The real thing is less than 25 days away, but the Eagles second dress rehearsal for the big show goes down at Gillette Stadium tonight as the birds face the Patriots in a preseason tilt.
Unless Chip Kelly gets even more innovative than normal and decides to hold practice on the moon for a few days, this will be the last time the Eagles are on the road until they face the Colts on Monday Night Football in Week 2.
Unlike Chicago last week though, this wasn’t a short trip. The Eagles have been holding joint practices with the Patriots most of the week. This decision has seemed to bother a decent amount of people. Countless radio callers seem annoyed by the idea that Jeffrey Lurie is friends with Robert Kraft and that Kelly and Belichick are close, a few even referring to the latter relationship as ‘hero worship.’
It is not just limited to fans either. Two weeks ago, Cary Williams called the Patriots “cheaters” ‘cheaters, pumpkin eaters’ (H/T @BleedingGreen, H/T @BrandonGowton)
My take before we get to the meat of this post: Joint practices are becoming more common throughout the league, and I cannot think of a better partner than the Patriots. A few reasons for this:
- Location — Obviously you’re not traveling across the country in the preseason. These teams typically play an exhibition game for this exact reason, and this rules out someone like Denver as an option for the Eagles.
- Regular season schedule — These teams will not see each other until the 2015 regular season unless they meet in the Super Bowl. No need to worry about giving anything away.
- The Patriots are still really freakin good — If the Eagles are going to practice with some other team, wouldn’t you prefer the Pats to a squad like the Jets or Bills? Facing Geno Smith or E.J. Manuel won’t make a young defense better. Facing Tom Brady for three days will.
Back to the actual game tonight though. Last week, yours truly made the mistake of watching the preseason opener at a local establishment. I ended up missing the first 20 minutes doing laps in my car looking for a parking spot and didn’t see a ton more from there, unable to focus. I found a replay of it the following afternoon and created a live blog, but tonight, I’ll be posted up from the comfort of my own home.
Here are five things that I hope to see before the Eagles come home from Brady and Belichick’s kingdom:
- A Nick Foles led touchdown drive — I’m not worried about the quarterback’s lackluster performance last week, and frankly, I think anyone who who is concerned is seriously wasting their time. I have zero doubt Foles is going to have a great season. That said, I’d like to see him walk away from this one with some points under his belt, especially because he will likely play well into the second quarter.
- Alex Henery to attempt a field goal — Even with the priority on the above point, a drive stalling in Patriots territory wouldn’t be the worst thing because it allows Henery to get some work in. At this point, I have no idea why Carey Spear is still here. Henery — for better or for worse — is going to be the kicker.
- A stop by the first team defense — Last year when these two teams met in the first preseason game at the Linc, Tom Brady carved an overmatched Eagles defense up for a pair of touchdown passes. Word out of Foxboro by just about every reporter in attendance is that Billy Davis’ unit is doing a much better job holding its own this summer. Even though it won’t mean anything tangible right away, a three and out, forced punt, or turnover would have them feeling really good about themselves.
- More good(e) plays from Najee Goode — The potential lack of depth at inside linebacker behind starters DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks really frightens me. Goode eased some of that fear last week with a few nice tackles in space. Keep it up, kid. (Also, thanks for following me on the Twitter machine)
- Hungry Vinny Curry and moar Beau Allen — Not exactly a scheme fit in Davis’ 3-4 base defense that relies on a two-gap scheme, Curry is going to have to scratch and claw for every snap he gets in the regular season. Vinny Curry is hungry, and tonight, we feed him and try to give the Eagles defensive coordinator more incentive to get him on the field to rush the passer. Another sack from Curry and a tackle for loss from the mammoth Allen who was very active in his first career game last week would be solid.
Everyone knows not to read too far into a preseason game, and staying healthy is obviously more important than anything on this list, but if the Eagles can pull off these five things — or some variation of them — I will go to bed happy tomorrow night.
Editor’s Note: Normally, I would use this space beneath a post to advertise some of my old content related to the subject, but I would be cheating all readers out of a great experience here if I didn’t link to these two excellent longform pieces from Grantland and ESPN on Kelly and the Eagles. Read them when you have a chance. If time permits, I’ll be re-reading every day leading up to the opener.