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August 23, 2018

Eagles vs. Browns: Five things to watch

In the Philadelphia Eagles' third preseason game, AKA the "dress rehearsal game," there are still a few battles to be decided, and other players who would like to put some sloppy performances behind them by finishing the preseason strongly.

Here are five things I'll be watching.

1) The slot corner battle

It would appear the starting slot corner job will be won either by rookie Avonte Maddox or second-year player Sidney Jones. Jim Schwartz said that the third preseason game will be a significant deciding factor on the victor of that job.

"I think just like everything, we're still a work in progress," Schwartz said. "Nothing has been settled there. Each guy brings a little bit different skill set, a little bit different strengths and weaknesses to the position. I think the competition is good. This game will go a long way to deciding who is going to be out there in the opener."

Both Jones and Maddox had some rough patches in the second preseason game against the Patriots. Maddox got beaten for a touchdown on a tough coverage assignment, while Jones' whiff on a tackle attempt of Cordarrelle Patterson was one of the uglier plays on the night overall.

Jones has a more intriguing ceiling as a player in the NFL, but Maddox's skill set is perhaps better suited to the slot. This is an interesting competition.

2) Halapoulivaati Vaitai

Vaitai had a really bad game against the Patriots, with his most notable bad moment coming when Pats DE Adrian Clayborn beat him around the edge for a strip-sack of Nick Foles, that left Foles with a shoulder strain.

“The last time I played that bad was my first game my rookie year,” he said via Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News. “I’m glad it happened again – another wakeup call. I gotta protect the quarterback.”

Doug Pederson acknowledged it was a poor performance as well.

"It wasn't Big V, for whatever reason," he said. "He's definitely played better. We know exactly who he is. He's hard on himself, like anybody is. There are some things he would want back obviously, but at the same time, he understands what he needs to do to continue to get better and improve."

Vaitai held his own after Jason Peters was lost for the season with a torn ACL, and the feeling is that he will only continue to get better in his third year in the league. He certainly doesn't seem to be a delusional player who can't take accountability for a bad game, so that is encouraging.

The Eagles may or not need Vaitai this season. In all likelihood, he'll have to fill in for Peters or Lane Johnson at tackle at some point, and they'll need him to be better than he was last Thursday. He'll have to contend with talented RDE Myles Garrett tonight.

3) The lowering of heads

In the Eagles' first two preseason games, they have drawn five "lowering of the head" penalties. While this new rule is garbage in countless ways, it's not going anywhere. The Eagles are going to have to adjust, which is easier said than done.

"We are going to have a meeting this afternoon where we look at a lot of the fouls – not just us, but across the league," Schwartz said on Tuesday. "Again, we're trying to be educated on what’s going to get called and what's not. The instructions we've given guys is try not to lower your head and try to take your head out of it. And I think our guys are trying to do that. The other thing we say is you want to lower your target, but along with lowering the target and trying to say away from the head, sometimes that causes you to dip your head.

"I think I can confidently say we don't have any players that are trying to play outside of the bounds. We don't have any guys that are ‘head hunting,’ that are being selfish. They're trying to play within the rules. I think you can see Nigel’s play. He's trying to get his head out. I think even Rodney's play he's trying get his head out across and get it out. The problem is they're dealing with world-class athletes who are moving targets. A little bit easier said than done. Those fouls have hurt us in these first couple preseason games and we just got to get to a point where they don't hurt us in the regular season."

4) Nick Foles

Foles didn't have his best performance last week against the Pats. He went 3/9 for 44 yards, stats that sort of matched the eye test. Pederson said that Foles should get the first half of this game, which is positive news, based simply on the fact that he injured his shoulder last Thursday. Obviously, that injury is not serious, as there's no way the team would put him on the field in a preseason game if it were.

Still, it would be ideal for the Eagles if Foles can put together a good half of football before the regular season, in the event his services are needed.

5) And as always, the insanely over-covered fourth running back competition

It appears that Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood, and Matt Jones will all play in the third preseason game, while Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement, and Donnel Pumphrey will not.

In the battle for the fourth running back spot, I would have them currently ranked like so:

  1. Josh Adams
  2. Wendell Smallwood
  3. Donnel Pumphrey
  4. Matt Jones

This game will be an opportunity for Adams to win that job not just over the other three guys, but over running backs on other rosters.

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