Eagles vs Steelers: Five things to watch

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The Eagles face the Steelers tonight in their second game of the preseason. Carson Wentz may not have the spotlight due to a hairline fracture in his ribs, but there are plenty of other reasons to pay close attention to every play in tonight’s game. Here are five things to watch out for when the Eagles meet the Steelers at 7PM ET.

Cornerback surprise:
Jalen Mills struggled in his first preseason outing, but the seventh round pick won’t be competing in tonight’s game following an injury. This has set up a big platform for someone to catch the attention of Jim Schwartz. Not only will the likes of Eric Rowe, who has had a tough summer followed by an impressive game against the Bucs, benefit hugely from this..but it opens the door for the guys a little further down the depth chart.

Aaron Grymes has been the other cornerback of note to really make an impact in Training camp, but the spotlight fell on undrafted rookie C.J Smith last week, where he was able to pick off a crucial pass in the endzone and  force some vital pass breakups. With Mills out of action, C.J Smith could be primed to see more action. If he can shine as brightly as he did last week, then there could well be a new underdog to make the final 53-man roster.

Then of course, there’s JaCorey Shepherd. Shepherd is yet to play in a preseason game, despite being drafted last year. A torn ACL in the early stages of camp in 2015 followed by an injury that left him sidelined against the Bucs saw Shepherd slip down the depth chart in what’s a very congested CB battle. The former Jayhawk looks set to make his preseason debut tonight against the Steelers and has an opportunity to remind everyone that he is very much in contention for a spot on the final 53-man roster.

 

Offensive Line resurgence:
The rush blocking by the Eagles Offensive Line last week was brilliant. The pass protection was about as useful as a Flannel in a flash flood. Chase Daniel was sacked four times in just ten passing attempts and Carson Wentz suffered a hairline fracture in his ribs..it wasn’t pretty.

However this is a Steelers Defense that forced just one sack on the Lions last week and allowed them to rush for 95 yards, averaging 3.5 yards per carry. Theoretically, the challenge should be slightly easier..but the Eagles rookies and backups will need to show a completely different side to what they showed last week.

Rotation will also be interesting here. With Lane Johnson likely serving a ten-game suspension, the birds have already began rotating guys around to see what works. The versatility of the Eagles linemen is important, but being able to protect your quarterback is vital. It will be intriguing to keep an eye on the likes of Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Isaac Seumalo and Andrew Gardner..all of whom had their fair share of errors last week. These are the players who the Eagles could be forced to rely on in an injury crisis late on in the regular season, can they rebound tonight and show the play that they have been praised for in Training camp and did so consistently at the Collegiate level?

 

The thrill of the Chase:
Chase Daniel didn’t exactly set the world on fire last week. He completed just four of his ten passing attempts and was sacked four times. The sacks can be put down to the Offensive Line flaws, but Carson Wentz wasn’t sacked at all..because he’s able to navigate the pocket and roll outside much more instinctively.

The bottom line is this however, the Eagles will be calling Daniel’s number if Sam Bradford goes down with an injury during the regular season..and judging by last week’s performance, that could be a scary situation to be in. Daniel has proven to be a reliable backup since entering the league in 2010 and should know Pederson’s playbook better than anyone. But his responsibilities could go far beyond just being a mentor if Bradford does fall injured.

With no Wentz tonight, Daniel is going to see an increase in Offensive snaps. Maybe he was shaking off the rust or maybe the Offensive Line let him down badly in the first game, perhaps it was a combination of the two. Either way, Daniel’s form tonight could potentially prove to be indicative of how ready he is to step into a live game situation during the regular season.

 

A safe pair of hands:
This is something the Eagles have lacked since the depths of the 2015 season. Throughout camp, drops have still been a prominent issue. The Eagles may have traded for Dorial Green-Beckham, but he’s inactive tonight. With Jordan Matthews and Hunter Sharp also absent, the stage is again set for someone to breakout..and it’s needed.

There’s a lot of uncertainty over the Eagles receiver’s and just who is going to miss out on making the final roster. Nelson Agholor and Josh Huff would have both left last Thursday hoping for a better game this week, but it was undrafted rookie Paul Turner who proved to be the Eagles most reliable receiver, catching 50% of Wentz’s pass completions and leading the team in receiving yards.

Will Reuben Randle have a better attitude coming into tonight? Nelson Agholor burst out of the gate with confidence? Can Josh Huff end his bad luck? Or will an Undrafted rookie upstage the starters once again? Time is running out for receivers to make an impact..and with roster spots few and far between, every reception is critical.

 

Linebacker rotation:
One of the stars of last week’s game was pick 251 in this year’s Draft, Joe Walker. A huge stop on 4th and short along with some impressive tackling saw Walker make a big impact in his preseason debut. With depth at Linebacker being thin, it’s imperative that efficiency of the backups is high. Mychal Kendricks won’t play tonight due to an injury, giving an even bigger stage to players such as Quentin Gause and Myke Tavarres. The backups are going to see plenty of reps against the Steelers, but it’s the rookies that are going to be among the more exciting players to watch..and whose performances could carry a lot of weight.

 

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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