Welcome to the third preseason game and the closest thing to the regular season that you're going to see this summer. The plot twist for tonight's game against Miami at Lincoln Financial Field (7 p.m., NBC10 and NFL Network) is that the Eagles and Miami have taken hundreds of reps against each other this week and so there is already some built-in familiarity.
That said, there's also a lot riding on the game tonight. The starters are likely to play deep into the second quarter at the least, depending on how the game goes. Now, if quarterback Carson Wentz takes the team down the field for three consecutive touchdowns to open the game – shades of Sam Bradford, circa 2015 – then the first-team offense would probably take a seat sooner rather than later.
But it's possible that the starters will play into the third quarter, if even for a series. So this will be an extended look at the first-team units, minus any specific game plan. Here are some things to watch:
- Running back Wendell Smallwood sees his first preseason game after sitting out with a hamstring injury the first two weeks. He's so hugely important to the Eagles' running game. Smallwood brings the sizzle in the backfield and is being counted on for a large role in the offense this season. So tonight means something for him. He's going to see a good amount of time and, hopefully, will get quality touches.
* The offensive line goes with its projected starting five players for the first time in the preseason - Jason Peters at left tackle, Isaac Seumalo at left guard, Jason Kelce at center, Brandon Brooks at right guard, and Lane Johnson at right tackle. The matchup tonight is a formidable one working against Miami's excellent front, led by Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake, and first-round draft pick Charles Harris. Miami likes its defensive line to get up the field, so the offensive line has to win and limit penetration. This is a great test for Game 3 of the preseason.
* Neither Jordan Hicks (quad) nor Brandon Graham (elbow) will play, meaning large roles for Joe Walker at middle linebacker and Derek Barnett at defensive end. The Eagles aren't settled at all behind Hicks at middle linebacker, with Walker and Don Cherry competing for much of camp. Neither has distanced himself to win the job. The Eagles have been looking for some quality linebacker depth and they feel like Najee Goode and rookie Nathan Gerry have stepped up, but that middle linebacker No. 2 job remains open.
* The Eagles have been really solid defensively in the preseason and tonight's test is one to watch, particularly in the secondary. Quarterback Jay Cutler gets the football out quickly to a strong set of receivers led by Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker.
* Getting the running game going is an objective, for sure. LeGarrette Blount is going to get his touches and try to establish the north-south running game, the power game, that the Eagles need to bring to the table in the regular season. Again, no game plan is in place, so the Eagles need to win their battles up front and give Blount a chance to get out of the backfield.
run away from coverage in the punt return game. He had a big return in Green Bay brought back because of a penalty and otherwise has not been able to get much going there.
The Eagles traded away veteran backup offensive linemen Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin, so the attention turns toward younger reserves like Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Chance Warmack, and the wise one, Stefen Wisniewski. Tackle Dillon Gordon continues to make progress in his second season. Taylor Hart, the converted defensive tackle, is still here trying to make the roster as an offensive tackle. The Eagles are still very confident in their depth up front.
Matt McGloin is in line to back up Wentz if Nick Foles rests again. The Eagles say that Foles is fine and that if this were the regular season he would be good to go, so McGloin has another chance to get something done with this offense after the starters depart.
The wide receiver picture seems fairly defined, with Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith starting, and Nelson Agholor in the slot. Mack Hollins and Marcus Johnson have shown up this summer and appear to be in strong position to make the roster. That's five receivers. Would the Eagles keep a sixth? Bryce Treggs is in line to play tonight and he has to be a factor to give the coaching staff something to think about.