Quadruple Option: Eagles-Jets

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The preseason winds to a close Thursday. For many Eagles this will be their last opportunity to make an impression before making the roster or being shot out into the football abyss. We’ve made our guesses as to who will be on the final roster, but this Quadruple Option will focus on four of the position battles that can still be decided tonight

1.) Running Backs

LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, and Matthew Tucker appear to be locks. I’m skeptical about Chris Polk, since I think his value has been overstated, and his replacements have looked more than capable. Henry Josey and Kenjon Barner are playing to stay off the practice squad. The Eagles traded for Barner following Week 2 of the preseason when it looked apparent he would not make the Panthers’ roster. The Eagles could potentially use Barner as a kick/punt returner while Josh Huff is injured, which might keep him on the roster over Polk and Josey.

Josey has looked pretty solid, but that assessment comes only after 12 preseason carries for 104 yards (8.7 yards per carry). Barner’s first game with the Eagles came last week against Pittsburgh, where he rolled up 44 yards on 9 carries. Tonight will be the most action either of these two see, and they will be fighting with Chris Polk for what will likely be the team’s last roster spot.

2.) Defensive End

Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry, and Brandon Bair are locks. Damion Square and Taylor Hart are playing to make the active roster tonight. In my prediction I had Square getting cut and Hart heading to the practice squad. This isn’t the most conventional approach, and it might leave the Eagles a little lean on the line, but neither of them have been all that impressive. Square can play more than one position on the defensive line, so I understand if they decide to keep him over Hart. However, I can see both of them being let go in order to keep depth at other, stronger positions.

3.) Outside Linebacker

This has not been an impressive outfit during the preseason. Brandon Graham is arguably the only Eagle who has stood out. Trent Cole and Connor Barwin are going to be the starters, but Graham could push for more time if he continues to generate pressure (he has 2 Sacks, 1 QB Hit, 4 Hurries, and 4 Tackles this preseason). Travis Long has been the next most impressive OLB, but might be the victim of rough numbers at the position. The Eagles are definitely keeping Barwin, Cole, and Marcus Smith II. Barring the unforeseen they are keeping Graham. They seem to really like Bryan Braman as a special teams player. If they keep Long it may mean keeping at least 10 linebackers, which they may not want to do.

4.) Wide Receiver

The Eagles will either keep 5 or 6 wide receivers. For a team that uses three and four wide receivers as often as they do, I’m guessing (and this blog’s sturdy foundation is a cement mix of guesses and sometimes pretty words) they keep six. Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, and Josh Huff are locks. If Huff ends up being put on PUP or IR, it will open this competition up a bit more. On the bubble are Brad Smith, Jeff Maehl, Arrelious Benn, and Ifeanyi Momah. We (and by that I mean me) at TNP are really big fans of Ifeanyi Momah, but he’s going to end up on the practice squad again. That leaves Smith, Maehl, and Benn.

All three of these guys can contribute on special teams, which makes the call a little tougher. Smith is a pretty good slot receiver when he’s healthy, but he’s missed the last two preseason games to injury. Benn and Maehl each missed time earlier in the preseason as well. Despite my better judgment (Smith has only been targeted once this preseason), I think Smith and Maehl make the final cut and Benn is the odd man out. However, a good enough performance from any of them would make the picture a little bit clearer for the Eagles’ staff and guessers like me.

Steve Sabato is the editor of The New Philadelphian. You can follow him on Twitter @steve_sabato.

Projecting the Eagles’ 53 Man Roster

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The title is pretty self explanatory, so let’s get into it.

OFFENSE:

QB: Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley  (3)
RB: LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Matthew Tucker, Kenjon Barner (4)
WR: Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff*, Brad Smith, Jeff Maehl (6)
TE: Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, James Casey (3)
T: Jason Peters, Allen Barbre, Andrew Gardner (3)
G: Evan Mathis, Todd Herremans, Matt Tobin, Dennis Kelly (4)
C: Jason Kelce, David Molk (2)

Total: 25

QB: No surprises here

RB: Chris Polk has the most to lose in the Eagles’ preseason finale against the Jets. Polk has been sidelined most of the summer with a nagging hamstring injury. In his absence, the Eagles’ running backs have been stellar.

Polk has only 11 carries over the last two seasons, and the regime that drafted him is mostly gone. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him cut if he doesn’t look good against the Jets. I’m also willing to bet that Barner ends up looking better than Josey and Polk in the finale, and they have slightly better odds of sneaking Josey through waivers and onto the practice squad than they do Barner. Also, Barner can potentially end up returning punts and kicks, which neither Polk nor Josey will do.

WR: I don’t think Benn ends up making the team. He’s made some pretty nice grabs since returning from injury, but I don’t like him over any of the guys here. If they end up shelving Huff for the year, Benn will probably make it over Momah, since they can stash Momah on the practice squad.

Momah has another two years of practice squad eligibility, where he will be able to refine his game. Having already shown much improvement with one year on the squad, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see him take another leap next year. Jeff Maehl and Brad Smith are more versatile and will thus make better additions to the active roster.

TE: No surprises here.

OL: Lane Johnson does not count against the Eagles’ 53-man roster while suspended. When he returns, the Eagles will probably waive an offensive lineman (Kelly or Gardner), because of Barbre’s ability to play multiple positions.

DEFENSE:

DE: Fletcher Cox, Brandon Bair, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry (4)
NT: Bennie Logan, Beau Allen (2)
OLB: Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Marcus Smith II, Bryan Braman (5)
ILB: Demeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Najee Goode, Casey Matthews (4)
CB: Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Nolan Carroll II, Jaylen Watkins (5)
S: Malcolm Jenkins, Nate Allen, Earl Wolff, Chris Maragos, Ed Reynolds (5)

DE: The four making the roster here are locks. The only one that I’m a little iffy on is Curry. This has nothing to do with performance, there’s just a chance he could potentially be dealt to a team that runs a 4-3 and lost a starter to injury. However, he’s shown improvement against the run this preseason giving hope that he could be more than a situational threat for the team. At worst he provides solid overall and situational depth to the defensive line. Taylor Hart hasn’t been crazy impressive this preseason, and the last spot on the defense likely boils down to him versus Safety Ed Reynolds, who I think has been better.

NT: Bennie Logan is the incumbent starter, and Beau Allen has been better than Damion Square. Allen may end up pushing Logan for the job before long, if he plays as well in the regular season as he has this preseason.

OLB: The top four are locks. People like to rag on Brandon Graham, but he looked good last season and has been solid all summer. Smith clearly needs some refining, but the first round pick has shown potential. Braman makes the roster because of his abilities on special teams.

ILB: Eagles fans don’t love Casey Matthews, but most of what they reference is in response to what they saw of him in a completely different scheme. He hasn’t been amazing since the switch to Billy Davis’ defense, but he’s been decent in sparing play. This preseason he’s been noticeably better than Emmanuel Acho, and he should win a roster spot over him.

CB: The top four here are obvious locks. Jaylen Watkins hasn’t had the most inspiring preseason, but he makes it as the depth option over Roc Carmichael and Curtis Marsh, neither of whom have looked good.

S: All of these guys have looked good. I’ve said it before, but seeing competence at the Safety position is such a departure from the (recent) norm for the Eagles that it’s a real pleasure to watch. Wolff was supposed to push Allen for a starting job, but each of them showed improvement from where they were last season. Reynolds has actually looked better than Maragos, but the latter is used a lot on special teams, so I think the Eagles will end up keeping 5 here.

Defense: 25

K: Alex Henery (1)

P: Donnie Jones (1)

LS: Jon Dorenbos (1)

Alex Henery probably won’t end up surviving until Week 1, but given what I have to work with on this Eagles roster, I’ll take him over Cody Parkey. Nobody on the planet would be shocked to see the Eagles poach one of the kickers that doesn’t make the cut in a competition going on somewhere in the NFL. Donnie Jones and Jon Dorenbos are locks.

ST: 3

Total: 53

Practice Squad:
QB- GJ Kinne (1)
RB- Henry Josey (1)
WR- Ifeanyi Momah (1)
TE- Trey Burton (1)
G- Josh Andrews (1)
DE- Taylor Hart, Alejandro Villanueva (2)
OLB: Travis Long (1)
NT: Wade Keliikipi (1)
S- Keelan Johnson (1)

Teams can keep 10 players on the Practice Squad. To be eligible they must not have logged more than six games on an NFL roster. Players may remain on the practice squad for up to three seasons.

In our next post, we’ll get down to the key position battles taking place in the Jets game.

Steve Sabato is the editor of The New Philadelphian. You can follow him on Twitter @steve_sabato.

Eagles-Steelers Preseason Recap

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Going into Thursday night’s game against Pittsburgh, the foremost concern for Eagles fans was consistency. After a shaky first series for the offense, the team’s starters dominated the Steelers on both sides of the ball. The Eagles won the first three quarters by a score of 31-7, with the second string offense and defense getting the lion’s share of the playing time in the third quarter against the Steelers’ starters. The Steelers would add two touchdowns in the fourth, when the game was (and most of the players who will likely make the roster were) out of contention.

What went right for the Eagles that hadn’t in previous weeks?

Primarily, the team they played this week didn’t seem to have their “A” game on them. A glance at the Steelers’ depth chart before this game would have led you to believe they were in for a long season, but seeing it in action would affirm that belief. I don’t think Pittsburgh is going to win more than 6 games this season, and now that I’ve said this you can be sure they will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

The defense consistently got in Ben Roethlisberger’s face, preventing Pittsburgh from doing much in the air. They were solid against the run as well, as LeVeon Bell and LeGarrette Blount combined for only 55 yards on 16 carries. Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham looked as good as they have all preseason, each recording a sack, and Curry adding another QB hit. Nolan Carroll II added a highlight to a solid, but injury-limited, training camp with an interception in his first Shiny Pants action for Philadelphia. That was the first step Carroll needed to take if he hopes to steal snaps from Bradley Fletcher (who looked decent this week). Brandon Bair also stood out, continuing to bring the ruckus on the defensive line. There are no stats specifically for bringing the ruckus, but sometimes stats aren’t important–if you don’t believe me, Curtis Marsh led the team in tackles. Bair did, however, register a quarterback hit and a crucial batted pass on a third down.

Also coming up with a huge play on third down was Malcolm Jenkins, who made a diving defense of a pass intended for Antonio Brown that would have moved the chains. Nate Allen kept his grip on the starting Strong Safety position, but Earl Wolff didn’t fall any further behind, as each of them had positive impacts last night. It’s still pretty comforting how much better the Eagles appear to be at Safety this year than they were last year. They’ve gone from being really terrible to at least competent, through the development of Nate Allen and the signing of Malcolm Jenkins.

Offensively, the Eagles looked much more cohesive than they had in previous weeks. Matthew Tucker continues to be a pleasant surprise, reeling off 46 yards on 10 carries, and 2 Touchdowns. If his receiving top billing shocks you, it’s only because LeSean McCoy’s supernova production has become second-nature. In fact, each of the running backs on the roster looked good, as none of them averaged under 4.6 yards per carry. The Eagles will have some interesting decisions to make before the preseason lets out, as they have 5 Running Backs who can make a good case to be on the team.

The offensive line still looks good but for Allen Barbre’s struggles at right tackle. He allowed a team-high 3 QB hurries and a hit yesterday. The Eagles signed Barbre to an extension this offseason, because of his ability to play multiple positions on the offensive line. However, he seems to fit more naturally as a guard, because he tends to get beat on the outside by faster, stronger pass-rushers. Jason Worilds beat him around the edge to get to Nick Foles on the one INT Foles threw last night. I don’t think Barbre will  be a heavy liability for the Eagles in the four games Lane Johnson is absent, but he is a noticeable step down from the rest of the starting unit, which is one of the best in the league.

Nick Foles and the passing attack looked fine after Foles got off to a shaky start. Foles ended up going 19/29 for 179 yards 1 TD and 1 INT, and spread the ball to each of his potential starting pass-catchers. Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Brent Celek, and Zach Ertz all had at least two catches. As well, Jordan Matthews’ last two weeks (12 targets, 11 catches, 120 yards) starting in the slot over an injured Brad Smith were probably enough to move Matthews ahead of Smith full time-even though Chip Kelly doesn’t believe in depth charts.

Far more frightening than Nick Foles’ touch-and-go start were injury scares to Maclin and McCoy. Maclin’s knee buckled mid-route, causing him to immediately go down, clutching the injured right knee. Maclin missed the entire 2013 campaign due to a torn ACL, which also came while making a cut in the middle of a route. Thankfully for Maclin, he was able to get back on the field and record a catch on the same route which caused the injury the following series. McCoy had an injury to his thumb, which was later revealed to be a sprain.

Special teams are certainly a point of concern as Alex Henery went 1/2 on field goals, making a 36-yarder and missing one from 31. Normally, you’d chalk it up to a bad night, but it looks especially bad after the Eagles brought in Cody Parkey for competition at Kicker, and an Eagles beat writer made a longer field goal than you earlier this week. The kickoff unit also allowed 30 yards per return, which is disconcerting as well.

Ultimately, the team looked good, and there were no season-altering injuries. With preseason games, that’s really all you want. Seeing most of what they needed to see, the Eagles’ coaching staff likely won’t expose the starters to much action in the preseason finale versus the Jets. Most of the playing time in the finale will go to players hoping to avoid the final round of cuts, which we will focus on in our next Quadruple Option.

Steve Sabato is the editor of The New Philadelphian. You can follow him on Twitter @steve_sabato.