Brady will give Birds' defense stiff challenge
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They had plenty of excuses last time. It was their first game together. They were missing Nate Allen, Trent Cole and Jason Babin. They didn’t bother to game plan. They were coming off a brutal week of training camp and didn’t have their legs. Bunch of new guys in new positions.
No excuses this time.
Allen and Cole are back. The Eagles did game plan this week. And training camp will have been over a week by the time the Eagles face the Patriots Monday night in what will be the biggest and longest test for the Eagles starters this preseason.
For the defense, it’s a chance to show that their performance against the Steelers -- two drives, two scores -- wasn’t the real Eagles defense.
And it will come against Tom Brady and the Patriots.
“If you’re playing a team that won three games vs. Super Bowl runner-up, it’s definitely going to be a bigger measuring stick how well you did in that second preseason game if you’re playing [the Super Bowl team],” cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said, who will play after banging up his lip and neck in a collision last Monday (see story)
“Even though it’s a preseason game, you don’t want to overblow it or overdo it, but you still want to measure yourself. We’ll definitely take it seriously.”
The Eagles and Patriots kick off at 8 p.m. Monday in a national TV game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. The Eagles’ starters are expected to play well into the third quarter in a game that they hope will closely resemble regular-season intensity.
“We’ll get some good time this game,” Asomugha said. “We’ll go in and work and treat it like a regular season game. That’s how we’re preparing this week.”
The Eagles weren’t terrible in the preseason opener against the Steelers, but the first-team defense allowed points on both drives it was on the field for -- a 16-play, 52-yard field goal drive and a 10-play, 70-yard touchdown drive.
The Steelers converted five of six third downs against the Eagles’ first group, which missed several tackles during its 26-play debut.
Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said the poor tackling was simply a product of 7 1/2 months without football.
“We’ve had seven or eight days of practice and I think we are going to be better,” he said. “I think it’s like everything else, and we haven’t played football. Just like I’m sure if you turn on tape [of other games], there’s people missing tackles in a lot of different places. Those are the things that will get better and get corrected.”
If they’re going to get corrected, they’ll have to get corrected against a three-time Super Bowl winner.
Not to mention Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and the rest of the Patriots’ explosive offense.
“Tom Brady is one of the best QBs to play this game and the way he understands defenses and schemes is just unbelievable, but I feel like we’re on the same page right now,” safety Kurt Coleman said. “We’ve corrected a lot of errors we made, and I’m excited about this week. I’m excited to see where we are. This is really a great chance for us to get out there and let loose, fire on all cylinders, play as a team and communicate.
“The Patriots have so many guys they can go to, different formations they can hit you with, and a lot of our emphasis has been on communicating so we can get lined up. Really, if you’re not lined up you can’t play ball, no matter how talented you are.
“So we want to eliminate the mental errors, eliminate the physical errors, and just play ball. We really do have a great group of guys, and everybody’s excited about this game. It’s really our last tune-up for the regular season. When you go against the best, you want to show them what you got.”
The Eagles remember Brady’s vintage performance at the Linc last November. He completed 24 of 34 passes for 361 yards, with two touchdowns to Welker and one to Gronkowski in a 38-20 Patriots win.
Brady became only the third quarterback in the last 20 years (joining Eli Manning and Boomer Esiason) to throw for 350 yards, complete 70 percent of his passses and throw three or more TDs against the Eagles.
“They’re precise, and we have to be ready as a secondary,” Allen said. “You saw [last year] how great Tom Brady is. He’s a heck of a quarterback, and you need to be on the same page mentally. If not, he’ll pick you apart. Any kind of weakness in the defense, he’ll spot it right away.”
The Eagles have done as much as possible to make this feel like a regular-season week. Same meeting schedule. Same practice schedule. Same everything.
All they have to do now is play like it matters, even though it really is just a second preseason game.
“It matters just because every time you’re on the field it matters,” Asomugha said. “So when we were playing Pittsburgh, it was the preseason game last year that we were thinking about, how sloppy we were.
“So now we’re playing New England, you go back and look at the last time that you played a team and you look at how well you did as a team. … This is a team that was in the Super Bowl. Let’s go do our best against them, whether it’s the preseason or regular season.”E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org.