Eagles-Steelers: Five Things to Watch For

Eagles-Steelers: Five Things to Watch For

Hosting the Steelers this Thursday night, the Eagles have a number of key storylines. Here are the five most important.

FOLES' CLEAN SLATE

After a rough outing in Chicago (two interceptions), Nick Foles rebounded strongly with some solid drives in compressed time against the Patriots, throwing a touchdown pass to Zach Ertz on eight of ten passing. After playing in seven drives this preseason, it looks as though Foles has shaken the rust off of himself, looking more and more like the surging leader of last year's offense.

Foles knows this will be his last chance before the regular season to get on the same page with Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper (seeing his first game action this summer), and slot man Jordan Matthews, the latter of whom has caught one exhibition pass from Foles thus far.

With roughly two and a half quarters for which to work, there's no need to force anything. Now that Foles has gotten in some quality work against the Patriots, the game on Thursday will be his chance to fine tune the little things, and build up his re-familiarization with the offense for an extended time frame.

THE ALLEN BARBRE SITUATION

The first two preseason outings have Eagles fans cursing Lane Johnson's pharmacist, as the right tackle's surrogate hasn't looked so mighty. Allen Barbre was a surprise in last season's win over the Packers, notably for his throttling of Clay Matthews. Rewarded with a three-year extension this offseason, Barbre is raising skepticism over how he may play in the season's first four games.

That slate includes a Jacksonville defense that should improve under Gus Bradley (former Seattle linemen Red Bryant and Chris Clemons bolster the group), a Colts defense that's building a deadly pass rush, and a 49ers team that, setbacks aside, still boasts serious pop across any offensive line.

Barbre has approximately 35-40 minutes of game time to find his footing, and build off of it into a month of important duty. Behind him on the bench, the likes of Matt Tobin and Dennis Kelly are drawing raves for their improved second-level blocking, but it doesn't seem likely that Chip Kelly would hastily replace the replacement.

IMPROVING THE RUSH

An Achilles heel of a somewhat-underrated Eagles defense in 2013 was the pass rush. The team garnered only 37 sacks, a few below the league average. Thus far, those struggles have carried over to the preseason, as the Eagles have notched just three sacks in two games.

Since Kelly is looking for deep rotation among his defenders (to compensate for the quicker offensive possessions, in order to keep the defensive players fresher), look for the Eagles to mix in Vinny Curry, Brandon Bair, and Beau Allen among the first teamers with some frequency.

Curry is the team's best rusher, with unbelievable quickness off the snap, while Bair's been a pleasant surprise in terms of knifing his way into the backfield. Allen has been a valuable presence in the middle, both breaking through in the rush, and standing up the center. It's a wonder that Allen was not invited to the Combine, given his versatility for his weight. The three will be counted on to provide mismatches as they mix with Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, and Bennie Logan.

RUN DEFENSE MAINTENENCE

A silver lining from Friday's loss: the first ten Patriots runs only went for 36 yards, a 3.6 YPA average. Efforts from the likes of Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans, and improved run-pursuit from Curry hemmed in a Patriots team that found it easier to pass (especially with Curtis Marsh a sitting duck).

Philadelphia gave up a paltry 3.77 YPA last season, the fourth best average in the entire league. Bill Davis' 3-4 allowed only one 100-yard rusher all season, and that was Rashad Jennings on November 3 (102).

Armed with Le'Veon Bell, bulky LeGarrette Blount (a former Kelly disciple), and head-turning rookie speedster Dri Archer, the Steelers will employ their share of running plays, which the Eagles could presumably handle. It's the screen game that could be the issue, especially after Archer made his waves on Saturday evening.

UNITED SECONDARY

All signs point to Cary Williams, Brandon Boykin, and Nolan Carroll being active Thursday evening, and it comes not a day too soon. Joined with the understated Bradley Fletcher, it'll be a long time before Curtis Marsh gets any field time against the Steelers, if Kelly and Davis even feel like playing the poor kid.

With safeties Malcolm Jenkins, Nate Allen, and Earl Wolff all likely to be active barring unforeseen incidents, this will be the most comprehensive look at the secondary depth this preseason. All seven players are expected to rotate heavily over the course of the season.

They must, however, all be wary of the league's new push for more flags on hand-check and contact penalties. Williams, Fletcher, and Carroll are all physical, bump-and-run corners, and the officials haven't been hesitant to let the yellows fly this preseason.

Follow Justin Henry on Twitter

WarNest.com Recommended Stories


Up Next


Tweets