Well BGN, it has been a while! I'm still here, I've just been traveling a bit and with the lack of football to break down (not helped by NFL Gamepass going through a major update) I haven't had a lot to write about. That will all change with preseason coming up of course.
I find preseason very interesting personally. In recent years, I've enjoyed it more when I've focused on what the Eagles are doing schematically rather than individual performances. Everyone says that in preseason teams play a 'vanilla' defense and don't do a lot, but I don't really buy that argument entirely. For example, on defense teams may not disguise their coverages as much and they may not throw as many blitzes at the opposing QB as they would during a regular season game, but this doesn't mean they don't practice coverages they will use during the regular season. There's no point running a ton of cover 2 then never running it during the season. If you go up against Mike Zimmer and the Vikings in preseason, you'll likely see a lot of double-A-gap blitzes. That's because that blitz is 'vanilla' for the Vikings defense, it's the staple of their defense. You want to practice things that you will be doing in the regular season, so I think we can take away little bits of information from preseason.
With that in mind, here are a few little things that I will be watching closely throughout the preseason:
- The number of 5/7 step drops the Eagles quarterbacks take, especially on early downs. Last year the Eagles had a lot of 3 step drops (especially with Lane Johnson out of the lineup). I put that down to the west coast scheme but also because the Eagles had nothing on the outside at receiver and a weakness at right tackle when Lane was suspended. This year with Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith added, I hope the passing game will open up a bit. So I'll be having a look and seeing if Wentz is taking a few deeper drops on early downs.
- Watching how the Eagles use Alshon Jeffery will be interesting too. They are obviously going to line him up at X and have him run go routes, comebacks etc, but this is a west coast offense after all so I expect the Eagles to use him on a lot of in breaking routes where he can use his size to box out cornerbacks too. I wonder if we'll see him in the slot during preseason a bit. I would love the Eagles to run the dagger concept with Smith in the slot and Jeffery on the outside running the deep in breaking route, just because I've been imagining that play in my head all offseason!
- Running under center with LeGarrette Blount. Last year the Eagles ran from both under center and shotgun because of the different types of running backs they had. This has to continue this year but I really hope the Eagles run a lot with Blount from under center. This paragraph from Smart Football Stats piece on 'The NFL's best and worst shotgun runners' explains why.
LeGarrette Blount does one thing and one thing well, run from under center; he does not provide a dynamic backfield threat however. In his career, just 8% of Blount’s runs have come from shotgun sets. On 97 career carries, Blount has rushed for 374 yards, just 3.9 a rush and scored three times. Under center, Blount is a beast, on 1,070 career carries he has rushed for 4.4 yards an attempt and scored 37 times. Blount’s new team the Eagles were in the shotgun 13% more than the Patriots and had nearly double the amount of their runs come from the shotgun formation. Besides obvious touchdown regression, maybe there are more reasons to be concerned about LB this season.
If the Eagles want to get the best out of Blount, they need to run more from under center. Fans seem to worry about the offense being predictable but it didn't hinder the Patriots last season. In order to stop the run being predictable, all the Eagles have to do is occasionally throw from under center with Blount in the game and also run a lot of play action with Blount in the game. During the preseason, I hope we see Blount from under center a lot and I will be keeping an eye out for this.
- Speaking of running from under center, I will certainly be watching how the Eagles use Donnel Pumphrey. In college, he was a workhorse running back who would even run power from under center, but I just don't see the Eagles using him that way in the NFL. I expect him to be used on outside runs from the shotgun (outside zone, sweep, crack toss) and I hope he gets moved all around the formation during the preseason, I'd like to see him get the ball in space and see how he gets back up after taking a hit. In Pederson's offense, there is a huge emphasis on getting the football out quickly and matchup pieces like Pumphrey that can move around the formation are so valuable because they can get the defense to reveal their hand before the ball is snapped. I expect to see Pumphrey in motion a lot so hopefully we get a taste of this during preseason.
- Trey Burton is a guy I will be keeping an eye on too. He's sort of gone under the radar this season because the Eagles have so many new weapons but I thought he played pretty well last year. I can't see him splitting out wide as much as he did last year considering the weapons the Eagles now have, so I wonder if he will become more of a matchup piece. I would like to see him in the backfield as a fullback/h-back and then have him motion him out to the slot so he has a linebacker covering him.
- It will be interesting to see just how much cover 2 the Eagles play, especially on 3rd down. I'm expecting the Eagles to play a ton of cover 2 this year, especially on 3rd down considering the lack of talent and speed they have at the cornerback position. There has been some talk about Schwartz blitzing a little bit more this year but I don't see it personally. I expect a lot of 4 man rushes with 2 deep safeties back so I would expect to see a lot of this in preseason too.
- Who will cover the opposing teams X receiver? I'm guessing it will be Jalen Mills and I'm really excited to see how he handles himself out there if it is him. I'm still optimistic he can develop into something decent so it will be good to watch him go up against the best out there in preseason.
Me and Tyler Jackson will have film review posts up after each preseason game, but keep in mind there is no all22 during the preseason so it will just be the standard TV angle. Real football is nearly back!