Eagles vs Bills: A pre-season classroom preview including report cards and debut spotlights

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The Eagles are set to make their home pre-season opener come Thursday, at home against the Bills. It’s been a wild week, and we’ve survived yet another massive move made by the Eagles’ aggressive front office. As we all know by now, the Eagles traded WR Jordan Matthews and a 3rd-round pick in exchange for CB Ronald Darby.

While pre-season is a time to identify key depth players, and find out exactly who might make the roster, it’s hard to go without highlighting some big names as well. Let’s get right into it:

 

Location: Lincoln Financial Field – Philadelphia, PA

When: Thusday, August 17th, 2017

Time: 7:00 PM ET

 

REPORT CARDS:

The grading scale grades teams based on their overall league rank in the five (4) following categories:

1) Points Per Game

2) Yards Per Game

3) Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA): This is a method of evaluating a team’s efficiency. It takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation. You can read more about it here:

http://www.footballoutsiders.com/info/methods

4) Weighted Offense/Defense: Weighted Offense/Defense is adjusted so that earlier games in the season become gradually less important. It better reflects how the team was playing at the end of the season.

Matchup: EAGLES vs BILLS

The Bills offense earned a ‘B’ overall grade in 2016. They were consistently an efficient team, despite being somewhat reliant on big plays. The Bills managed to grade out in the top half of the league in all five offensive categories.

Despite an above-average campaign last season, the Bills offense, at least on paper, seemingly has taken a step back. They still have dual-threat QB, Tyrod Taylor; and they still have the ever-elusive RB, LeSean McCoy. These two, in and of themselves, spearhead one of the league’s top rushing attacks. Combine a top rushing attack with a QB who takes care of the football, and you will have an efficient team, as the Bills have shown they are.

However, heading into 2017, the Bills are on the verge of experiencing life without star WR, Sammy Watkins; and without top CB, Ronald Darby. The loss of these two, one would think, will lead to regression in 2017. With that said, the Bills are excited to see what they have in newcomers WR Jordan Matthews, and CB EJ Gaines. In addition, the Bills are loaded with 2018 draft picks to continue building this team.

While it’s safe to say the Bills are going through a mini-rebuild, I expect the offense to remain similarly efficient in 2017.

Which team’s first unit has the upper hand? While both units seemed to match up well in 2016 on paper, heading into 2017, there are plenty of reasons to believe this Eagles team will be much improved. Despite the constant scrutiny of the Eagles’ secondary last season, the birds had a sneaky good defense – and they’ve only gotten better.

I think this chart shows what far too many people who criticize the Eagles’ defense forget to consider. Yes, the secondary gave up some big plays last year, but, on a play-by-play basis, which Football Outsider’s DVOA rating takes into account, along with weighted defense to determine how the defense improved over the course of the season, the Eagles defense actually graded out surprisingly well, receiving a ‘B’ grade for overall defense.

With the additions of plug-and-play starters Timmy Jernigan, and now, Ronald Darby, the Eagles’ starting defense is set be even better in 2017.

The Bills defense earned a ‘D’ grade in 2016. While they were middle of the pack in PPG Allowed, and YPG Allowed, they graded out very poorly in DVOA and Weighted Defense. This leads us to believe that their defense was, in fact, worse than normal statistics may show.

Nonetheless, the Bills have to be more efficient on defense for them to win games. Losing Ronald Darby won’t help much, but they will hope for impactful years from newly drafted CB Tre’Davious White; and newly acquired CB EJ Gaines.

Once again, with the Bills seemingly entering a mini-rebuild, I don’t expect their defensive unit to make drastic strides in 2017. Their pre-season match up against the Eagles will be interesting as far as watching how their CB situation plays out. Ironically, the Eagles head into this pre-season game with one less question mark at corner – thanks to the addition of Darby.

Although the Eagles’ offense received a ‘D+’ grade in 2016, and were inconsistent throughout much of the year, they have made improvements across the board. I look for the Eagles first-team offense to play well in a series or two in the pre-season home opener against Buffalo.

 

EAGLE DEBUTS: ALSHON JEFFERY


Alshon Jeffery is exactly what the Eagles’ offense has needed: An imposing, physical, number one receiver. These grades are based on Alshon’s league ranking in the categories above. Now, I know Alshon has, by his standards, had a couple of disappointing seasons the last two years. However, injuries and suspensions are what led to his substandard overall statistics. When Alshon has been on the field, he has consistently been one of the very best at the position.

Which is why, in this grading system, Alshon is being graded mostly by what he does when he IS on the field. Alshon won’t play much in the pre-season home opener (if he does at all), but it will be exciting to see him in midnight green on the field for the first time!

 

EAGLE DEBUTS: RONALD DARBY

Make no mistake about it, Ronald Darby was a big-time addition to this Eagles squad. As you’ve likely heard, Darby regressed a little bit in 2016, as compared to his rookie year.

Even then, Darby is a huge upgrade, and the notion that he regressed last season shouldn’t be a cause for concern. He finished the season last year with zero interceptions, which hurt his overall grade. Still, though, Darby graded out amongst the top of all DBs in Pass Breakups, and has been a consistent tackler around the line of scrimmage since entering the league.

It will be exciting to see what Darby brings to the unit, and we should get our first taste of that on Thursday night.

 

EXCITED TO SEE: BRYCE TREGGS, MACK HOLLINS

With the loss of WR Jordan Matthews, the Eagles all of the sudden have an open roster spot up for grabs. Treggs and Hollins graded out as the top NFC East WRs in week one of the pre-season, per Pro Football Focus. Here’s to hoping they continue that trend.

 

EXCITED TO SEE: DERRICK BARNETT

The Eagles’ first-round pick of 2017 performed up to expectations in week one of the pre-season. While we can’t expect the guy to put up two sacks every week, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about his production going into the future.

For only being week two in the pre-season, this game has an awful lot of storylines. In addition to seeing the debuts of Jeffery and Darby, along with the continued progress from rookies Hollins and Barnett, we also get to see the return of Jordan Matthews and former Eagle RB LeSean McCoy.

 

 

Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

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