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August 29, 2019

5 things to watch in the Eagles' fourth preseason game vs. the Jets

In their yearly ultra-meaningless fourth preseason game against the New York Jets, the Philadelphia Eagles will be trotting out a steady diet of third- and fourth-stringers. For the diehards, here are five things to watch.

1) The fourth DE spot

Early in training camp, Josh Sweat had a commanding lead for the fourth defensive end spot, over Daeshon Hall and Shareef Miller. He had a good start to camp, and a hype train -- both from the media and the players -- began to form. However, Sweat has been unable to keep that momentum going, and while he hasn't necessarily been bad in the preseason games, he hasn't exactly made many standout plays either.

Conversely, Hall has had a fantastic showing in the preseason games, and has very clearly outplayed Sweat. He would be my current leader for the No. 4 DE job.

"You're looking at Daeshon Hall. You're looking at Josh Sweat, and then of course Shareef Miller, there's three guys, three young players there, that have played a lot in preseason and will play again Thursday night, get quite a few snaps," Doug Pederson said of the battle for the No. 4 DE spot. "So, that last spot is kind of -- one of three players, quite frankly, and they have all done a great job. I’m looking forward to Thursday night to see how they play and give us that rush that we need because we play so many guys up front, at least eight guys, four ends, four tackles in games. So it's a great way for any one of them to see the field."

To be clear, Pederson is talking about four defensive ends and four defensive tackles being active on game day, as opposed to making the 53-man roster. Still, that No. 4 DE, again, likely Hall at this point, will see snaps during the regular season.

2) Can Greg Ward and/or Marken Michel make one last splash play?

Back in the Eagles' 2016 preseason, AKA the summer of Paul Turner, the Eagles' receivers were garbage, opening up the door for Turner to make the team. Turner helped himself with a punt return TD in the final preseason game, and made the team. 

Turner would not have come close to making this current Eagles roster, in my opinion, as the Eagles have a very good top four group of receivers in Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor, and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.

I know that a number of observers would prefer to see Mack Hollins lose his roster spot in favor of Greg Ward, Marken Michel, or even Carlton Agudosi. That's not going to happen. Hollins is going to make the team. The only shot for a sixth receiver to stick is if the Eagles keep six (unlikely), or trade one of the aforementioned receivers (even more unlikely).

Michel had a splash play Week 1 against the Titans, and Ward had one Week 2 against the Jaguars. Those guys will have to do something extraordinary tonight against the Jets to have a fighting chance.

Man, I have to come up with three more things to watch? Ugh, OK, bear with me, please.

3) T.J. Edwards, I guess?

When the Eagles start the regular season, they'll be thin at linebacker. They'll very likely be without Kamu Grugier-Hill for a few weeks, and Nigel Bradham's availability for Week 1 is in question.

When camp opened a month ago, many (self included) had T.J. Edwards pegged as an undrafted rookie with a chance to make the team. He was quiet in camp, but has had some nice moments in the preseason games. I imagine he'll get a lot of playing time in this final preseason game, and will have an opportunity to stand out.

4) The safeties the team just added?

A week ago today, the Eagles made a blockbuster trade of DT Bruce Hector for S Rudy Ford, mostly known for his ability on kick and punt coverage. Sooooo, look for him as the gunner on punts, I guess? Exciting!

Also, the team released S Tre Sullivan this week to make room for S Jason Thompson, who was an undrafted free agent in 2017, and has played (never in a real game) for the Patriots, Bears, Seahawks, and Cowboys. The Eagles play all four of those teams this year, so maybe the Eagles are merely downloading their playbooks from his brain, Matrix-style.

5) Jake Elliott

First, let's be clear that the Eagles don't have a kicker problem. Elliott has hit 84 percent of his field goal tries, which is average these days. He's also roughly at the league average on PATs, at 94 percent. Where Elliott stands apart from many other kickers, however, is his clutch kicking. No moment has ever been too big for him. 

In 2017 alone, he did the following:

  1. He made a game-winning 61-yard field goal against the Giants. Duh.
  2. In the Super Bowl, he hit an underrated 46-yarder with just over a minute to play to extend the Eagles' lead to eight points. Would the Eagles have won the Super Bowl if he doesn't make that kick?
  3. He was 4/4, hitting from 45, 40, 53, and 47 against the Chargers in a game the Eagles only won by two points.
  4. He was 2/2, hitting from 50 and 48 in a close game against the Panthers.
  5. He was 3/3 against the Rams, including a pair of fourth quarter kicks. That game was way closer than the 43-35 score would indicate, as the Eagles got a defensive touchdown with no time left on the clock.

In 2018, Elliott made some big kicks at home against the Texans, Giants, and Cowboys.

Meanwhile, you have teams like the Vikings trading fifth-round picks for backup kickers, or the Bears, whose kicker issues have broken the head coach's brain.

Still, Elliott missed two kicks in the preseason, and a third will be unacceptable!

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