The Philadelphia Eagles play their third preseason game of 2012 at 7:30 p.m. Friday against the Browns in Cleveland. And yes, they open the regular season in Cleveland against these same Browns 16 days from now. Which is extremely weird. But regardless, here's what I'll be watching ...
Most closely: Nick Foles, of course! The rookie starts the game, with Michael Vick still out because of those banged-up ribs, and gets the chance to work against a first-team defense for the first time in his so-far-very-impressive preseason. Foles has a chance to supplant the injured Mike Kafka as Vick's backup if he continues to impress (and if Kafka continues to sit out) over these final two preseason games. Foles is a big kid with a big arm who does a lot of things on the field that look very good. It's what happens after he inevitably makes bad rookie mistakes that we're still waiting to see.
On the other side of the ball: For me, it's safety play. I'm sold that the defensive line is deep and fearsome, and I think this defense is built to make its linebackers look bad, because they can play well all game and then give up two big third-down plays and no one's allowed to point out that the linemen over-pursued because that's what they're supposed to do. Fact is, they're not changing the way they operate, and the benefit of Wide 9 likely outweighs the detriment. I want to see what they have at safety. I thought Nate Allen played well in the last game and Kurt Coleman in the first one, and it's possible they'll be OK there. But my sense is that they have very little behind those guys, with slow veteran O.J. Atogwe and struggling second-year man Jaiquawn Jarrett. Wouldn't hurt a guy like that to make an impression tonight.
If I think of it: Backup running back is still interesting, with Bryce Brown and Chris Polk scrapping for snaps behind LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis. Curtis Marsh at cornerback, since he's probably the first guy off the bench to replace one of the outside starters. More from Brandon Boykin and Joselio Hanson in that nickel corner fight, as Boykin has looked very good to this point. And I'm a DeMeco Ryans believer, but he'd do well to convert some more people to his side, I think.