The Eagles have ended preseason undefeated after a 14-6 win over the New York Jets and with the final roster cuts just around the corner, there’s plenty of speculation over who will and who won’t make the 53-man roster. But in the calm before the storm, there’s a perfect window to go over everything we’ve learned about the Eagles in their first preseason under Doug Pederson.
A new direction at wide receiver:
It may not have seemed like it in the opening couple of games, but an emergence from the likes of Paul Turner in one of the most intense positional battles on the roster helped cement a new direction at wide receiver for the Eagles. The birds released Reuben Randle and Chris Givens, just months after signing them and weeks after the two were projected to have locked up their spots on the final roster.
With DGB added into the mix, the effect of competition on the Eagles receivers has sparked a young, hungry corps that has such a variance in styles, headaches for Defenses seem imminent when it comes to mismatches.
It remains to be seen how many of the Undrafted receivers make the final roster, but a strong preseason and consistent effort was enough to convince Doug Pederson that they should be the ones competing for roster spots and not proven veterans..which certainly says a lot about how Pederson aims to build and run his Offense.
Offensive line isn’t as deep as we thought:
When it comes to run blocking, the Eagles Offensive line was extremely impressive throughout preseason until last night where the backfield only averaged 2.1 yards per carry. Pass protection on the other hand, is an entirely different ball game as we quickly learned.
The rookies drafted for depth purposes struggled in the opening games, arguably contributing the hairline fracture that Carson Wentz sustained and undoubtedly contributing to the amount of pressure Chase Daniel had to endure for the duration of preseason.
The blocking improved as time went on, notable players who showed signs of development were “Big V” and Stefen Wisniewski, but if these linemen are to be called on during the regular season with no Andrew Gardner as “ol reliable”, there could be some slight cause for concern as they come up against some dominant pass rushes.
After seeing just fifteen preseason throws under Chip Kelly, it looked to be a reoccurring theme after Bradford was present for one redzone drive in the preseason opener. That all changed as the games went by however, with the Eagles starter throwing 40 passes in total and just like he did a year ago, turned a few heads.
Bradford showed increasing levels of confidence in the hybrid West-Coast Offense and completed 17/20 passes against the Colts. Comfort and confidence are two things that Bradford hasn’t shown in bunches throughout his career, but expressed toward the end of 2015.
It may only be preseason and it’s important to remember that, but Bradford’s sustained success under Doug Pederson can only be taken as an encouraging sign, remembering that he’s not rehabbing his knee this year and is in a familiar environment with familiar faces.
A head to head DE battle emerges:
Marcus Smith has been heavily scrutinized throughout his career, but under Jim Schwartz was expected to see a resurgence. All seemed to be going to plan until a concussion cost him valuable preseason snaps, snaps that instead fell to Steven Means.
Means capped an impressive preseason with a strong game against the Jets, hitting the QB twice, sacking Hackenberg once and deflecting a pass in the process. Smith may have had his moments, but Means has stood out to the coaching staff in what has become a head-to-head battle for a depth DE spot on the roster heading into tomorrow.
Undrafted rookies make impact at DT:
I wrote previously about how there could be a changing of the guard at the backup DT spots and with preseason in the books, it’s still a heavy possibility. Destiny Vaeao and Aziz Shittu have both been exceptional in preseason, but Taylor Hart and Beau Allen have stepped up their game considerably. It’s important to note however that the Eagles were previously shopping Taylor Hart.
It’s great that the Eagles still have plenty of possibilities after cutting Mike Martin who was previously slated to backup Cox and Logan, but ultimately they can’t all make the roster. Youth and potential are two of the values this Eagles team thrives on..but how will Schwartz look to balance that on his Defense. Both rookies could well end up on the Practice Squad, or we could be in for a surprise or two come tomorrow’s deadline.
Cornerback competition climax:
The cornerback competition has been the most exciting part of preseason (for me at least) and watching the explosion of C.J Smith onto the scene and the ever impressive Aaron Grymes having a standout preseason until falling injured has been thrilling..but there’s still a lot of uncertainty at the position.
Grymes was waived with injury, opening the doors for someone to take his spot on the depth chart. Jalen Mills has had a rollercoaster preseason, completely contrasting his impressive Training camp while Eric Rowe has gone under the radar as one of the most consistent yet slightly underwhelming corners in Schwartz’s system, represented by playing deep into the team’s fourth preseason game.
JaCorey Shepherd finally made his preseason debut and was burned on the Jets lone touchdown pass of the night and C.J Smith was quieter but still had some big individual moments..so the question is, what happens now?
The truth is, nobody knows. The cornerback competition has lived up to the hype and with any number of possibilities, it will be interesting to see who does and who doesn’t make the final 53-man roster after four games of constant changes to the situation.
Tight End focus:
3-TE sets seem to be a big feature of Pederson’s Offense, but it’s also been known that he wants to implement a fullback. The decision to keep four TE’s on the roster will be even tougher to make after Pantale suffered three drops last night.
Burton, Ertz and Celek have all contributed in both blocking and receiving facets of the game, although it took a while for Pederson to properly get the cogs turning. If Pederson wants to use Burton as a swiss army knife next to Ertz and Celek, he’s probably going to need a fourth tight end as a backup..but will he ride with Pantale after last night, take a shot on McFarland or potentially look elsewhere, knowing that the market will flood after tomorrow’s deadline.
Run Defense is dominant:
The Eagles run Defense has been the most impressive part of preseason from start to finish. From big plays on third and fourth down, to hitting the runner behind the line of scrimmage, teams have simply not been able to find a rhythm on the ground regardless of what caliber of lineman is trying to stop them. Not only is this a sign that the system is working exactly as intended (the Eagles ranked last in rushing yards last year), but with the results being so consistent..there’s a lot of reason to be excited about Schwartz’s Defense.
Kenjon Barner has been the running back of the moment in preseason, seeing the bulk of reps in the opening games. Surprisingly, the former Oregon Duck featured heavily in the “dress rehearsal” third preseason game, a situation that normally sees the starters as a main focus. Whether the Eagles were trying to keep Mathews and Sproles as fresh as possible, developing Barner as a change of pace back or even trying to see if he could become the “Spencer Ware” of Pederson’s system, allowing for Mathews workload to drop off a little in order to maintain durability remains to be seen..but will be an interesting scenario to keep an eye on.
Safety depth is a strong point, but who loses out?:
Jenkins and McLeod may be touted as the breakout Safety tandem, but the depth could prove to be just as important. Luckily for the Eagles, preseason became a stage for Jaylen Watkins and Ed Reynolds to show coaches that they deserve a spot on the final 53-man roster.
Blake Countess, a sixth round pick by the Eagles had a relatively quiet preseason and with the team looking to keep 4/5 safeties on the roster..will Schwartz ride special teams and go with Chris Maragos, putting Countess on the Practice Squad..or instead favor depth?
The big games from Watkins and Reynolds don’t just make that decision even tougher for Schwartz to make..but arguably more important.
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