Eagles vs. Patriots Preseason Game 1: Things to Watch | Eagles Addict
Chip Kelly and Bill Belichick

John Geliebter/USA TODAY Sports

Chip Kelly’s Eagles are set to debut tonight against the Patriots in Game 1 of NFL preseason action.  This is probably the most anticipated first preseason game in Philadelphia in the past 14 years.

Since the day Kelly was hired to reshape the team, he has steadfastly rebuked any notion that he was married to the read-option offense.  He has maintained that his offense will be built and adapted around the players’ strengths and that he won’t try to force anyone to fit into a certain scheme.

In other words, there should be no square pegs being jammed into round holes.

However, Kelly’s bread-and-butter has always been the read-option so I’m sure he at least wants that part of his playbook to be an option.  Even though he’ll be experimenting in the preseason, we’ll finally get a chance to see what his initial plan is for the offense.

On the defensive side, where Bill Davis has complete autonomy, we’ll get to see what the initial plan is there as well.

*Notice I said “initial” plans…that’s because they will change and be tweaked as needed based on personnel, but it will be interesting to see what their first thoughts are.

Besides the general “how will the schemes look”, there are also several other story lines to watch for starting tonight and in at least the next two games.  Here is what I’ll be watching…

Quarterback battle:

Obviously, this is what will get the most attention.  Vick gets the start tonight, but both he and Foles are slated to share time with the first-team offense.  Since the first team usually only plays the first quarter, we’ll be lucky to see two series for each of them.

Even though we will only see a limited sample, it’ll be interesting to see if there is any difference on how the offense is run between the two.  Will the play-calling be the same?  Will we see both, either, or neither guy running the read-option?

Who will look more accurate?  Who will appear to be making quicker decisions?  Who will attempt the “harder” throws?

This is a legitimate competition and the games are where it will be decided.  I want to see if either guy starts to separate himself from the other.  Decision-making, accuracy and the ability to direct the offense will be the key things to focus on tonight.

Oh yeah, I might want to see that guy named Matt Barkely too…maybe we’ll see what all the fuss is about him.

Running back:

McCoy is the unquestioned starter and Bryce Brown was thought to be the second guy in line.  However, there has been much buzz about Chris Polk and with a strong preseason, he could find himself ahead of Brown on the depth chart come September.

Brown flashed glimpses of greatness in relief of McCoy last season, but also showed a maddening penchant for fumbles.  He also has a bad habit of trying to bounce his runs outside too often instead of taking what he can get on the tough inside runs.

I’ll be watching to see if Brown still has these habits and if Polk can translate his practice performance to the games.

Also, is Felix Jones still on this team?  He has been virtually unheard of all through camp.  He may have the most riding on these preseason games out of any running back on the roster.

Tight end:

How involved will this position be in the offense?  Kelly is said to “love” his tight ends and the early word has been he plans on utilizing multiple TE sets this year.  Should be interesting to see what the offense looks like with Casey, Celek and Ertz on the field at the same time (possibly).

I specifically want to see how Casey will be used and how fluid Ertz seems.

Offensive line:

Allen Barbre gets the surprise start tonight in lieu of Jason Peters, who is sitting this one out with a sore hamstring.  Chip says he prefers starting Barbre there instead of switching the rest of the line around for continuity purposes (i.e., Herremans to RT, Johnson to LT and Watkins to RG).

Much of this season’s success will hinge on how this group performs.  Since Chip seems to favor a run-heavy attack, this group should see early success since run-blocking is much easier than pass-blocking.

Still, they’ll need some time to re-acclimate themselves with one another after an injury-ravaged 2012 robbed them of developing any chemistry.  Plus, they now have a new blocking scheme to learn as well as having to integrate first round pick Lane Johnson.

I’ll be watching to see if they can open adequate holes in the run game and how long they can protect the QB.  Can they consistently win at the line of scrimmage?  How will the interior of the line look with Kelce back?  Will Johnson look like a rookie?

The OL should be a strength this year so hopefully we get somewhat of a glimpse tonight even though all five starters aren’t playing.

Wide Receiver:

Besides QB, this will be the most interesting of position battles.  Will Cooper cement himself as the No. 2?  How will Kelly utilize small speedsters Jackson and Johnson? Who will be a willing and effective blocker, which is a big part of what Kelly expects from his wideouts?

The two guys to watch for the most are Ifeanyi Momah and Russell Shepard.  They are the two leading candidates to make the team as the fifth and possibly final wide receiver on the 53-man roster.

Momah has the extremely intriguing size and speed but is extremely raw.  Shepard has more experience and has generated the most buzz during camp so far.  Will either of them stand out more than the other?

Should be fun to watch!

The Defense:

This is the side of the ball where things will be in constant flux.  How much will they line up in a true 3-4 alignment?  The starting DL should be Sopoaga, Cox and Thornton and flanked by OLBs Connor Barwin and Trent Cole.

The biggest things to see are Cole and Graham in pass coverage.  Will they drop them back or just have them rush the passer?  How good will Barwin look?  Will he be the primary OLB in coverage or will they turn him loose on the QB more often?

Will the defense resemble more of a 4-3 or will they jump right into a full-blown 3-4 scheme?

How will the new, bigger DL hold-up against the run?  Can they generate any pass rush?  Can Sopoaga hold the point of attack and free up the linebackers to make plays?

News about the DL has been quiet so far in camp.  The biggest buzz, if any, was that of UDFA Damion Square.  The Eagles are said to love him and he’s been a pleasant surprise at camp.

He played multiple positions along the line while at Alabama and it’s unclear if he is viewed more as a 3-4 DE or NT at this point.  I’ll make a point to watch him as much as possible just to see if he’s someone that appears destined to make the roster.

DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks are already locked in as the starters at ILB.  However, I want to see how they perform behind a 3-4 alignment when the responsibilities are different from last year’s 4-3.

Jason Phillips was slated to be the primary backup at ILB but is out for the season after suffering a torn ACL.  This may clear the way for someone like Jake Knott or Emmanuel Acho to make the roster.

This preseason will also be very important for the much maligned Casey Matthews as well.  We’ll have to see if playing under Chip Kelly again will rejuvenate his career.

The secondary is the unit that will be under the most scrutiny.  Even after signing Kenny Phillips, Patrick Chung, Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams, this still appears to be the weakest unit on the team.

Your guess as to who the four starters will be is as good as anyone’s.  The only one that would seem to be a lock to start is Williams, if he can stay on the field.

If you believe reports coming out of camp, Fletcher may be unseated by Brandon Boykin on the outside.  If that happens, it’s unclear if he would move to the slot.

Bill Davis has mixed in several different starting combinations in the backfield in order to try and find the best fit.  The Eagles’ secondary has been historically bad the past two seasons and so far, I’m not sure how much this unit has improved.

The only player with glowing reports out of camp has been Boykin.  Other than that, I’m not hearing too much…and that’s not a good thing.

Watch for how many different combinations you see tonight and if anyone in particular stands out.  I’ll be watching to see who in the secondary is in good position and who is either out of position or is always a step late.

We could be in for another torturous season of breakdowns in this group.  Someone, multiple people, must step out of the darkness and help stabilize our last line of defense before the opponent crosses the goal line.

Can rookie fifth-rounder Earl Wolff help in that area?  I’ll be watching him closely as he might be our only hope!

In general, the defense is going to be the team’s biggest concern again this year.

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