The Eagles play their third preseason game at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers tonight, and for all intents and purposes, it is their final exhibition contest.
Yes, they still face the Jets at Lincoln Financial Field a week from today. I get that the fourth preseason game is a night for guys locked in position battles and in some cases fighting for their football lives.
That is nothing to joke about, but tonight is the last time that the Eagles starters will be on the field together before the opener against Jacksonville on September 7th.
The third preseason game — for that reason — is often considered the most important of the bunch.
This is only my opinion, but it seems that the Steelers have lost some luster over the past two or three years. They are coming off uncharacteristic back-to-back 8-8 seasons and lost a playoff game to Tim Tebow the year before that.
Still, Ben Roethlisberger is fresh off a nice outing last week against the Giants that featured a 76-yard touchdown pass to star wide receiver Antonio Brown. I expect them to compete in a solid AFC North division this year, making them a solid opponent for the final dress rehearsal.
As I mentioned before, we can worry about sorting out the bottom of the roster next week. I’m mainly focused on the starters in this one, so without further ado, here are five things I’m looking for tonight.
- A clean game from Allen Barbre — I was not concerned with Lane Johnson’s replacement for the first four games at the beginning of camp. I am now. It is often difficult to evaluate offensive line play without coaches tape, but it doesn’t require an offensive line guru to know that Barbre has looked shaky through two games at right tackle. He played well when called upon to step in for Jason Peters against the Packers last season. Hopefully that Barbre shows up against Jacksonville (and three more times after that), but I would like to see that Barbre tonight.
- A made field goal by Alex Henery — If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Henery is 0-for-1 on field goals this preseason, and I would like to see him change that even if it comes on a chip shot. I explored the Henery issue more in-depth a few days ago. Even with the acquisition of rookie Cody Parkey, I still expect Henery to enter the season as the Eagles kicker. He has the power to prove a lot of people wrong but needs to make the team to do that and another missed field goal would give Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman more to ponder there.
- Maclin, Cooper, and Matthews Catching Passes from Nick Foles — Tonight marks the first time ever that this trio is on the field together. Unsurprisingly, Nick Foles looked good targeting fringe-level receivers last Friday in New England. The wide receiver position remains a question mark for many fans. Foles has a chance to throw to the big boys and ease some concerns about them in the process.
- Marcus Smith generates a pass rush — Smith seems to be the most popular overreaction topic right now with some folks already declaring him a bust and drawing comparisons to the infamous Brandon Graham over Earl Thomas decision by the Andy Reid regime in 2010. My take: Smith looked pretty good against the Bears and not so good last week against the Patriots. I like a lot of the instincts I see in terms of knowing where to be, but he needs to be coached up as a pass-rusher. I am guessing a hurry or sack would feel really good, and with how long Big Ben sometimes holds the ball, maybe he will get one.
- Nolan Carroll to erase memories of Roc Carmichael and Curtis Marsh — Carmichael and Marsh are good guys and bad NFL cornerbacks. Carroll was signed away from the Dolphins to be a decent NFL cornerback, expected to provide depth in the secondary and maybe push Cary Williams or Bradley Fletcher for a starting job. I don’t need to see anything spectacular tomorrow night. Just get through the game healthy and don’t get toasted doing it.
Aside from a few bumps and bruises and rookie Josh Huff suffering a shoulder injury, the Eagles are relatively healthy for late August standards.
Let’s do it one more time while accomplishing these things and worry about figuring out the last few roster spots this time next week.