New England Patriots Links 8/20/12 - Big Roster Test Tonight Against Eagles

O-Line gets another try at protecting Tom Brady and jump-starting the offense tonight.

Greg A. Bedard points out five things he'll be watching against the Eagles tonight.

1. STERN TEST: We don’t know what the Patriots’ plan is for the starters, but with three games in 10 days you would figure they put a lot of effort into this one and then dial it back before a final tuneup against the Giants. That’s what the Eagles will do. Coach Andy Reid said his starters will play the first three quarters with modifications. The only significant starter not playing is defensive end Jason Babin. So the Patriots will get to measure themselves in this one.

2. TACKLE IMPROVEMENT: Tackles Nate Solder (left) and Marcus Cannon (right) had rough outings against the Saints, and they need to show improvement after a week of tough practices. Cannon, who gave up six quarterback pressures against the Saints, has the most to prove. With Sebastian Vollmer set to return, the Patriots need to determine if Cannon is capable of being the swing tackle on game day. There’s still some question about whether Cannon can even play tackle. He has all the physical tools to do so. Solder is fine. He just needs to keep working on his technique.

3. HOLD THE EDGE: We’ll get to see exactly how solid the Patriots’ ends are because the Eagles will really test the edges with quarterback Michael Vick, running backs LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis, and receiver DeSean Jackson running reverses. Can Rob Ninkovich really handle left end, which is the strong side of a rushing offense? Can Chandler Jones rush the passer if he’s worried about not losing containment? Jones really shouldn’t have much trouble against two inferior left tackles in King Dunlap and Demetress Bell. Overall, the Eagles’ line is lacking.

Jeff Howe highlights five things he'll be keeping an eye on as the Pats take on the Eagles tonight.

1. Freeing up Hernandez. Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is far and away the Eagles’ most talented defensive back, but they’ve got some decent talent over the middle, too. So what will they try to do against tight end Aaron Hernandez, and how will he fare against said coverage? Defenses have to game-plan for Hernandez, who has had a terrific summer, and he’ll be an interesting matchup for the Eagles. Look to see how the Patriots try to free him up.

2. Rookie in focus. Defensive end Chandler Jones got a big checkmark in his debut against the Saints. Now, it’s time for his fellow first-rounder to follow suit. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower was up and down in terms of made and missed plays in that game. The Eagles have a complex running game with the dynamic of quarterback Michael Vick and running back LeSean McCoy. Let’s see how Hightower anticipates the plays.

3. Defensive athleticism. The Patriots have improved their athleticism on defense, but they’ll have a great task against the Eagles offense, which also features big-play receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Philly has some unique speed, so this will be a good barometer for the Patriots, particularly since their primary skill guys are healthy. Look to see how the Pats handle each phase from a speed standpoint.

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