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August 16, 2018

Eagles vs. Patriots: Five things to watch

After dropping their first preseason game 31-14 to the Pittsburgh Steelers (with the important players playing well), the Philadelphia Eagles will head north to take on the New England Patriots in preseason game No. 2. If memory serves me correctly, I believe the Patriots are the team the Eagles beat in the Super Bowl.

Here are five things we'll be watching.

1) Tom Brady vs. the Eagles' first-team defense

In the Super Bowl, Tom Brady and the Pats carved up the Eagles’ defense:

  1. 613 total yards
  2. 500 passing yards
  3. 29 first downs
  4. 8.5 yards per play
  5. 5.1 yards per carry
  6. 10.0 yards per pass attempt

While the Eagles’ first team D looked great in the first preseason game, they dominated a Steelers offense that was missing Ben Roethlisberger, LeVeon Bell, and Antonio Brown.

Brady and the Pats offense will be working on whatever it is they want to accomplish. They likely won’t be employing the same concepts that gave the Eagles such a hard time in the Super Bowl. Still, this will be a better test for Jim Schwartz’s units than Landry Jones.

2) Avonte Maddox and Sidney Jones

All week in practice leading up to this game, Maddox was getting reps with the first-team defense as the slot corner, while Jones was (mostly) running with the second-team defense. While we won't make too much of that development for now, it certainly is interesting, so we'll have a close eye on how well each guy performs in the second preseason game.

3) Nate Gerry

Gerry got the "start" at WILL linebacker last week against the Steelers, and it is expected that he will remain in that role. Ideally, he would get some reps in against arguably the best tight end in NFL history, Rob Gronkowski, though Gronkowski's participation in preseason games is spotty. Even without Gronk, the Patriots present other challenges to linebackers in the passing game with their running backs.

4) The fourth running back spot

Presently, I would rank the fourth running back competition like so:

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

Doug Pederson gave a pretty honest answer when asked about Pumphrey, and the likelihood that he would probably be missing the Eagles' second preseason game against the Pats.

"Well, it is tough," he said. "It's tough from the standpoint obviously you're not getting the practice reps you need and obviously the game reps. Being exposed to not only our roster, but 31 other teams who are watching our games. Each day is a little bit of a missed opportunity. He's got to get himself healthy and try to get himself back here as soon as he can."

Those aren't encouraging words for Pump.

Jones also missed the first preseason game, but he should be a go for the second one, while Smallwood and Adams will be back out there again. Jones is a big back who runs with physicality, so game settings with tackling will give him a better chance to show what he can do, as opposed to practices in shorts, which favor shiftier guys.

5) Cameron Johnston

And yep, we'll still be watching the punter. After a game in which he drilled an 81-yard punt, perhaps the best punt I've ever seen in person, Johnston must show that he can be consistent, as opposed to just hitting the occasional bomb.

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