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August 15, 2019

First half observations: Eagles 7, Jaguars 3

Eagles NFL
081519-ClaytonThorson-USAToday Douglas DeFelice/USA Today

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Clayton Thorson (8) throws a touchdown pass to wide receiver Greg Ward (not pictured) against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first quarter at TIAA Bank Field.

The Eagles head into halftime with a 7-3 lead over the Jacksonville Jaguars, though the story of the half will ultimately be another quarterback going down. If there's a silver lining, it's that it was another backup and not the franchise starter, but Cody Kessler's early injury casts even more doubt on the picture behind Carson Wentz.

Here's what I saw in the first 30 minutes of action on Thursday.

The Good

• There were a lot of starters missing on the offensive side of the ball, but we did get to see a lot of the team's best defensive players on the field for the first time all preseason. Even in limited action, Malcolm Jenkins made his presence felt on the field and reminded you how important he is and will be for this group this season.

Jenkins probably doesn't get enough credit for his impact on Philadelphia's run defense, but he certainly showed up there on Thursday night. When Jim Schwartz has him playing up near the line, Jenkins' timing and reading of the game allows him to blow up plays before they really get going, and even if he doesn't make the tackle himself, Jenkins often causes enough hesitation to allow his teammates a chance to beat their matchups.

Now feel free to sit on the sidelines for the rest of the preseason.

• After a brutal first week on the ground, the Eagles' rushing attack was much improved against Jacksonville. Miles Sanders was the standout performer on the ground and I don't see much of a reason he should play before Week 1.

Every skill that prompted the Eagles to draft Sanders in the second round was on display. He flashed the initial burst to get through the line, elusiveness at the next level, and on what was probably his best run of the half, Sanders even showed the power to run through contact and pick up extra yards.

With the starting offensive line in front of him and defenses paying attention to Carson Wentz and a talented receiving core, you can see this kid being a nightmare to stop.

• After I lampooned his performance in the first preseason game, it's only fair that I give Clayton Thorson props for bouncing back against Jacksonville. And he did so in tough circumstances to boot — he likely wasn't expecting to play until the second half, but when Cody Kessler left the game early with a possible head injury, it was time for Thorson to step up.

"Staying healthy" would have been enough for this game, but Thorson made some legitimately nice throws under duress for the Eagles, even though backup wideouts failed to pull a few of them down. His big fourth-down touchdown to Greg Ward came with pressure coming his way, and he gave his guy a chance to make a play. It ultimately paid off:

Does this wash away everything else he has shown (or not) in the preseason? Certainly not. But it was nice to see some signs of life.

• How many more plays in the backfield does Daeshon Hall have to make before the Eagles feel he has to be on the 53-man roster? You could argue he has been the player of the preseason so far, for as much as that's worth, and he came up with another big play  with a strip in the backfield on Thursday night:

The former third-round pick has plenty of competition as a backup defensive lineman. There were flashes from all three of Hall, Josh Sweat, and Shareef Miller on Thursday night, and since the Eagles just invested a fourth-round pick on Miller, who knows how many other backup linemen will make the roster. But Hall is doing everything you could ask for with the time he has received so far, and the talent is there.

(But hey, buddy, probably shouldn't be celebrating sacks in a no-huddle situation.)

The Bad

• Stefen Wisniewski has been having a hard time snapping the ball when he has been asked to play center during training camp, and he had a handful of bad/low snaps in the first half against Jacksonville. He would eventually get pulled so Nate Herbig — who had never played center in his life before training camp — could get some center reps. 

It's a good thing Jason Kelce exists, let's put it that way.

• It was nice to see Mack Hollins on the field in any capacity after he missed all of last season due to injury. The competition is fiercer than ever at wideout, though, so he has some work to do.

This is bad for Hollins but good for the Eagles overall. They've already seen a few of their wideout depth options make big plays in the preseason — Ward's run after the catch this week follows up a long touchdown for Marken Michel against Tennessee, and ultimately there has been a lot to like for the backups we have seen play so far. 

Will Hollins' contributions on special teams help keep him around? Time will tell. He remains excellent there and caused a mishap on punt coverage late in the first half, that's just not going to guarantee him a spot over (potentially) more dynamic playmakers.

The Ugly

• Nate Sudfeld going down with an injury in the first week of the preseason was certainly not ideal. Cody Kessler taking a huge shot on the first possession of the game, it turns out, is also not what you want to see for the local football team.

After taking a bit of a risk and not sliding on a play earlier in the drive, Kessler dropped back to throw and got absolutely crushed on his blindside, after a blitz on the left side of the line left an edge rusher unblocked, and the result wasn't pretty. Rookie Andre Dillard took the blame from a lot of folks, though responsibility on this one is ultimately based on the call, and Dillard ultimately made the "correct" read based on the protection the Eagles were in.

I doubt that's going to make Kessler feel any better, but it's worth noting. 

It wasn't long before Kessler was summoned to the blue tent on the sideline, and we'll obviously have to keep an eye on that one moving forward. Just what everyone wanted — more Clayton Thorson.

(The Eagles are not doing a great job of the whole "avoid injuries in the preseason" thing, by the way.)


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