Friday night's game against the Cincinnati Bengals is only the Eagles' second preseason game, but it figures to tell us a lot more about the team. After steamrolling Jacksonville's first team in limited action last week, this time the Eagles starters will play most or all of the first half, as they work toward opening day less than a month from now. The biggest question mark for this scrimmage:
How will the starting defense do against stronger competition?
The Bengals swept the AFC North last season behind a bruising running game led by former Chicago Bear Cedric Benson. The Eagles will have to show they can bottle up this strength. Yet perhaps an even bigger challenge for the Eagles D comes in facing Carson Palmer and the Bengals' never-ending list of dynamic wide receivers.
First there's Chad Ochocinco, who had a huge bounce back season last year with 72 receptions, more than 1000 yards, and nine touchdowns. He may be 32 years old, but he's still got some elite play left in him.
Recently signed Terrell Owens obviously needs no introduction, but he's a formidable weapon. Antonio Bryant, just a year removed from an 80-catch season in Tampa Bay, is now one of the best third receivers in the league. Then there's Andre Caldwell, who had 51 receptions last year with the Bengals. Talented but troubled former quarterback Matt Jones, 2008 second-round pick Jerome Simpson and electric third-rounder from this year's draft Jordan Shipley are fighting just to make the roster.
The Eagles revamped their whole defense to combat passing offenses like Cincinnati's. With additions such as Brandon Graham and Darryl Tapp, the defensive line has more young pass rushers than at any other point in the Andy Reid era. Linebackers like Ernie Sims are fast and good in coverage, if not very large. Finally, there's the secondary, where rookie starter Nate Allen will get his first real test of the season.
Jacksonville's offense was so bad last week that we hardly saw the Eagles' new look defense. Even the players seemed annoyed that they couldn't show off a little bit. They'll have that opportunity this week -- hopefully they take advantage of it.