It will be a battle of two preseason unbeatens Friday night at 7:30 p.m. as the Patriots (2-0) face what may be the toughest test of the exhibition season in the Eagles (2-0), in the inaugural game at the brand new Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. A year to the week after the Eagles helped New England open Gillette Stadium, the Patriots will return the favor in front of what should be a raucous crowd in the City of Brotherly Love.
On the field, the Eagles were one of the most balanced teams in the NFL a year ago (ranked 10th in total offense and 4th in total defense) and should provide the Patriots with a good measuring stick in their preseason progression. With a dominating defense, including one of the best secondarys in football, and an explosive Donovan McNabb-led offense Philadelphia has been a game away from the Super Bowl in each of the last two years.
"This is a real good football team," Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said of the Eagles. "They are strong in all areas of the game and are well coached. They have a good combination of young and experienced players. Really I don't see any weak points on the team. They look solid in every area to me."
That said, the Eagles give New England a chance to bounce back from disappointing but winning effort last weekend in Washington against the Redskins.
"This will be a good test for us, going on the road again, playing in a new stadium," Belichick said. "I am sure there will be a lot of excitement and enthusiasm around the game. This is, I think, a good test for the third preseason game. A lot of elements are in place that we have to deal with. I think it will be good for us to deal with them. It is similar to a lot of things we will be facing in the regular season."
It will be very similar to New England's second game of the regular season, as the team will return to Philadelphia to face the Eagles. So while both sides will be looking so make some key evaluations Friday night, neither will be overly anxious to showcase things that will come into play in the upcoming September meeting. Don't expect a lot of trick plays or exotic defenses on the field tomorrow night.
"I think you have to balance it," Belichick said. "You are trying to balance it with looking at your players and trying to make personnel decisions. You want them to be able to go out and run the things that they are comfortable doing, not things they haven't practiced otherwise it's hard to evaluate whether they are making progress or whether they can perform in your system. If you have some trick play or some special thing that you think would really match up well against them, I don't think you necessarily want to put it out there in the third preseason game and then try to come back to it a couple of weeks later after they have had a good look at it."
Players and coaches alike seemed excited Wednesday afternoon with the arrival of 6-5, 365-pound nose tackle Ted Washington. Expected to be the immovable veteran presence that teams look for in the 3-4 front, Washington is a 12-year NFL veteran who has been to four Pro Bowls over his career and immediately upgrades the New England defensive line.
"We all know what Ted has done in the league," Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday. "He is really a prototype nose tackle in terms of size and playing ability. I think that should be a good situation for us. Ted just has a wealth of experience and you just can't substitute it at that position or probably any other one.
"He is a very good technique player. He uses his hands well. He has very good recognition of blocking schemes. He has played there for so long that he reads and reacts very quickly."
And the players who will be playing around Washington are just excited to see how he can positively affect their jobs.
"With the size that he is, he's going to take up two guys primarily," inside linebacker Ted Johnson said. "That will allow us to play a little more freely. Not all the time, but you have to account for him with more than one guy. That leaves somebody free and that's a little more fun for us inside guys."
The most accurate measure of what Washington can bring to the table may come from Patriots Pro Bowl center Damien Woody. Woody knows what it takes to block Washington and how hard the immense player can make it for opposing offenses to run the ball.
"He's like an immovable object," Woody said. "It's like hitting a brick wall. I know that the times I've played against him, it was like the best you could hope for was a stalemate and hope that the running back could cut off him or something. He's big, he's smart, definitely strong and a welcome addition to this team."
Woody also had a humorous take on what opposing centers can expect in terms of an afternoon facing Washington.
"Try running into a steel beam for a couple of hours," Woody said of what it's like to play the former Bear, Bill, Bronco and 49er. "That's about the equivalent of it."
As of today the Patriots have 81 players on the roster. The first official NFL roster cut down day is next Tuesday, Aug. 26 by 4:00 p.m. By that time the team will have to be down to 65 players, although the team still has five players (Dyshod Carter, Brad Harris, Michael Malan, Frank Moreau and Rod Traffod) who carry NFL Europe roster exemptions. There are also a number of injured players, including Stephen Neal, Michael Cloud and Antwoine Womack who could find their way onto other reserve/injured type lists as the team looks to trim numbers on the active roster.
The final, 53-man cuts will have to be completed by 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 31. At that time the NFL Europe roster exemptions are no longer valid. On the following day, Monday, Sept. 1, after 4:00 p.m. teams will be allowed to establish a practice squad of up to five players.
The Patriots and Eagles have met 15 times in the preseason, with the Eagles holding an 8-7 advantage in the exhibition series. But the Patriots have won the last four preseason matchups between the two teams, including a 16-15 win a year ago at Gillette Stadium. … Eagles linebacker Keith Adams is the son of former Patriots defensive end Julius Adams (1971-85, 87). … Eagles quarterback Tim Hasselbeck is the son of former Patriots tight end Don Hasselbeck (1977-83). … Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick has compiled an overall record of 22-13 in the preseason as a head coach, including an 11-4 mark with the Patriots. Jumping out to a 2-0 exhibition start this August, he is assured of another preseason with at least a .500 record. Including 2003, Belichick's teams have been .500 or better in all nine of his preseasons as a head coach the NFL. … There are only 22 days between Friday's preseason battle and the Week Two game between the two teams in Philadelphia. … Including tomorrow's game, the Patriots and Eagles have met three times in New England's third preseason game on Aug. 22 (2003, 1977 and 1975). … The Patriots have recorded 11 sacks in two preseason games. … The Patriots have scored 23 points in the first quarter through two preseason games this August, the defense did not give up any first quarter points in the two games. … New England has won five straight preseason games dating back to the win over the Eagles in the preseason a year ago.