Preseason Game #3: What you should REALLY be watching for…

The third preseason game is tomorrow night.  It’s standard at this point for Eagles commentators/beat writers/bloggers to put up a “what I’m watching” post, and I’m no different.  I will say, however, that I tend to look at things a bit differently.  For example, at Birds 24/7, Tim McManus is watching:

– Kenny Phillips

– Cole/Graham

– Watkins

– Herremans

– Russell Shepard

Click the link to see his rationale, but none of those strike me as particularly meaningful, though they’re all of some interest.

Defensive Line, especially Logan/Curry

So far, the defensive line is FAR ahead of where I (and most others) expected them to be.  Preseason performance obviously has to be discounted, but there’s no doubt the group looks stronger than I thought they’d be.  Of note here are Bennie Logan and Vinny Curry.  Both players have shown signs of being very good players in this defense.  However, both have also been predominantly matched up against backups.  I want to see what they do when playing against #1s.

Logan, in particular, is an important piece, by virtue of Sopoaga playing in front of him.  Sopoaga isn’t exactly a world-beater at NT, and isn’t likely to produce anything beyond mediocre play.  Every team needs some draft luck in order to contend, and hitting on a 3rd round NT would certainly qualify.  If Logan can contribute, it eliminates a big hole in the defensive roster.

Rumor has it both Logan and Curry will rotate in early tomorrow night.  If we’re talking long-term (and we should be), that’s the biggest thing to watch.  Can either player be a significant contributor?

Nate Allen

It’s looking more likely that Nate Allen will be starting for the Eagles this year, at least in Game 1.  The question here is, can he be average?  With what is expected to be a very good offense, the Eagles don’t need a GREAT defense, just a passable one.  Last year, the team’s Safety play was horrendous.  Missed tackles and bad angles against the run and broken coverage in the pass game.  I’m confident that Patrick Chung (while he’s healthy) will provide solid, if unspectacular, play.  If Nate Allen can do the same, the Eagles will have filled the biggest hole on the team.

Michael Vick

Now that he’s the unquestioned starter, I hope to see a better representation of Chip’s playbook.  We won’t get it all (he’ll save a lot for the regular season), but we should get a much better feel for how the offense will function.  Beyond that, I’m looking for one thing from Vick:  Can he hit throw the bubble screen accurately?  So far, it looks like the WR screen will be a foundation of the offense.  However, it’s not as easy a throw to make as it looks.  To be successful, the ball has to be delivered quickly and with precise accuracy.  If the throw ends up on the WR’s back shoulder, it essentially ruins the play.  With DeSean especially, it can mean the difference between a huge gain and a negative play.

TEs in the Slot

There might not be an area of this offense I’m more excited about.  With the TEs the Eagles have, specifically Clay Harbor and Zach Ertz, this should be a consistent source of positive match-ups.  I want to see a lot of it.  At the highest level, it forces the defense to change its personnel.  Normally, the defense would be in a Nickel alignment, with 3 CBs to cover the offense’s 3 WRs.  However, a CB won’t be able to consistently cover Harbor/Ertz.

There are a few options for the defense, but none of them are that attractive.  It also plays to both Harbor and Ertz’s strengths, namely the Size/Athleticism combination.

Health Insurance

I’m not overly concerned with the bottom of the roster.  It’s obviously important for the players, but for the team’s overall performance, the last few spots on the roster aren’t going to matter much.  However, I want to remind everyone that a few of the Eagles’ offseason additions and presumed starters must still be considered injury risks.  Specifically:

– Patrick Chung.  He’s missed 14 games over the past 3 seasons.  In all likelihood, he won’t play 16 games this year.  Someone has to be able to step in and provide adequate play.  I’m not sure that person is on the roster.

– Bradley Fletcher. He played all 16 games last year and in 2010, so I’m more confident in him than I am in Chung.  Let’s not forget that he’s torn the ACL in his right knee TWICE (as well as the MCL once).  The Eagles aren’t exactly deep at CB.

Therefore, if you want to watch what’s really important during the second half of the game, keep your eyes on the DBs.  It was the team’s biggest weakness last year, and while it should improve based on the current starters, there’s very little depth.  If the wheels are going to come off this year, it’ll likely have something to do with this position group.

Whether its Wolff, Coleman, Phillips (not likely), Whitley, Lindley, etc… doesn’t really matter.  The Eagles just need SOMEBODY that can step in and deliver non-catastrophic play.

 

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Pre-game Notes: Eagles vs. Giants

With today’s game, the Eagles season from hell finally ends.  Injuries have robbed us of the most interesting players to watch (Foles/Cox/Kendricks) but there are still a few reasons to remain engaged (other than doing it just because you are a real fan and love football.)

– A loss guarantees the Eagles pick no worse than 4th in the draft (a loss with a Raiders win over the Chargers gives the Eagles #3.)  A win, however, could drop the Eagles as low as 7th (according to BleedingGreenNation) if the Lions, Bills, and Browns all lose (very possible.)

– The Giants have lost 5 of their last 7 games, though maintain a slight chance to make the playoffs.  They need a win today and losses by Chicago, Minnesota, and Dallas.  It should also be noted that despite their streak of poor play, they’ve been good in their own stadium and bring a 5-2 home record into the game.

– Bryce Brown.  The Giants are allowing 130.4 yards rushing per game, so if Brown gets an honest chance, we could see some fireworks.  If McCoy dominates the carries, we’ll still get the fireworks, but they won’t be as meaningful (we know McCoy is awesome.)  If I was Jeffrey Lurie, I would have made it abundantly clear that I expected to see Brown get at least 10-15 carries…

– Brandon Graham.  Graham has had a good season, let’s see how he finishes it out.  He hasn’t erased the bust label yet, but he has shown enough potential that fans should be legitimately excited to see what he can do next year.  The Giants are a good test, giving up the least sacks per game at 1.3.  If Graham can be disruptive today, it’s a very good sign for next season.

– Michael Vick.  Vick’s play today really doesn’t matter to Eagles fans since he will almost certainly not be on the team next year, but it felt wrong not to include him.

– Jeremy Maclin.  Maclin has 293 yards receiving in his last three games.   Though the change to Vick will mean a different type of offense, hopefully Maclin can continue his strong play.   The Giant’s are ranked 28th in the league in passing yards allowed per game (257.4), so there should be some room for Maclin to work.

– Want to play the worst drinking game ever?  Drink every time you hear Jamar Chaney’s name mentioned…

Eagles vs. Redskins: Pre-game notes

Looking forward to today’s game; here’s what is important to watch for:

-A cynical note:  It’s close to impossible to actively root against the team during the game, but a win here could prove hugely expensive.  Just remember, a top 3 pick in the draft is a lot more fun than a meaningless win in December.  Also, though I’ll never actively root for a division opponent, I think I’m in the majority when I say I’d much rather see RG3 in the playoffs then Eli Manning or Tony Romo (though watching Romo fail is hugely entertaining if a bit predictable.)

– Nick Foles.  Foles is coming off a relatively weak performance…expect him to bounce back.  The Redskins are among the worst pass-defenses in the league, allowing 285 yards per game through the air.  Their pass-rush has also struggled, notching just 25 sacks, tied for 28th in the league.  All-in-all, Foles should have the time and space to move the offense, so there will probably be a lot of fans trying to jump back on the bandwagon after today.

-Emil Igwenagu.  This is a bit of a wildcard, as there is still no clear indication of how he will be used or how much he will play.  However, Igwenagu has the strength/size/toughness to be a good blocking fullback.  Normally this wouldn’t mean much, but if we take Andy Reid out of the picture for next year, it’s not difficult to see the offense transitioning to more run-emphasis.  Imagine a full-speed McCoy/Brown tandem running behind a rejuvenated O-Line.  Add in a powerful run blocker out of the fullback position and it becomes a very intriguing prospect, especially when you remember DeSean will be there to keep defenses honest.  It probably won’t amount to much, and this could easily be the most we ever talk about Igwenagu, but for today I’m paying close attention and hoping he gets a chance to play.

-Fletcher Cox.  Assuming RG3 starts and plays without any noticeable limitations, this should be a tough assignment for Cox.  To date, he has proven himself as a strong pass rusher, either with the straight bull-rush or by using his hands to get separation at the snap before using his explosiveness to blow by his blocker.  Normally this is great, as collapsing the pocket from the inside disrupts just about every play.  However, against a QB like RG3, this can be an issue as it creates running lanes and makes it harder to contain the QB (assuming he can avoid Cox’s initial pressure).  I’m not sure how they’re going to play RG3, but if it were me, I’d be focused on containment and rely on the DBs to cover (the Washington WRs shouldn’t really scare anyone.)  If that’s the case, then we may see a dip in performance from the rookie DT, as he’s more successful when he can attack rather than react.

-The LB’s. Should be a rough day for Demeco and Co.  The RG3/Alfred Morris combo is a bad matchup, since they put a lot of pressure on the LBs (not exactly the Eagles’ strength.)  Morris is a strong runner both inside and out, and can be tough to bring down.  Hopefully Kendricks can use his speed to make a few plays, but in a one-on-one Morris-Kendricks battle, you’d have to bet on Morris coming out on top.  Also, I think we can safely assume that The Invisible Man (Jamar Chaney for those who forget) will remain invisible.

-Colt Anderson.  This should be a fun game to watch Colt.  He’ll either make a few big plays or look ridiculous.  The running attack of the Redskins plays to Colt’s strength, but he also has a propensity to lose his angle when attacking, making him vulnerable to missed tackles.  He played a solid game last week, but this offense is an entirely different challenge.

-RG3. I typically don’t highlight opposing players because it’s not within the purview of this blog, but RG3 is special.  For any fans who don’t have RedZone or Sunday Ticket, you’ve been missing out.  It’s possible RG3’s career gets derailed by injury or that he adjusts his game to avoid contact, but for now he might be the most entertaining player in the league.  It sucks that he plays for the Redskins, and I’m sure we’ll all grow to hate him if he kills the Eagles over the next 10 years, but for now I encourage everyone to enjoy the show.

Pre-game notes: Eagles vs. Bengals

As we get ready for a Thursday night game, a few notes followed by what to watch for:

– Regarding Nick Foles, this game is flashing a pretty strong “REGRESSION” sign.  Each defense Foles has faced is ranked in the bottom third of the league for opposing QB Rating allowed.  Cincinnati isn’t great (ranking 15th and allowing an average rating of 84.7) but is significantly better than Tampa Bay (allowing an average rating of 92.4).  Don’t be surprised if Foles’ stat line looks much worse than last week.

– Barring a miraculous performance by the O-Line, Foles is going to face significant pressure and will take some hits tonight.  The Bengals lead the league in both sacks per game (3.2) and sack percentage (8.27%).  Tampa Bay averaged just 1.5 per game heading into last week and came away with 6.

– The Eagles DBs will face a stiff test with A.J. Green in town.  In my opinion, he and Calvin Johnson are the best WRs in the game right now.  It will be interesting to see how the Eagles cover him (expect A LOT of double-teams).  Look for the Eagles to do everything possible to prevent him from getting single coverage with a safety, as trusting Allen or Anderson 1-on-1 would likely be a disaster.  Theoretically, this should open things up for other Bengals underneath, as zone coverage will be a gamble (at least on Green’s side).  The Bengals should be able to use Green to pull coverage, opening up the space he vacates.

What to Watch For:

Can Foles avoid a turnover?  To date, he’s been pretty good at protecting the ball and not making high risk throws.  However, in the face of the toughest defense he has seen (and with a short week to prepare) he’s going to be under more pressure than he’s accustomed to.  If it’s tough to move the ball (as it should be), we’ll see if he starts pressing.  Last week he did not.

As a reminder, forget Foles’ stat line.  Watch for his ability to make progressions (watch his head when he drops back) and avoid high-risk throws.  Also, still looking for an accurate deep ball…

Short slants and RB-flats from the offense.  I’m a little surprised they haven’t tried to hit Brown through the air a few more times (though perhaps he can’t catch), but they’ll need a variety of check-downs and hot routes to take advantage against the pass rush.

Mychal Kendricks.  Last game he was shifted to WLB and played perhaps his best game of the year (certainly his best since the first month of the season).  On the weak-side, he can use his speed more effectively.  Specifically, watch him in coverage (mostly RBs out of the backfield and TEs coming across the formation) , as that’ll be a major responsibility of his if they keep him on that side.

Brandon Graham/Fletcher Cox.  Cincinnati has problems protecting Andy Dalton and ranks in the bottom third of the league in both sacks allowed per game and sack percentage allowed.  This should be an opportunity for both Graham and Cox to make an impact.  Ideally we’d see Trent Cole with a big game, but his play has slipped dramatically since last year.  Hard to tell what’s wrong; he just isn’t winning one-on-one battles like he used to (might be an undisclosed injury or just a decline in ability).

Play Action.  As I mentioned in the breakdown from the Bucs game, Tampa Bay didn’t run nearly as much PA as I expected them to given the Eagles problems  defending it.  The shift away from the Wide-9 should help fix that, but there wasn’t enough of it run last game to test that assumption.

Colt Anderson/Jamar Chaney. Chaney re-entered the starting line-up last game when Kendricks shifted to WLB.  Both Anderson and Chaney were terrible early this year when given playing time.  Neither was tested very much by the Bucs.  For Chaney, see how involved he is.  He has a bad habit of getting sucked up by the first blocker he encounters.  He isn’t quick enough to go around them, and hasn’t yet shown the strength or athleticism to get off them.

Colt Anderson has had serious issues in coverage.  Against the Bucs, his positive plays came exclusively against the run (and on blitzes rather than read-and-reacts).  I’m not expecting very much from either player, but if one of them can be at least serviceable (i.e. close to average) then it eliminates a big hole for the Eagles heading into next year.

Pre-Game Notes: Eagles vs. Bucs

A few pre-game thoughts/notes:

– Kurt Coleman is out with a chest injury, meaning Colt Anderson will likely get major PT (Andy Reid has shown no inclination towards Sims).  While I’d normally be excited by anything involving the words “Kurt Coleman” and “not playing”, Colt Anderson has looked lost in limited playing time (against the Lions he was solely responsible for 2 TDs if I remember correctly).

– The Bucs’ pass defense is terrible, giving up an average of 309 ypg.  Their run defense, however, is ranked #1 in the league.

THINGS TO  WATCH FOR:

– Given the Bucs’ defensive strengths/weaknesses, this should be a showcase game for Nick Foles.  Tampa Bay actually has less sacks this year than the Eagles do (Bucs – 18, Eagles – 20), meaning Foles should have plenty of time.  Pay particular attention to his downfield attempts, as thats an area of his game we haven’t seen much of.

– While the Bucs are 30th in sacks, they are 4th in interceptions, meaning Foles’ decision making has to be good if he’s going to avoid turning it over.

– Brandon Graham is coming off arguably the best game of his career.  With increased playing time (with Babin gone), the next few games will go a long way towards determining whether he is a complete bust or can be a contributor.

– Under Todd Bowles, opposing QB’s have a 142.4 passer rating, with 16 TDs and 0 interceptions.  This is a historically bad stretch of defense.  Watch the DE alignment to see if they’ve truly abandoned the wide-9.  If so, we should see them less susceptible to the PA seam routes that have torched them all year.

– Tampa Bay is favored by 7.5.  The fact that the Eagles are 7.5 point underdogs to a 6-6 team is both remarkable and sad.  Against the spread this year, the Eagles are 2-9-1, the worst record in the league.  Meaning they have been the most consistently overrated team in the league (by the betting market).