Welcome to the preseason home opener against Buffalo, with that reunion sort of feel to it. Running back LeSean McCoy returns to Lincoln Financial Field. Familiar faces dot Sean McDermott’s Bills coaching staff. Eagles offensive tackle Jason Peters, linebacker Nigel Bradham, safety Corey Graham, cornerbacks Ron Brooks and Ronald Darby, safety Jaylen Watkins, and, of course, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz all have ties to Buffalo.
So there are some fun twists in this second preseason game. But there are some very definitive things the Eagles want to see in South Philly tonight.
- Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is likely to play, if only for a series or two. The Eagles aren’t going to force the football to him, but they will have a pass play or two in the game plan to try to get him involved. Remember this with Jeffery: The key is to get him to September and the regular season healthy. What is he really going to gain by playing in the preseason? Jeffery and quarterback Carson Wentz have worked a lot on timing and chemistry and trust, and they have a good thing going.
- Brandon Brooks should be back in the starting lineup at right guard, which means something. Brooks was having a very quiet, and very good, Training Camp prior to suffering an ankle injury. His next step is to play at a Pro Bowl level and the Eagles think he can get there. Having Brooks on the field against a very strong Buffalo front is important.
- Which leads to the running game. Ball security is critical, No. 1. Winning at the line of scrimmage is important, No. 2. Wendell Smallwood is a question mark to play with the hamstring injury he has been rehabbing, so it could be a lot more of Corey Clement and Donnel Pumphrey in this game. LeGarrette Blount is going to play, but he won’t be out there long. The ideal scenario is that the offense goes on a long touchdown drive to open the game and then the starters, I would imagine, might then head to the bench.
- Pumphrey and Clement are going to get a lot of touches. Let’s see how both advance from their first preseason experiences of a week ago. Pumphrey put the ball on the ground twice, once in the punt return game, and he didn’t play faster than the defense. Clement made some plays and looked more at home. Is anything guaranteed as far as roster spots? Not at this point. Both need to be better than they were in Green Bay.
- I’m guessing that the defense plays about a quarter, maybe longer, tonight. Jim Schwartz wants to integrate new cornerback Ronald Darby into game situations and Darby may very well have a chance to get his hands on the football given the way the Eagles attack up front. I want to see the Eagles' defense react to the mobility of quarterback Tyrod Taylor. His arm is big and not as consistent as the best quarterbacks in the league, but he can create with his legs and break down a defense that way.
- Keep an eye on rookie linebacker Nathan Gerry, who was around the football a lot in Green Bay. Another strong performance from him would be mighty encouraging. The Eagles need to know they can count on depth at linebacker.
is the slot receiver tonight and he’s got to be steady in his assignments. He’s a good blocker in the run game and he gets open on his routes. Catching the football consistently is where he has to show up.
- Who else plays the slot? Bryce Treggs has been sidelined with leg soreness. Paul Turner has been sidelined for much of camp with a shoulder injury. Greg Ward will play out of the slot. Rashard Davis is new and he’ll get some time.
- A player to watch at wide receiver? Marcus Johnson. He’s had a good camp and now it’s time to show up in a game. Johnson did not play last week with a hamstring injury but he is likely to see some substantial time tonight. He needs to stay healthy and he needs to be productive.
- There is a lot of depth along the defensive line, as you see. And at defensive tackle, the Eagles have some good competition with Justin Hamilton playing well last week and sixth-round draft pick Elijah Qualls finding his game legs. If you want to project into the regular season, the Eagles have Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan as the starters, with Beau Allen – who is making strong progress coming back from his torn pectoral injury – and Destiny Vaeao – who played very well last week – as likely backups. Do the Eagles keep a fifth tackle?
- Nick Foles threw at practice this week and is going to be fine after resting an elbow injury that had been bothering him for a long time. But he won’t play this week, so Matt McGloin has a chance to get extended playing time again. The Eagles feel that Foles doesn’t need a lot of game action and that he will be ready to go in the regular season if called upon. He knows the offense, he’s been in the league, and he will adapt quickly if needed. McGloin was under pressure all game in Green Bay. The second- and third-team offensive lines need to be much better this week.