We’re just a few hours away from the Eagles second preseason showdown and the first to be held at The Linc this season. The Buffalo Bills are in town and as always, there’s plenty to look for on both sides of the ball. Here are five things to keep an eye on when the game gets underway at 7PM this evening.
Can Eagles establish the run?
Against the Packers, the Eagles amassed just 47 yards of rushing on 19 attempts. A stark contrast to their 54 passing attempts, Frank Reich claimed that the abundance of blitzes and the Eagles unwillingness to show how they’ll combat that during a live-game contributed to the lack of rushing production, but something has to change against Buffalo.
While we only saw some very limited looks from the Eagles backfield, memories of last season’s loss to the Bengals are all too prominent. Whether it’s down to the O-Line or the backs themselves, the Eagles have to find a way to balance the offense when they take to the field tonight.
There’s still much to be decided in the backfield. From the snap distribution and depth chart, to pony packages and decisions as to whether Corey Clement remains on the roster or get stashed on the practice squad. For these questions to be answered, the Birds have to balance the offence and spread the ball around a hungry backfield.
Spots in the slot:
With Jordan Matthews gone, Nelson Agholor is the next man up at the WR3 position. Whether he will wage that war alone or with help however is another question entirely.
Bryce Treggs is listed as second on the depth chart at the position, with Greg Ward Jr, Paul Turner and Keevan Lucas all behind him. However after Mack Hollins made a huge play against Green Bay and showcased his ability as a big-body receiver, he joins the likes of Shelton Gibson and Trey Burton as players who could contribute working over the middle.
Agholor likely won’t see the volume of targets JMatt once did, but the Eagles have an abundance of talent who could all contribute in plays over the middle. From the breakout of Bryce Treggs against the Packers, to the 327 yards Trey Burton put up last season, the Eagles are loaded with options and have three more preseason games to figure out who it’s all going to fizzle out. Expect some interesting personnel looks, surprise breakouts and the occasional big play from an under-the-radar player as the team look to build a strong slot supporting cast around the USC product they have placed all their chips on.
The addition of Ronald Darby to the secondary is huge. The former Bill will likely join Jalen Mills as a starter on the outside, but the team now have to work out how the rest of the depth will fall into place. Patrick Robinson was bumped down to the third unit to begin with upon the arrival of Darby and has since seen some work in the slot. Given that the nickel spot is where Robinson has performed best, there is some potential to see the former Colt aim to find his niche their full-time, competing with Aaron Grymes and Ron Brooks for the starting role. If that is the case, look for Robinson to be taking nickel reps tonight.
If Robinson does move inside, it likely bumps Rasul Douglas to the second unit along with another cornerback. C.J Smith would be a favorite for that promotion at this stage, but of course this is all depending on if Robinson does move inside, how he performs in the remaining preseason games, and how Smith himself performs.
To put it simply, the Eagles cornerbacks are still fighting a huge war. Even though the starting roles seem secure, anything can happen…and the deeper you dive into the position, the more possibilities open due to the addition of Darby. Keep a close eye on the secondary tonight and all the movers and shakers who will willingly make up the unit.
Special Teams improvement:
To put it simply, the Eagles special teams unit struggled against Green Bay. A punt return touchdown by Trevor Davis was followed by another 26-yard return as well as two similarly returned kicks. Caleb Sturgis went 1/2 on field goal attempts and the Eagles returned 4 punts for 3 yards. Fipp’s unit has earned a reputation as one of the fiercest in the league and as Jim Schwartz noted not too long ago, many of the uncertain roster spots will be decided through contributions on special teams. One year after the unit had no contributions whatsoever from the wide receivers, expect the unit to come out attacking tonight. There should be an extra sense of explosiveness with the Eagles playing on home soil, but expect big hits and strong play from a unit that’s looking for the long-term ST members of the future.
Whether it was on the ground, on special teams, or even through the air, the Eagles struggled to produce. McGloin put up solid numbers but the eye test was less than impressive as the Eagles failed to find any success deep down the field. The Eagles were made to run laps after practice throughout the week and endured their longest practice of camp so far just days after the tough loss. It’s safe to say the coaching staff weren’t happy, so expect a very different Eagles team to take the field tonight.
Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports