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Keep Big Picture In Mind Tonight

Posted Aug 21, 2014

Pittsburgh is in town, the preseason home opener here, and the goal remains the same for the Eagles tonight: Play good football and find the best 53 players for September and beyond ...

Pittsburgh is in town, the preseason home opener here, and the goal remains the same for the Eagles tonight: Play good football and find the best 53 players for September and beyond.

That's what is truly important. Sure, sure everyone wants to win and it would be nice to see it all come together on a night when the starters are likely to play deep into the second quarter, at least. But don't expect the coaching staff to unveil any secrets, nor to dig too deep into the playbook.

The objective, prime and No. 1 in the preseason, is to evaluate personnel. That doesn't just mean the reserves, those "bubble" players battling to make the 53-man roster. It means everyone on this roster, including the starters.

So head coach Chip Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur haven't spent an inordinate amount of time game planning to prepare for the Pittsburgh blitz, which is part of the Steelers' DNA. They know it's likely to come, and they will make some adjustments, but for the most part the Eagles want to see how the linemen and the backs and quarterback Nick Foles react to the pressure.

On defense, the Eagles must do a better job of getting off the field on third down. We all know that. They know it. But coordinator Bill Davis isn't going to show his hand in the preseason, so it's still, for the most part, going to come down to individuals winning battles and playing great technique and making tackles and being disciplined.

It's a team goal tonight, of course: Play well and win. It always feels good to win. But individuals are in focus as the next 10 days are all about finding the best 53 men for the 2014 roster.

With that in mind, here are some things to watch as the preseason home opener (7:30 p.m., 6abc) nears ...

  • Foles made a nice improvement from his two-interception game against Chicago to a strong outing in New England. Another impressive performance would be a nice capper to his preseason. The Eagles are expected to have their full complement of offensive weapons on the field tonight with wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin ready to go. Rookie Jordan Matthews could see a lot of time in the slot with the starters. We know what the tight ends are doing in the preseason. LeSean McCoy is going to play. Let's see the offense get into a rhythm.

  • McCoy and Darren Sproles are the 1-2 punch in the backfield, but what will the rest of the running back depth chart look like? Who plays tonight? Newly acquired Kenjon Barner has had one day of practice and could see some time. Henry Josey had a nice game in New England and could see more snaps against Pittsburgh. Who else is healthy enough to go?

  • Big test for the offensive line against a Steelers defense that traditionally brings it, preseason or not. Communication is key. The Steelers give a lot of looks and they play downhill defense.

  • It's clear that the tight ends are huge, huge, huge in this offense. It should be fun to watch how the rotation works and how much Foles attacks the middle of the field.

  • It is not going to be an easy night for the secondary. Wide receiver Antonio Brown is a Pro Bowl player who caught a 76-yard touchdown last week. Tight end Heath Miller is outstanding. The Steelers have a lot of varied weapons, including speedy running back Dri Archer out of the backfield. Let's see how much progress the cornerbacks have made with their technique and discipline.

  • Pittsburgh is a power-based running attack that has not yet had much success in the preseason. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Steelers emphasize the running game just a bit to get something going pointing toward the regular season. Truthfully, the Steelers have been awful running the ball in two preseason games. The offense, overall, has been poor. The Steelers have something to prove tonight, preseason style.

  • Alex Henery remains the placekicker, but he's got some competition from Cody Parkey, a rookie from Auburn whom the Eagles acquired in a trade from the Colts on Wednesday. Parkey made both of his field goals with Indianapolis in the preseason. He's got a big leg and led the nation with 69 touchbacks last season.

  • Barner may see some time on kickoff return duty. He needs to make an impact to make this team.

  • No. 1 draft pick Marcus Smith had a less-than-productive game in New England, so he wants to come on strong when he's on the field. The linebackers are an interesting group. How will the rotation work? Where is Brandon Graham fitting in? How many reps can he get this season? He's been very effective rushing the quarterback in the preseason.

  • Arrelious Benn appeared to gain ground in his bid to make the roster. Will the Eagles keep six wide receivers? Benn should get some reps tonight.

  • Nolan Carroll II could play some tonight, which would be great to see. He was really having a fine Training Camp until suffering a groin injury. The Eagles need him to be a reliable piece in the secondary.

  • Who wins the job at safety next to Malcolm Jenkins? Nate Allen seems to have the advantage, but Earl Wolff played well in New England last week. This could be the deciding game.

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