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What to expect tonight

It's preseason tne-up No. 2, which means the defending Super Bowl champs will be halfway through their meaningless August slate. That means Pittsburgh is on the horizon.

Tonight's game with the Eagles is truly a preseason gem for a few reasons. First off, Philly is among the cream of the NFL crop. They are loaded with talent and are one of maybe two or three NFC clubs with a chance to unseat the Rams as conference kings.

More importantly, though, this matchup is a test to see just how far the Patriots must go to prepare for Pittsburgh. The Eagles present many similar challenges as the Steelers and do so with top-notch skill.

Kordell Stewart is a mobile quarterback, but is not nearly as elusive and strong as Philly's Donovan McNabb. McNabb has already proven to be one of the NFL's top all-around quarterbacks while Stewart has been at the top and the bottom of the league's passers at various points of his career.

While Pittsburgh plays a 3-4 and Philly a 4-3, both Pennsylvania clubs love to blitz and, therefore, offer a major challenge to pass protectors -- that's offensive linemen, tight ends and running backs. So keep an eye on how well the Patriots pick up Philly's blitz tonight. The Eagles and Steelers may not go about it the same way, but both bring a heavy rush.

You may not see anything new from the Philly defense, but they ran such a complex blitzing scheme last year that every team has that stuff on film. Therefore, it does them no harm to blitz the kitchen sink in the preseason.

On the Patriots side, the running game must make strides regardless of the caliber defense it lines up against. It was ineffective against the Giants and must start progressing or teams will start taking notice and begin focusing their defensive efforts on Tom Brady and the passing attack.

Speaking of the passing attack, don't be surprised if Troy Brown and Daniel Graham either do not play or simply make brief cameos. Both just returned from knee injuries and will work back into the mix slowly.

Defensively, the Patriots will have Richard Seymour back for his first preseason action working inside with Steve Martin. With Dorsey Levens and Duce Staley handling the Eagles rushing load, the interior of the line will be tested.

Win or lose, you'd rather play the Eagles in the preseason, than say ... next week's opponent, the Carolina Panthers. This time of year is about getting better, and playing the best teams is the only way to truly measure yourself and improve.

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