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The Thursday night contest between the Eagles and Patriots marks the fourth time both organizations have played each other in the pre-season. Last season, the Patriots dug themselves an early hole, falling behind by a score of 24-3 before losing 27-17. This game kept the Patriots win-less in the preseason at that point, as New England fell to 0-3. The game also featured an intriguing quarterback battle, if you remember. Both Matt Cassel and Matt Gutierrez were competing for the second string quarterback spot behind Tom Brady.
Although Cassel struggled, he showed flashes of greatness, especially on his 22-yard touchdown run in the first half. Fast forward a season later and Cassel sits pretty in Kansas City with a fat contract and Gutierrez is currently fighting for a place on a team. Ironically enough, he too is now on the Chiefs. The point to this? These games can determine a great deal for these teams. Although the starters generally only play for one or two series, the game is a chance for the backups and rookies to not only make their mark with their team, but perhaps showcase their talent and sign with another team if in fact they get released.
Surprise, surprise! Did you really think any other player would be the first player to watch in this game? Yeah, didn’t think so. Tonight will mark the first time Brady will see live game action since Bernard Pollard ended his season and crushed the hearts of one nation all the way back in September. Brady will start tonight as he should see every snap on the Patriots first offensive series. The big question surrounding Brady and his health is how is he going to react when the pocket closes and defenders are around his lower body. Hopefully tonight, we will get that answer and truly see if No. 12 is ready for the long marathon that is the NFL regular season.
Seemingly every training camp report, every day, always seems to reference Patriots 2008 second round pick, Pat Chung. They state that he is always running full speed .. he never takes a play off .. and that he’s already a vocal part to the Patriots defense. That alone makes me excited to see the former Oregon star play. Now pair that with the fact that he is physically imposing and plays with a chip on his shoulder, and then we may have ourselves a football player. Fellow safeties James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather will both start tonight, but Chung and newly acquired Brandon McGowan will see reps with the second unit. With Rodney Harrison retired the Patriots will need to find a player who can fill his void, particularly in run support as a player who can come up and play in the box. Tonight, perhaps, we’ll see Chung take the first step in becoming that player.
Okay, I know what your thinking. Who the hell is Terrence Nunn? Well to the casual Patriots fan you probably don’t know who Nunn is. But to the fans and enthusiasts who really follow this team, than Terrence Nunn is almost a household name. By now you’ve heard the story. In short Nunn, who played at the University of Nebraska, did not get drafted or even offered a try out from any of the 32 teams after the 2008 season. However Nunn would not give up on his dream. He practiced all year, catching passes from a punter of all people, and continued to workout while working a full time job. After the 2009 draft, Nunn worked out (again) at the Nebraska pro-day and one team called him this time around for a workout: the New England Patriots. Thus far it’s worked great for both parties. Nunn has been the talk of camp, displaying terrific hands and stout route running. But how will he perform in a game, especially when he hasn’t been in a live game in a full year? That’s for this pre-season to decide. But with the lack of depth at the wide receiver position, Nunn could very well find himself on the 53 man roster in September.
With do-everything back Brian Westbrook most likely sitting out for the pre-season, the light will shine in the direction of 2009 second round pick, LeSean McCoy. McCoy, who was considered a steal for the Eagles in the draft, has generated a world of buzz from Eagles camp. His hands out of the backfield have been stellar and his second level explosiveness is worth noting. Many people seem to forget how good McCoy actually is. As the draft approached “experts” wanted to nag about his open field quickness and blocking, but we’re talking about a guy who rushed for 2,816 yards and 35 touchdowns for the Pitt Panthers in just two seasons of collegiate ball. The kid can play. With second string quarterback Kevin Kolb sitting out tonight, McCoy should have him number called on a lot as the Eagles will have A.J Feeley at the helm for most of the night.
Oh Asante Samuel. I still have nightmares of that one certain play in that one certain game where that one certain ball went through someones hands. Anyway, living in the past is overrated. Samuel has become a top cornerback in the National Football League and opposing quarterbacks always need to know where he is on the field at all times. Tonight, Samuel will be heads up against Randy Moss for a series or two and for that short period of time, it should be fun to watch. Samuel is greatly undersized in this particular match-up but his coverage skills will make it tough for Moss to get going; Or one would think. Another cornerback to keep an eye on his the great Ellis Hobbs. (Please note sarcasm on “the great”) The Patriots traded Hobbs to Philadelphia on draft day for two fifth round draft choices. The Iowa State product started every Patriots game he played in, but now he moves to the Eagles where he re units with his good friend, Samuel. Nonetheless, keep an eye out on both of these former Patriots cornerbacks.
The explosive athlete from the University of Missouri joins a wide receiver corp with Desean Jackson and Kevin Curtis. The first round pick has good size (6-1, 200) but his speed is his best attribute by far. Maclin is slated to be the number three receiver on the depth chart behind both Jackson and Curtis, but every receiver on this roster has a shot to start. So you better believe that Maclin will want to come out and set the tone for the season, like Jackson did a year ago. In this contest look for either Jonathan Wilhite or Darius Butler to man up Maclin. Both aren’t as quick as Maclin, but in Butler’s case his physical nature should cause problems for Maclin.
With Laurence Maroney, Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis the Patriots should be able to keep a consistently fresh backfield all night. The key is for them to establish the running game so it will take off some pressure for both Andrew Walter and Kevin O’Connell, who have both had their fair share of eractic moments in camp thus far.
Eagles starting quarterback Donovan McNabb will play one to two series and with Kolb injured, Feeley will see the bulk of the snaps. For the Patriots, they need to make him beat them. Make Feeley have to read coverages and make his throw the ball all over the field.
This ties into my second reasoning. If you can contain or stop McCoy in this game then you win. It’s a pretty simple formula. Sure it’s a lot easier to say than do, but you get the point. McCoy is the Eagles offense for tonight and he will see the majority of playing time, especially in the first half. Limit his yards and let Feeley kill you with the passing game, something he’s capable of, but it is rare.
For the Eagles, if they can develop a consistent enough pass rush they will be in good position to win this game. It’s not Brady that I’m worried about so much with facing a defensive pass rush like the Eagles have, it’s more Walter and O’Connell. Walter is a slow, sitting duck pocket quarterback so if you come anywhere near him he will panic and throw the ball away. (Usually to the secondary) O’Connell, on the other hand can scramble out of the pocket and make plays with his feet. But he doesn’t have much game experience, so anytime you can pressure a young quarterback, teams generally do it.
Time of possession is such an important aspect of football. In most cases the team that is up in this category usually comes out on top with the victory. If Philadelphia can control the field with their running game and intermediate passing game that will only help them win this game.
Just last season the Patriots secondary was horrendous, for lack of a better word. So Bill Belichick cleaned house and brought in all new players minus Terrence Wheatley and Wilhite. The Eagles have a very fast receiver corp so they should come into this game knowing that they will want to test the Leigh Bodden’s and Shawn Springs of the world.
I can’t see New England wanting to have a pre-season like they did last season (1-4) and after reading that Belichick shoved the film of this game last season down this teams throat, I feel like the Patriots are a little hungry.