A Touchdown Full Of Things To Watch And An Extra Point
By Lance Epstein
Tonight the Eagles travel to Cincinnati to take on the high-powered Bengals offense in their second preseason game.
While the game is just another tune-up for the regular season and does not really matter in the grand scheme of things it does mark the first game against a playoff contender for the 2010 Eagles. Additionally, there are plenty of areas that the Eagles need to improve upon and position battles that are unsettled.
Head coach Andy Reid said that the starters are going to play an entire half this week, so we will know a lot more about the makeup of the team compared to last week against Jacksonville.
Here is a touchdown worth of things to watch for tonight:
1. Ellis Hobbs vs. Chad OchoCinco and Terrell Owens: With CB Asante Samuel's potentially being out, the Eagles will rely on Hobbs to matchup against to aging stars in OchoCinco and Owens. While Hobbs has been good, physical and flying around the ball in practice and played extremely well against the Jaguars, he hasn't faced wide receivers like this in a game situation. If Hobbs can hold his own against these two wide outs then the Eagles should feel very confident heading into the season with Hobbs being the starting corner alongside Samuel.
2. Eagles Linebackers vs. TE Jermaine Gresham and WR Jordan Shipley: One of the biggest problems the Eagles have had over the past couple of seasons is guarding the slot receiver and tight end over the middle of the field. Last year, the Eagles had no answer for opposing team's tight ends and slot receivers constantly picked up first downs. The Eagles went into the offseason and made it their mission to pick up linebacker in Ernie Sims, who could guard tight ends and even running backs out of the backfield. Also, the return of Stewart Bradley should help ensure that the trend does not continue. Gresham was the best tight end to come out of this year's draft and Shipley has been one of the biggest surprises so far in the preseason. Both work the middle of the field and give Carson Palmer a security blanket as well. Of course, Shipley will likely be matched up against Joselio Hanson most of the time, but there will be plays where the linebackers will be forced to cover him. If the Eagles expect to be a top 10 defense this year, then they must stop opposing team’s tight ends.
3. Kevin Kolb vs. The Bengals Defense: Certainly the Bengals defense is not going to run everything that they normally do in a regular season game. However, Kolb must show he can be efficient against good defenses and limit his turnovers as well. Without a doubt, Kolb was extremely impressive against the New Orleans Saints in his first career start, but he had costly turnovers that changed the ride and ultimately the outcome of the game. For Kolb, he still has a lot to prove to his peers and experts around the league. While this is only a preseason game, it would instill a ton of confidence in his teammates, the fans and coaching staff if he puts together an outstanding game tonight against a defense that finished in the top 10.
4. WRs DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin vs. CBs Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall: This might be the best matchup of the entire night. Hall is an up-and-coming cornerback in the NFL. Joseph will remind Eagles fans of a corner they recently traded in Sheldon Brown. The reason that this matchup is important for Jackson is due to the last time he went up against a upper echelon cornerback in Dallas' Michael Jenkins. In the final two games versus Dallas, he was completely shutdown. Jackson must be able to beat good corners, not just the ones who are average and barely hanging on to a starting position. If Jackson can take the next step in his development, he could vault himself into a top five wide receiver in the game. As for Maclin, he started to play much better towards the end of the 2009 season. He was able to beat No. 2 corners even with Jackson coming up small. His ability to be productive when Jackson struggles makes the Eagles a very dangerous team. Maclin should see a lot of balls thrown his way since Hall will try to blanket Jackson.
5. RB Martell Mallett vs. J.J. Arrington vs. Eldra Buckley: Last week the clear winner was Mallett who scored a touchdown, led the Eagles in rushing yards and shine with the bright lights being on. This week he might have a tougher task with Arrington playing and taking away some of his snaps. Still, the Eagles are searching for their third-string running back since LeSean McCoy and Mike Bell are locks to make the club. Right now, the leader has to be Mallett who has shown the ability to run the ball between the tackles and has the speed, agility to be a pass catcher out of the backfield. With that said, Buckley is not far behind him. He has a nice game versus the Jags and has been a force on special teams. Meanwhile, Arrington has not really shown what he can do yet, but tonight could be a big night for him. If he demonstrates his superb receiving skills, then he could leap frog both players. Nevertheless, this battle probably will not be settled until the final preseason game, where the Eagles are going to be forced to make a decision.
6. Joselio Hanson vs. Bengals WRs vs. Trevard Lindley/Macho Harris/ Dimitri Patterson: Down the stretch last season, the worst cornerback on the roster could have been Joselio Hanson. Last week, it was apparent that he was the worst cornerback on the Eagles roster with his play. If Hanson expects to hold onto his No. 3 cornerback position, he must quit getting beat deep and getting lost in coverage. Since his four-game suspension, he has not been the same player that got the hefty contract extension. His confidence appears to be low and his physical skills have diminished. Besides that, Patterson and Lindley have very impressive camps. Lindley (fourth-round pick out of Kentucky) nearly had an interception last week and has adjusted very quickly to the NFL game. Patterson, who has been a NFL journeyman for his first couple of years in the league, seems to have a good understanding of the defensive scheme and found his home in Philadelphia. As for Harris, he has not seen the field much in practice and was out against the Jaguars. However, the times he has been on the field, Harris has looked solid at cornerback. Nonetheless, this is Hanson's job to lose, but if he puts on another poor performance, the Eagles will be forced to replace him and might even release his big salary.
7. Kickoff and punt coverage: In the first half of the Eagles first preseason game, the unit was solid. Then came the second half and they appeared to forget how to tackle. Maybe that was because rookie Kurt Coleman did not play special teams during the second half or maybe it is just a young bunch of players learning how to play on special teams. Either way, this is an area that needs to improve. The Eagles do not need teams starting near mid-field every time they touch the ball. No one should be panicking right now since Bobby April is one of the best special teams coaches in the business. However, fans hope to see some improvement.
Eagles Red Zone Offense: An Achilles heel for most of the decade was the Eagles’ red zone offense. Whether it was McNabb's inaccuracy, the lack of playmakers or inability to run the ball, it forced field goals instead of touchdowns. Last week, the Eagles first team got to the red zone twice, and came away with just six points. In practice, the offense has also slumped inside the 20s. If the Eagles expect to win a playoff spot this year, they must score seven points and not settle for three. The Eagles schedule is already daunting tasking, but trying to win with field goals will make it nearly impossible.
Active/In-actives for tonight's game:
**The Eagles have confirmed that CB Asante Samuel will not play tonight. He is recovering from a nagging hamstring issue. Joselio Hanson is expected to start in his place. this is a make or break game for Hanson. If he struggles, Trevard Lindley, Macho Harris and Dimitri Patterson could leap frog him on the depth chart.
** RB Mike Bell is going to play tonight. Bell has not been on the practice field for most of camp with a hamstring strain and calf injury. This is good news for Bell. He needs to prove to the coaching staff he can stay healthy and be the player he thought he could be.
** Nick Cole will not play tonight due to his knee. Center Mike McGlynn will start in his place. If McGlynn continues to play like he did against the Jaguars, he could be the team's opening day starter.