The Big One? Eagles Take Early Preseason Test in New England

The Big One? Eagles Take Early Preseason Test in New England

Due to an unusual set of circumstances, the Eagles are holding their "dress rehearsal" one game early, which means when Monday Night Football kicks off tonight at 8 p.m., their starters will be going head to head with the reigning AFC Champion Patriots. Whether the opponent will treat the evening with any weight is another story.

The nearly perennial favorites to win the Super Bowl are typically a huge challenge. New England has averaged -- AVERAGED -- 12 wins per season over the last 11 years. Nine months ago they showed up at the Linc, and the scene quickly became a mugging. The Patriots marched up and down the field almost as if there were no defense out there. The Birds surely would prefer to make a better showing of themselves, and as we saw against Pittsburgh, they are still a little rough around the edges.

Unfortunately, they may not have that chance. ESPNBoston.com reported earlier this morning that Tom Brady and other stars may see little or no playing time in tonight's game.

Ordinarily the third preseason game is the tune-up for the regular
season. The reason for the change this year is a matter of timing. The
Eagles play again on Friday, and against Cleveland, their Week 1
opponent. With the games being just a few days apart, there's no reason
to get your starters beat up with extended action in the second of the
two, and you certainly don't want to show the Browns too much.

The Patriots also play on Friday, but they travel to Tampa Bay to meet the Buccaneers, who do not appear on their schedule again. Bill Belichick may opt to do the reverse of Andy Reid, and keep his players fresh for the upcoming match.

Regardless, this is the big one as far as the Eagles are concerned, big as far as preseason
games go. The starters are expected to play the entire first half, and
possibly into the third quarter. Matching up with a
top-tier team such as the Patriots, even if only for a few series, would make for a nice test heading into the
regular season, one that could help prepare the Eagles for the road
ahead.

Defense especially was the concern versus the Steelers, as well as last season -- the past few years actually -- and Juan Castillo's unit will have their hands full tonight. The Patriots finished second in yards from scrimmage and third in points scored in 2011, and have finished no worse than eighth in either category since '06. Brady is surgical, and he has elite talent to work with.

In particular, we're curious to see how the Eagles will match up against New England's tight ends, if either of them plays. Rob Gronkowski is coming off of an All-Pro season in which he caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and a league-leading 17 touchdowns. Aaron Hernandez added 79 receptions, 910 yards, and seven scores. Nothing like this had ever been done before.

The Birds improved their linebacking corps with the additions of DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks, but the group has their limitations. Nobody is certain Ryans possesses the athleticism to stay with these types of vertical threats down the field, and neither Kendricks nor Brian Rolle even stands at six foot compared to the 6'6" Gronk and 6'4" Hernandez. We might see Nnamdi Asomugha used to combat these apparent mismatches, but even then the Patriots have Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd running around out there.

As for Michael Vick and the offense, they need to get something going against the Patriots early after the Steelers limited them to a pair of three-and-outs in game one. While they will likely be improved from a year ago, the Pats D ranked 31st in yards allowed in '11. The Eagles' offense was fourth in yards gained. New England was especially vulnerable against the pass, so it would be nice to see a big play or two out of DeSean Jackson now that he has his contract.

The offensive line's performance has to be a point of emphasis as well. Obviously, all eyes will be on King Dunlap making the start over Demetress Bell at left tackle. However, there is a rather large fella by the name of Vince Wilfork in the middle of the Patriots defensive line, so how the interior holds up -- specifically second-year players Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins -- could be the determining factor on whether or not we see any long drives.

Of course, while Wilfork's name was not in the report that listed primarily offensive starters, he is certainly a key piece who may be limited as well. If the Patriots are content to play only backups, you have to wonder how much good it does the Eagles to have their first team play deep into the night. Then again, maybe it depends on how well they handle the opposing club's second stringers.

Sir Charles and Shaq made things personal last night and it was fantastic

Sir Charles and Shaq made things personal last night and it was fantastic

Shaq always has the trump card -- and by that we mean championship rings -- to throw in Charles Barkley's face. But with that said, Sir Charles is probably a much better trash talker and therefore has a superior mouth to defend himself with and throw barbs back in Shaq's direction.

The mouthy duo got into it a bit last night and it teetered between fun and lighthearted and a little personal.

Shaq attacks Chuck for only playing in one NBA Finals and therefore not really knowing what he was talking about. Charles claps back at Shaq for having ridden Kobe and Dwyane Wade's coattails. 

During an NBA playoffs that has been mostly boring, at least these two can still entertain us.

Fletcher Cox should be at Eagles OTAs, but absence likely meaningless

Fletcher Cox should be at Eagles OTAs, but absence likely meaningless

Fletcher Cox wasn’t at practice with the rest of his Eagles teammates on Tuesday -- well, 86 of them -- and that’s okay. It’s May, and participation in offseason training activities is strictly voluntary. Furthermore, if Cox wants to take a vacation, he is entitled to do so under the collective bargaining agreement.

Cox really should be at OTAs. The Eagles gave him a contract potentially worth over $100 million just last year, and with that comes an obligation. Cox arguably did not live up to that contract last season, too, so he could use the practice. And if he needed a vacation, why didn’t he take one during the three months he was off from work?

As far as I’m concerned, both takes are true. Cox is free to do as he wishes, and people with careers in sports should understand better than anybody the strain it places on families, so I can’t blame most of these guys for taking a little extra time. Then again, this drama with Cox seems like it was completely avoidable, and looks especially bad in light of his contract and disappointing season, so I can’t blame people for being angry, either.

Yet, Cox’s absence almost certainly will have no bearing on the outcome of any games this season. It’s not a sign of disrespect for Eagles coach Doug Pederson or that he’s losing the locker room. It’s not going to send a message to teammates that participation is not expected or important.

Cox missing OTAs on Tuesday was of no consequence to the Eagles at all. By training camp, it will be a forgotten footnote in the story of the 2017 season, only to be mentioned in future Mays whenever somebody else exercises the option to skip a voluntary practice.

Even then, there is clearly a double standard, because the reaction isn’t the same for everybody. When Brandon Graham missed last week while he was believed to be “holding out” for a new contract -- can’t hold out when it’s voluntary -- there were equal parts rage and support for the cause. Jason Peters and Donnie Jones are out this week, too, and while some displeasure has been voiced, those absences were largely met with apathy.

Marcus Smith was missing on Tuesday as well, and it’s not immediately clear why. Pederson made no mention of the former first-round draft pick, and practice was almost over before reporters bothered to notice. In theory, this is a huge mistake, because Smith is fighting for a roster spot. We also don’t know where he is -- perhaps there’s a reasonable explanation -- so it’s unreasonable to jump to conclusions or become outraged.

This is the part where once again we remind everybody that it’s May and these practices are non-contact. And while Cox going away for a week will still be indefensible to some, it never hurts to put yourself in another person’s shoes. Maybe, for whatever reason, he was literally unable to make the trip at a time that would not interfere with Eagles business. Maybe he was simply getting grief at home because he's away so much.

That undoubtedly will be impossible for some people to accept. And, hey, maybe Cox just doesn’t care. Regardless, the practices are voluntary, Cox is expected back next week, and absolutely nobody is going to be talking about this eight months from now, eight weeks from now, or even eight days from now.