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August 22, 2019

5 things to watch in the Eagles' third preseason game vs. the Ravens

Eagles NFL

In their third preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens, the Philadelphia Eagles are likely to keep their starters out of harm's way, like they did Week 1 against the Titans and Week 2 against the Jaguars. Still, for the diehards, here are five things to watch.

1) Will Josh McCown play?

I'm not even bothering to wonder if Carson Wentz is going to play or not. It feels pretty clear as it has all along that he's not going to see the light of day in a meaningless preseason game this year. 

What is maybe more interesting is if the Eagles will get Josh McCown some reps. McCown is the current No. 2 quarterback, and probably also the season-long No. 2 even after Nate Sudfeld returns from his broken wrist.

In the first joint practice against the Ravens, McCown was changing plays at the line, despite having been signed by the team the previous day. He is a veteran with almost two decades in the league under his belt, so the mental side of the game should be a breeze. The question is probably whether the Eagles even want to expose him after seeing Cody Kessler get knocked out a week ago.

2) Will any of the other healthy starters play?

The third preseason game has traditionally been known as the "dress rehearsal" game, with the starters typically playing into the second half. Still, the guess here is that the starters, at least on offense, won't play at all. I think you'll see a temporary starter like Halapoulivaati Vaitai, for example, get reps at guard as he continues to learn that position, but otherwise, what's the benefit?

One interesting player to watch (or maybe not watch) is Miles Sanders. In my view, Sanders has shown enough throughout camp and his limited preseason action that he should be the lead back from Week 1. If he doesn't play at all, there's a pretty good bet the Eagles feel the same way.

As for the defense, against the Jaguars last week, the starters got a little bit of work in. We'll see if they play a few series again tonight, but after a pair of productive joint practices with the Ravens, again, the guess here is that they probably won't.

3) Can Greg Ward or Marken Michel make another big play and put pressure on Mack Hollins?

In the first preseason game, Marken Michel caught a bomb from Nate Sudfeld for a TD. Against the Jaguars, Greg Ward won a 50-50 ball from Clayton Thorson, and ran it in for a score. 

Both players have done more than Hollins during camp, but was it enough unseat him for a roster spot on a team with four locks at receiver, and likely only one open spot at the position? Probably not, but both players can make it more interesting if they can they make another big play on offense, or show some special teams chops over the last two preseason games.

And then, of course, maybe Hollins can make a play to help fend them off.

4) Can the defensive linemen continue to stand out?

The dropoff from first-team defensive linemen to second-team defensive linemen typically isn't nearly as sharp as the dropoff from first-team offensive linemen to second-team offensive linemen. As such, second- and third-team defensive linemen tend to dominate second- and third-team offensive linemen in the preseason. 

That's why guys like Steven Means would pile up sacks in the second half of preseason games, and it's probably why a guy like Daeshon Hall has 8 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles in the first 2 preseason games. Still, good on Hall for making a strong case to make the 53-man roster. 

The Eagles' depth at defensive tackle looks excellent heading into the regular season. To be determined if the Eagles can get production from their backup defensive ends. Edge rushers like Hall and Shareef Miller will have ample opportunities to make their case for roster spots and playing time in a rotational role over the next two games. This is probably also an appropriate moment to note that Josh Sweat isn't likely to play, as he is day-to-day with a knee injury.

5) The backup safeties and linebackers are of interest as well.

With Kamu Grugier-Hill likely out for at least a few weeks to start the season, and maybe also Nigel Bradham as well (?), can guys like Zach Brown, Nate Gerry, or L.J. Fort inspire confidence that they can step in and play important roles until the starters return?

And then at safety, it's to be determined if Rodney McLeod will be ready to go for Week 1. Personally, I think he will, just FYI, but the Eagles would be encouraged if they could see competent play from guys like Andrew Sendejo, Johnathan Cyprien, and Tre Sullivan.

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