missed opportunities, the linebackers certainly played a role in the sloppy defensive effort. A couple of missed chances from Jordan Hicks stick in the mind, including a play where he had a third-and-one run stuffed only to be stiff-armed out of the play and another where he missed a tackle. Hicks had a couple nice moments as well, and it would be good to see him have a more consistent outing Thursday night as the Eagles hope he returns to his 2016 form.

The linebacker position is also intriguing as we watch Nate Gerry and Kamu Grugier-Hill continue to battle it out for a starting spot. Both had some bright spots last week, however they each also failed to beat their blocker on a screen pass that went for a touchdown.

The Cornerbacks

Another intriguing group for the Eagles, and a unit the team hopes will be a strength in 2018. Ronald Darby has been very good while Rasul Douglas has been a bit up and down. Jalen Mills sat out the Patriots game and has been an enigma during his young career. There have been some concerning struggles as well as some flashes of brilliance. If he can develop some consistency and even approaches his ceiling, he could prove to be a steal and a long-term fixture in the Eagles’ secondary.

But the real intrigue on Thursday night comes from the battle between Sidney Jones and Avonte Maddox for the starting nickel spot. Jones generated a ton of excitement entering the preseason but has been inconsistent as he shakes off the rust and deals with the learning curve. Meanwhile the rookie Maddox has shown flashes as he has worked his way up the depth chart and now finds himself pushing Jones for a starting role.

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Julia Hatmaker / pennlive.com

Penalties

The parade of flags that is NFL football over the past few years has been exacerbated by the vague new helmet rule implemented by the league in the offseason. The flags have rained down this summer, bringing some very real concern about the enforcement of the rule and the watchability of the game.

As the rule stands now, it is virtually impossible to enforce in a consistent and objective way, and the league has put the referees in a terrible situation. It’s only a matter of time before an incredibly subjective call dictates the outcome of a game that matters.

The hope is that the officials have been directed to err on the side of caution during the preseason and to call the helmet penalty at every opportunity in an effort to drive home the point. If that’s the case and the call of the penalty is scaled back in the regular season, perhaps it will have less of an effect on the outcome of games. It’s unlikely the league would scrap the rule and head back to the drawing board before the season starts, but maybe it would consider clarifying it some more.

We’ll watch on Thursday night for any indication of a change in the enforcement of the rule.

Kudos to the league for making an effort towards player safety, but this particular attempt missed the mark and if it goes forward as is it will do more harm than good to the game.

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The third preseason game typically most closely resembles a regular season game, and hopefully the Eagles can put forth a clean, disciplined effort. Some offensive rhythm and finishing plays on defense would help to set the proper tone for the season opener.

 

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