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Eagles Preseason Preview: 3 personnel and scheme things to watch against the Patriots

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Hint: watch out for QBs running routes

NFL: Super Bowl LII-Philadelphia Eagles vs New England Patriots Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I’M ABOUT TO BATHE IN SOME SALTY BOSTONIAN TEARS OHHHHHHHH GOODNESS YES.

1) Pass protection reps for RBs

So Donnel Pumphrey got injured.

Coming into the fourth preseason game, Pumphrey was the clear leader among the candidates vying for RB4. Wendell Smallwood and Josh Adams both had their good reps, Matt Jones...walks around and stuff, but Pumphrey represented the most recent investment, and one with the highest draft capital. On top of that, Pumphrey put forth the best practice reps, without question, of the group: he showed nice hands, good vision, and great agility throughout camp.

Now that he is likely on the outside looking in from his spot in the med tent, we gotta look for different skills that RB4 can bring. Pumphrey brought space ability that only Sproles did — but Smallwood/Adams/Jones don’t bring any ball-carrying or pass-catching ability not already reached by the top three. So now I’m looking at special-teams ability and pass protection.

Smallwood has the edge in special-teams right now: he’s been doing the longest, and actually has returner experience. In pass protection, however, I’m not sold anywhere. Smallwood has definitely improved over his career, but he still loses more reps than he should; same with Adams, who is too upright and thin in the waist to carry significant power. Matt Jones might be the best, but it’s more so by default than virtue.

Let’s hope Smallwood shines in pass protection over these next couple of preseason games. He’s the player who needs to step forward.

2) Seumalo rotations

This is a thing that happened in real life in front of my face for real actually.

The thing about this is that I really wish I could see it, but the only thing I see is a whole lotta bad snaps. I can remember two blocks of his that impressed me in isolation—one during a two-point conversion against the Steelers, as the OC—but that’s a disappointing number for the “most improved lineman in camp.”

What do I want to see? Success against second-teamers would be a good start. Be noticeably consistent and impactful, as a third-year player should be after so much investment. But I’d also love to see Seumalo get some guard reps as well: If he’s really the most improved lineman at camp and the snaps are limiting his execution...have him stop snapping.

Of course, one of Seumalo’s strengths is his intelligence, which is nice to have at the pivot. But if Seumalo can’t snap, then he’s not your backup center; Wisniewski is. That makes Seumalo more likely to see guard reps than center reps. So why not get him those reps?

And if he doesn’t have that versatility...I mean, how valuable is a backup center who can’t snap? This is where we are right now. Unless Seumalo’s snapping magically improves, he needs to get better at being a guard. Flat out.

3) HOSS

HOSS is a sexy little play that the Patriots have been running for agents. It wasn’t even always called ‘HOSS,’ but that’s what the Pats call it, and the term has become popularized.

Hitch-seam is the more descriptive term. It describes the half-field relationship between two receivers attack the seam and the boundary hole.

As the illustrious and svelte Michael Kist notes, the beauty of HOSS is how well it adjusts to different coverage shells. Against a two-high look, those seam routes from the Z and Y bend inside to split the safeties; and against a one-high look, the hitches become boundary fades that most centerfielders will struggle to reach. There’s also the juke (run by the H here) on this variation, but we won’t worry too much about that now.

The Eagles and Doug Pederson, ever the magpies, have been incorporating more HOSS looks across the end of last season and even into camp this year. I’m a fan of that.

Now, for our immediate purposes, I’m interested in the seam routes—for two reasons. Firstly, TE Dallas Goedert got heavy usage in the short areas running little stick/curl routes in his debut preseason action. I’d love to see him get involved more going deep, and this is the way to do it.

But secondly, and of more roster import: I’m excited about when the slot receivers run those seam routes. Shelton Gibson has clearly stepped into the WR5 role with a strong camp, but if the Eagles are to carry six? Well, Greg Ward Jr. and Rashard Davis are the clubhouse leaders. Both project nicely to the slot as Nelson Agholor-lites. Gibby made a splash play last week that got the coaching staff buzzing; that opportunity also exists for Davis and Ward, in their reps this week.