The Philadelphia Eagles take on the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night, August 21st, 2014 at 7:30 PM EST. Here's how to watch the game, and here's what to watch for:
• 1) Nick Foles. Foles seemed to rebound well against the New England Patriots last week after a very shaky 2014 NFL preaseason debut against the Chicago Bears where he threw two interceptions. Both of those performances came in small sample sizes as Foles only played about 18 snaps in each game. For the Eagles' sake, here's hoping Foles gets an extended look on Thursday night and carries over his solid performance from last week.
• 2) New faces. The Eagles acquired two new players this week: running back Kenjon Barner and kicker Cody Parkey. It remains to be seen if Barner and/or Parkey will play on Thurdsay night. It'll be interesting to see if they can get on the field and show anything to stand out. Even if Barner might not be ready to handle offensive touches he might get some looks as a kick returner. It would be nice to see Parkey handle at least one kickoff and, more importantly, a field goal attempt.
• 3) Eagles defense. Not very specific, but it's obviously a unit that draws attention given their performance last week against the Patriots. As I mention on the latest episode of BGN Radio, I felt like there were times last week that the Eagles defense legitimately came close to making stops. The only thing that ruined those stops were the excessive flags being thrown by the referees to put an emphasis on the illegal contact/pass interference rules. That said, the Eagles defensive struggles can't be blamed entirely on the officials. They need to find a way to get stops and tonight would be a great chance to show they can do that.
• 4) Allen Barbre. I'm not sure what to make of Barbre's preseason performance so far given he's only played 36 snaps. I guess he's looked mostly solid (only one sack allowed) but there are some plays that leave me wondering. Barbre is obviously the favorite to start for the first four games at right tackle but I wonder if backup tackle Andrew Gardner or guard Matt Tobin could begin to challenge for the spot if Barbre falters. Gardner and Tobin have looked good on the second team offensive line.
• 5) Safety "battle". Eagles Bill Davis has insisted there's still an on-going battle for the starting safety job next to Malcolm Jenkins but I'm not so sure there should be. Veteran Nate Allen has looked really good in preseason and second year player Earl Wolff hasn't done too much to distinguish himself. While Allen should be the starter, it would be ideal to see Wolff step up and at least earn some rotational playing time as the third safety on the depth chart.
• 6) Injured players returning. The Eagles official injury report won't be announced until an hour or so until kickoff but it's been encouraging to see starting wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper return to practice this week. Cooper has yet to play in a preseason game while Maclin only played in the first one. It will also be interesting to see if Nolan Carroll II plays. The veteran corner has had a great training camp and he also returned to practice this week. It might not be likely at this point, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Carroll II steal a starting cornerback job away from Bradley Fletcher if he continues to stand out.
• 7) Wide receiver battle. The Josh Huff injury throws a twist into the Eagles wide receiver battle. Huff, who suffered an AC sprain, isn't sure when he will return to action. It's been suggested (by media) that the Eagles should rule him out for the season and put him on injured reserve but there's no indication that will happen. In the meantime, depth receivers like Jeff Maehl, Ifeanyi Momah, and Arrelious Benn are fighting for roster spots. Benn might have the upper hand right now despite a lackluster training camp. He looked solid on special teams for Philadelphia last week having blocked a punt.
• 8) Inside linebacker depth. The Eagles released veteran inside linebacker Jason Phillips earlier this week in order to make room for the Kenjon Barner trade. Philadelphia inside linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks are locked in as starters but the depth behind them is unclear. The team seems high on Najee Goode (who seems himself as a future starter). Jake Knott has been out with a hamstring injury since Friday, August 1st and will miss the first four games of the regular season due to suspension. Emmanuel Acho hasn't been as good as he was last summer. Casey Matthews might earn a depth spot again as a special teams contributor. Outside linebackers Travis Long and Josh Kaddu are reportedly crosstraining to play on the inside as well as the outside. The Eagles need someone to emerge as the fourth inside linebacker here.
• 9) Changes at The Linc. The Eagles added over 1,600 new seats at Lincoln Financial Field as well as upgrading the video boards in both size and quality. According to the Eagles, their video boards now feature the highest resolution in the NFL. I took a tour of the updated LFF last month and I thought the changes looked good.
• 10) Let's finish this off with the most important thing to hope to see in the preseason: no injuries! The Eagles are in relatively good shape through almost twenty training camp practices and preseason games. Last year at this time they already had four season ending injuries while so far this year they have none.