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.

Joel Embiid to play Monday vs. Nuggets; Jahlil Okafor questionable (illness)

Joel Embiid to play Monday vs. Nuggets; Jahlil Okafor questionable (illness)

Joel Embiid will play Monday night against the Nuggets at the Wells Fargo Center.

The reigning Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month is still unable to play back-to-back games. He'll likely be out Tuesday night when the Sixers travel to Memphis to play the Grizzlies.

The home crowd will get see Embiid but they may not get to see him paired with fellow big man Jahlil Okafor. Okafor is questionable on Monday with an illness.

Robert Covington (left knee sprain, flu) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are also out on Monday.

More coming...

Penalties the only consistent theme for Doug Pederson's Eagles

Penalties the only consistent theme for Doug Pederson's Eagles

CINCINNATI — There’s one thing the Eagles are very consistent at, and it’s nothing to be proud of.

The Eagles continue to be one of the most penalized teams in the NFL, and with 10 more infractions in their 32-14 loss to the Bengals on Sunday, they increased their 12-game total to 100 — second-most in the NFL this year.

Five times they’ve been called for 10 or more penalties, and that’s one shy of the most games in franchise history with double-digit penalties in a season.

And there’s four games to go.

The Eagles have been cited for penalties seven or more times in all but three games. They’re on pace for the third-most penalties in franchise history.

Earlier this year, the Eagles committed seven or more penalties in four straight games for the first time in six years. The last month, they did that again.

This is not a disciplined football team. Not remotely.

“The penalties are hurting us,” said Brandon Graham, who was called for a personal foul after a low hit on Andy Dalton Sunday. “You kind of get frustrated a little bit and sometimes a lot of stuff starts happening. But we have to clean that up.”

The Eagles are on pace for 133 penalties. The franchise high is 138, set in 1994 by a Rich Kotite team that lost its last seven games. The 2005 team — torn apart by the Donovan McNabb-Terrell Owens feud — committed 134.

The only team with more penalties than the Eagles this year is the Raiders with 112. They always lead the league in penalties and at least this year they’re winning anyway.

The Eagles aren’t. Their lack of discipline has contributed greatly to their current stretch of seven losses in a nine-game span.

For the Eagles, it’s been just another part of the season that’s gotten away from coach Doug Pederson and his players.

“Penalties have got to stop,” Pederson said Sunday night. “Obviously, the turnovers and things like that too. It’s just not characteristic of how we coach and how we play.”

But it’s how this team has played. Consistently.

Only against the Bears, Cowboys and Giants have the Eagles committed fewer than seven penalties. When they commit 10 or more, they’re 1-4

“Some of it is focus, and some of it is anticipating the snap count,” Pederson said. “Some of it is a little on the quarterback, because we’re using so many snap counts and cadences to get indicators from the defense to tip their hat a little bit.

“Guys are geared up. We’ve got to focus in on that, because it’s something we work on every single week. Obviously the silent count we work on every week.”

Here’s a breakdown of the Eagles’ 100 penalties:

12 — Jason Peters

8 — Jason Kelce

7 — Nolan Carroll

6 — Zach Ertz, Allen Barbre

5 — Jalen Mills, Fletcher Cox

4 — Dorial Green-Beckham, Brandon Graham, Carson Wentz, Malcolm Jenkins

3 — Nigel Bradham, Rodney McLeod, Najee Goode, Marcus Smith, Brent Celek

2 — Jaylen Watkins, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Isaac Seumalo, Destiny Vaeao, Trey Burton, Matt Tobin

1 — Kenjon Barner, Darren Sproles, Ron Brooks, Jordan Matthews, Wendell Smallwood, Vinny Curry, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Donnie Jones, Bennie Logan, Chris Maragos, Leodis McKelvin, Halapoulivaaati Vaitai.

And here’s a breakdown of the types of penalties the Eagles have been hit with:

22 — False start

16 — Offensive holding

10 — Unncessary roughness

8 — Defensive pass interference, offensive pass interference

7 — Defensive offsides

4 — Delay of game, illegal formation, defensive holding

3 — Roughing the passer, facemask, neutral zone infraction

2 — Chop block, defensive 12 men on the field, encroachment, illegal contact, running into the kicker

1 — Unsportsmanlike conduct, horse collar tackle, illegal block above the waist, illegal shift, offensive 12 men on the field, offensive offsides, illegal use of hands