Five things to watch in Eagles preseason clash with Colts

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The Eagles travel to Indianapolis tonight to face the Colts in their third game of the preseason. It may be regarded by many as a final rehearsal before the big performance in Week one, with the starters mostly resting next week, but there’s plenty on the line tonight for the birds. Here are the five things to watch in tonight’s game.

 

On the receiving end:
The Eagles passing attack has struggled in preseason thus far, but the addition of Dorial Green-Beckham could be the spark to ignite the Eagles wideouts. Considering that the Eagles are yet to score a receiving touchdown and that Paul Turner has accounted for nearly half of the total receiving yards, which in total have only contributed to 36.7% of offensive yardage, the receivers have to come out swinging tonight.

 

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From doubts being raised over Reuben Randle, to a completely invisible Chris Givens, pressure mounting on Nelson Agholor to the bubble that just seems to keep expanding for Josh Huff, the Eagles have to find a rhythm Offensively and away from the rushing attack against the Colts.

The Eagles may have a run-heavy Offense heading into 2016, but there has to be at least some level of production from the receivers, a level that is yet to be reached. With DGB in the ranks, pressure higher than ever and a Colts Defense that’s down to its bare bones, can the Eagles finally find some confidence through the air?

 

Cornerback catalyst:
JaCorey Shepherd is slated to make his preseason debut tonight, despite being drafted by the Eagles a year ago. With the return of Jalen Mills, who struggled in his debut, Shepherd could be the catalyst in one of the most enticing positional battles on the Eagles roster.

Then of course, you have undrafted rookie C.J Smith. A corner who burst onto the scene against the Bucs but was handed little in the way of playing time a week later. It will be interesting to see how he fares in rotation and if once again he can turn a few heads, potentially seeing his stock rise just enough to position himself in contention for a roster spot heading into week four.

Eric Rowe’s snaps may see a slight decrease now that depth has been restored, but will he continue his high level of production? Can Jalen Mills rebound after a poor debut against the Bucs to re-assert himself ahead of the Sophomore cornerback? Will JaCorey Shepherd make any kind of substantial impact, or at least a big enough splash to put his name in contention for a roster spot? All of these questions will undoubtedly be answered tonight in a game where the cornerbacks will be near the center of attention.

 

A confident quarterback:
Although he’s been quiet, Sam Bradford feels better than ever. After talking up his short rush last week, crediting it to a full offseason of preparation without rehab, the Eagles starter appears to be in the best shape he’s been in for a while. This was reflected by his 14/19 game against the Steelers, receiving for 115 yards. Bradford is going to see the entire first half and potentially some of the second tonight, meaning that if he can find a rhythm with his receivers..we could be in store for a showing similar to what we saw this time last year against the Packers. Although it wouldn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, it would be a blessing at the perfect time for Pederson and his Offense that are yet to find the endzone through the air.

 

Running the show:
Rookie running back Wendell Smallwood is set to make his preseason debut tonight against a depleted Colts Defense, but with the starters taking center stage for the first half, it will be interesting to see how Smallwood fares in terms of both rotation and production. Will he get looks with the starters or instead be given the majority of the second half in order to get him up to speed with the rest of the running backs on the team?

Kenjon Barner has been the running back taking the majority of snaps so far, will Doug Pederson split those snaps between Mathews and Sproles in the first half or instead use Barner as the battering ram before allowing the more explosive and elusive backs to burst through the run down trenches? This committee effort is unpredictable as it is, let alone in a preseason game where the starters are slated to get most of the playing time.

We could also see some more catches out of the backfield this week, an area that while implemented, has been subtle. With such an abundance of backs on the roster at the moment, Pederson will likely put them all through their paces in every aspect to try and learn as much about his Offense in order to tweak it finely ahead of the opening game of the regular season.

 

Linebacker rotation:
Stephen Tulloch was signed by the Eagles this past week, adding depth in the absence of Joe Walker, who tore his ACL against the Steelers. The veteran linebacker may only be there for security purposes, but being a “Jim Schwartz” guy through and through having spent the opening years of his career with him in Tennessee before following him to Detroit and now Philadelphia, Tulloch could see his share of action tonight.

He may be the “Chase Daniel” of the Defense, but Tulloch has proven to be a dominant run-stopper throughout his career, and can help mentor the younger guys on the roster as well as prove to be the ultimate “plug-n-play” option at linebacker. We could see some examples of that tonight, with Tulloch being slotted in at linebacker in various situations and potentially making an impact on Special teams.

If Tulloch shines in his share of preseason snaps, could be contend for a starting role? Probably not, but if the 31-year old can still show his efficiency in coverage, then there could be some interesting rotations both in the remainder of preseason and the opening weeks of the regular season, as Schwartz looks to make his linebacker corps as dominant as possible.

 

 

AP PHOTO/CHRIS SZAGOLA

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