The Philadelphia Eagles are now 1-1 in the 2017 NFL preseason after defeating the Buffalo Bills by a final score of 20 to 16. Like last week, this game featured some ugly football at times, but there were a number of positive signs as well. Here’s a look at 11 things we learned.
1 - Seemingly no major injuries
The fact that the Eagles escaped this game without a single player leaving early makes the night a big success. Philadelphia only has one more preseason game to get through where the starters will play. Staying healthy is the most important thing when meaningless football is being played.
2 - Carson Wentz still has something to work on
Wentz didn’t look bad on Thursday night by any means. He didn’t look great, either. One of the issues he’s had in the past showed up where he overthrows targets near the sideline. This happened with Alshon Jeffery early in the game. Wentz’s tendency to overthrow his targets in those situations are harmless since the ball goes out of bounds. But it’s dangerous when those throws happen over the middle. That didn’t happen last night, though, and I’m nit-picking here. It would be nice to see him clean that accuracy up. Maybe a cleaner pocket would help out. I still think Wentz has had a pretty encouraging summer, all told.
3 - Ronald Darby looks like the real deal
In the span of a week, the Eagles went from having no real inspiring players at cornerback to having a very inspiring player at cornerback. Darby looked very good in his Eagles but. He almost came up with a pick-six early in the game before notching an actual interception later in the first quarter. Darby didn’t exactly face the most challenging competition, but it was still a pretty encouraging performance by him. Couple it with the fact he’s looked good in practice since arriving in Philadelphia and there’s ample reason to feel good about Darby. Having a good cornerback improves the secondary, and when the secondary plays well (Jalen Mills looked solid again and Rodney McLeod tipped a pass that led to a pick) it buys more time for the Eagles’ defensive line. Speaking of …
4 - The Eagles’ defensive line is no joke
I’ve been very, very bullish on the Eagles’ defensive line. The early returns are good; this unit has been flat out dominant through two preseason games. Brandon Graham had a great tackle for loss on LeSean McCoy. Fletcher Cox pushed the Bills’ guard back into Tyrod Taylor to force an incompletion. Derek Barnett continues to shine and deserves to get playing time with the starters. He’s been awesome. Chris Long has been getting pressure regularly and also defends the run well. The Eagles have a lot of talent and depth on the defensive line.
In fact, they have so much depth that the battle for the fifth defensive end spot could be a tough cut. Maybe the Eagles will keep both Steven Means and Alex McCalister, but if it’s just one, it could be a tough call. McCalister is younger and long. Means turns 27 soon, so he’s no young prospect, but he’s been really productive. Ultimately, this is a good problem for the Eagles to have.
5 - The Eagles’ offensive line needs to be better
Philadelphia’s offensive line isn’t playing so well right now. In fairness, they’ve been missing some of their starters in the past two games. Brandon Brooks was out against Green Bay. Jason Peters and top swing tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai did not suit up against the Bills. With that said, offensive line depth is supposed to be a strength of this team. The players and coaching staff don’t seem to be too worried; they’ve insisted the offense will look better once the team starts actually game-planning for their opponents. Maybe that’s the case. In the meantime, it’s a concern worth keeping an eye on. The offensive line is critical to this team’s success.
6 - It’s going to be interesting how the running back situation plays out
I have no idea how the Eagles’ running back situation is going to play out.
LeGarrette Blount, who figures to be the starter, hasn’t looked very effective. He has 17 rushing yards on nine carries through two games. I know a lot of people will complain about Doug Pederson running him to the outside, but guess what? Blount isn’t actually a bad outside runner, statistically speaking. The 250-pound rusher ranks 10th out of 59 running backs on runs to the outside over the last three years.
I’m not too worried about Blount. It’s not like he’s looked great but I think he’ll be fine if/when the offensive line gets it together.
Outside of Darren Sproles, an obvious lock, who else fits into the running back picture? Wendell Smallwood might be the team’s best runner but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Byron Marshall looked decent but he was playing against third and fourth stringers.
Corey Clement could be pushing for a roster spot. He rushed for 34 yards (4.3 average) and a touchdown on Thursday evening. I don’t have anything against Clement, but I’m wary of preseason running back performances based on recent Eagles history. Remember when everyone thought Henry Josey and Raheem Mostert were studs? They didn’t amount to anything in the NFL.
A number of people have pointed out Clement was more productive than those players in college. That’s certainly true in the case of Mostert, but Josey’s college stats aren’t all that far off from Clement. And Josey only played three seasons while Clement played four.
We’ll see what Clement can do in the final two preseason games. I still think he’s a practice squad guy, unless …
… unless the Eagles stash Donnel Pumphrey away on the injured reserve list this season. I’m trying not to overreact to two two preseason games, but I haven’t been very encouraged by what I’ve seen out of Pump. He doesn’t have the kind of explosion one would expect from a smaller player. I don’t think he looks ready to contribute right away. Even Dave Spadaro suggested Clement is ahead of Pumphrey.
So maybe the Eagles will try to roll with Blount, Sproles, Smallwood, and Clement. Or maybe Pumphrey will look better when the Eagles put together an actual game-plan for him. For now, I’m skeptical of what the Eagles have at running back. It really stinks that this year was a great running back draft class and they didn’t come away with a full-time answer at the position.
7 - Mychal Kendricks is the MVP of the preseason so far
I never thought I’d be writing that, but here we are. Kendricks has looked pretty good through two games. He had an interception and a sack against the Bills.
Kendricks’ performance has caused people to say that the Eagles should keep him instead of trying to trade him. There’s some merit to that argument since the Eagles are light on linebacker depth.
The problem is that the coaching staff clearly doesn’t love Kendricks. They only played him 27% of the snaps last year for a reason. Maybe his playing time would go up if he stays for this season, but I still maintain it’s more realistic he gets traded. Kendricks requested a trade earlier this offseason and I think the Eagles will get a deal done now that he’s boosting his value.
Whether he stays or goes, it’s good for the Eagles that Kendricks is playing well.
8 - Philadelphia’s wide receivers didn’t look bad
Alshon Jeffery didn’t do anything exceptional in his Eagles debut but he looked good.
The same was true for a number of Eagles receivers on Thursday. Nelson Agholor showed good shiftiness while lining up in the slot. And he didn’t drop any passes! Encouraging sign. Marcus Johnson showed off what the Eagles like about him on a 38-yard catch-and-run opportunity over the middle. He’s fast. Greg Ward, who’s working in the slot, made a tough contested catch over the middle of the field and held on despite taking hits. I know I say it a lot but it’s remarkable how quickly he’s transitioned from quarterback to receiver. Shelton Gibson didn’t have a catch against Buffalo but he did draw a defensive pass interference penalty to set up a rushing touchdown late in the game, so that’s a positive sign.
The showing from these Eagles receivers is a reminder why the team felt comfortable trading Jordan Matthews. A number of them might not be as good as JMatt, but they’ve flashed enough to show they can contribute in some fashion. It’s not like they’ve sucked like 2016’s group of receivers did.
9 - Caleb Sturgis is looking a little shaky
Sturgis is 3/5 this preseason with misses from 45 and 46 yards out. That’s not the end of the world, but it’s not super inspiring. At least he did make a 48-yard kick. We’ll see if the Eagles bring anyone in to challenge Sturgis. After the game, Doug Pederson suggested that he’s not worried about the Eagles kicker.
“None whatsoever,” said Pederson when asked about his level of concern. “[I have a] lot of confidence with him going forward. [It’s] something he's working on every day, and [he’s] got a couple weeks to get it straightened out.”
10 - Matt McGloin should never throw a pass for the Eagles again
I think I speak for everyone when I say there’s been enough of Matt McGloin for one preseason. The game just hasn’t been very enjoyable when he’s been in. Hopefully Nick Foles will return to action next week to be the main backup to Wentz. (I can’t believe I just said that.) I’d also like to see Dane Evans, who looked decent against Buffalo, get playing time before McGloin does. It looks like the undrafted free agent quarterback from Tulsa could make the Eagles’ practice squad.
11 - The week ahead should be interesting
The Eagles will hold joint training camp practices against the Dolphins this week before playing Miami on Thursday. The third preseason game is the dress rehearsal so the starters should get some significant playing time. This will be Philadelphia’s last chance to work out the kinks before their regular season begins on Sunday, Sept. 10.
Watch Doug Pederson’s post-game press conference via the Bleeding Green Nation Facebook page (click here or view below).
EAGLES WIN - Head coach Doug Pederson talking nowPosted by Bleeding Green Nation: For Philadelphia Eagles Fans on Thursday, August 17, 2017
Watch Carson Wentz’s post-game press conference via the Bleeding Green Nation Facebook page (click here or view below).
CARSON WENTZ! Eagles QB talking now!Posted by Bleeding Green Nation: For Philadelphia Eagles Fans on Thursday, August 17, 2017