There is a lot to watch when the Ravens come to town. In a word, we want to see everything. Every nook and cranny of this football team. The Eagles won the NFC East last year in what was a "transition" season and have since proceeded to make massive changes to the coaching staff and the roster.
Now, after tearing through free agency with remarkable efficiency, the Eagles take the field against another team for the first time. The schemes are likely to be vanilla and the deployment of personnel casual, but we'll get a sniff of what this team is all about. There is going to be some mayhem – how can there not be with 90 players who have known each other for two weeks? – but it's going to be fun, fun, fun at Lincoln Financial Field as Eagles football returns.
Here are some of the things to keep an eye on tonight …
Casey Matthews In Charge Of Defense
A fourth-round draft pick, Casey Matthews has done a fantastic job in training camp of running the huddle, calling out the defense, making sure everyone is on the same page. He has handled that part of it very, very well, and his ability to get to the football has kept him firmly entrenched as the starting middle linebacker.
Baltimore is one of the most physical teams in the NFL, so having Matthews on the field against a grind-it-out running game is a great test. Can Matthews get off blocks? Can he use his quickness to get to the football? How will he be challenged mentally having not watched a ton of film on the Ravens and their schemes?
The Eagles clearly want to see Matthews win this job. He is a bright prospect. Tonight is a superb test.
Protecting Michael Vick's Blind Side
Preseason games usually aren't the time for a lot of intricate defensive twists and turns, but Baltimore is likely to bring some heat just because that is what the Ravens do. They pressure the line of scrimmage. And the Eagles are going to find out very quickly about how the brief introduction to Howard Mudd's way of doing things up front is going.
Ryan Harris starts at right tackle, with rookie Danny Watkins next to him at right guard. Should Baltimore run some twists and stunts and bring some blitzes, the right side will be tested. And that is Michael Vick's blind side. And that is an area that the Eagles felt they needed to address substantially after the 2010 campaign.
Harris has done a nice job in training camp. With Winston Justice closing in on his return to practice, Harris has stepped up and earned the starter's role. This is a big moment for Harris tonight.
Keeping An Eye On The Secondary
In their base defense, it appears, the Eagles will go with Nnamdi Asomugha at right cornerback and Asante Samuel at left cornerback, with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the role as third cornerback. How much the three of them are on the field at the same time tonight remains to be seen. The Ravens have a good short passing game and they have had success in the intermediate passing game in recent years, but they have had some changes at wide receiver and tight end in the offseason.
Yeah, we want to see how it comes together with all of this talent at cornerback. This is going to be fun. The Eagles aren't likely to show a lot of their planned coverages, but we can get a sense. The starters are expected to play the first quarter against Baltimore.
Are The Rookies Ready On Special Teams?
Alex Henery has been outstanding in training camp and now he kicks under the bright lights at Lincoln Financial Field for the first time. He has never been in the stadium, so his pre-game warmup is going to be extremely important. The weather is warm and the wind is light, so the conditions are favorable.
Henery is going to handle kickoffs and field goals. Both are important, of course. Henery has a huge leg and is coming off of a great college career. He is the kicker here, barring any kind of preseason collapse. Will the Eagles give him a chance at a plus-50-yard field goal? They would probably like to see him establish some success with higher-percentage attempts, but who knows what the game will dictate?
Chas Henry, signed after the draft after a stellar career at Florida, is going to handle the punting game and is the holder for field goals. Again, Henry has a huge leg and is immensely talented. Consistency is the key for any kicker, particularly a rookie. Both Henery and Henry are in the spotlight tonight.
What About Juan?
He has been all business at Lehigh and the defense has been fast and furious. Castillo's high-energy approach has created much more enthusiasm and tempo in practice. The schemes have been aggressive. Castillo wants to keep it as simple as possible, and at the same time he wants to change the looks of the defense in different situations.
The entire defensive coaching staff was overhauled following the loss to Green Bay, so this is a great test for them to see how it all works on game day. There is so much going on with the expanded roster and all of the substitutions that are going to occur.
Will we get a feeling for what Castillo wants to do on a critical third-and-3 play? Maybe. But not exactly. This is a first test for Castillo, who is going to hold back much of his planned scheme in the preseason.
Which Roster Battles Are Worth Watching?
Every one of them, of course, but that's impossible. So here are a few to key on …
- Reserve cornerback. How many can the Eagles keep? This is a really deep and talented group behind the three Pro Bowl players. Joselio Hanson has been outstanding in training camp. Rookie Curtis Marsh has made great strides and is a big-time talent. Second-year man Trevard Lindley is expected to take a large step forward this year. Veteran Brandon Hughes has a big body and has had a strong camp. And on and on. Good group. Talented. How many can the Eagles keep?
- Jamaal Jackson starts at center, but it wouldn't be a surprise if rookie Jason Kelce had a few snaps with the starters. This has been a battle since Day 1 of training camp and there is no clear-cut winner at the moment.
- Defensive tackle has become an open-ended position. Mike Patterson remains out after his seizure. Trevor Laws has an injury that has kept him off the field the last week. In has come Anthony Hargrove, and he has played very well in camp. Ditto veteran Derek Landri and rookie Charles Noonan. Those three, along with Antonio Dixon and Cullen Jenkins, will play the bulk of the snaps tonight against a very good running team.
- Vince Young will wear a wristband with his package of plays as he continues to learn the terminology of the offense. He is coming along and he says he feels much more comfortable in the offense. He is going to play with a lot of reserves, so timing is going to be critical and challenging.
- Who is this team's third halfback behind LeSean McCoy and Ronnie Brown? It could be veteran Eldra Buckley or rookie Dion Lewis or rookie Craig Cooper or even rookie Derrick Locke. The Eagles might spend a decent amount of time tonight running the football to take a look at their backs and their offensive line.
- I still think tight end is going to have some shakeup. Not sure how, not sure who, not sure when, but the Eagles went out and signed Donald Lee on the first day of free agency for a reason. The depth chart reads like this: Brent Celek, Clay Harbor and then Lee. After those three, it's Cornelius Ingram, who looks so much better than he did in the 2010 preseason.