August 23, 2017
The third preseason game is always the best – at least in terms of how close it feels to an actual NFL football game.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson hasn't revealed how long his starters will play Thursday night when the Birds take on the Dolphins at The Linc, but he has hinted that it will be close to what you're probably expecting: somewhere between a half and three quarters.
Not only does that make watching the game a lot more fun, but it also makes the weekly over/unders much more interesting. With that in mind, let's get right into it with five for this week's game against Miami:
That’s the current total being offered over at Bovada, and I’m leaning toward the under this week. Even though the starters should be playing a bit more this time, the Dolphins have a solid defense that could hold the Eagles to one or two first-half scores, especially if Doug Pederson continues to keep his offense vanilla (and finally tries to commit to a ground attack that has been nonexistent up until this point in the preseason). With the way Jim Schwartz’s first-team defense looked last week against the Bills – coupled with the fact that Jay Cutler has only been with the team for a few weeks – this could be a low scoring affair.
Oh, and through their first two games, the Eagles and their opponents are averaging just 34.5 points between them. The Dolphins games have featured a little more scoring, with those contests averaging 40.5 combined points per game.
Of course, it’s the preseason, so who really knows…
It’s a small sample size for sure, but through the first two preseason games, the Eagles biggest running back has struggled to instill confidence in the fans who were so excited when he signed as a free agent earlier this offseason. Blount has carried the ball nine times for a grand total of 17 yards. That’s 1.9 yards per carry.
So why am I setting the bar more than a half yard better than his average to this point? Because he’s been asked about it all week. Because Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich and running backs coach Duce Staley have all been asked about it too. They all swear he’s fine – the fact that he’s struggled in past preseasons, albeit not to this level, lends credence to that – and will likely continue testing that theory on Thursday night.
The Eagles need to see something out of that position this week – there’s a reason fans were clamoring for the return of a 29-year-old LeSean McCoy despite the potential cost – because another performance like the one they gave in the first two games, and Howie Roseman is going to have serious questions to answer when trying to trim down this roster.
Maybe Blount realizes that, despite the ringing endorsement from his coach on Tuesday, and we’ll get the player we expected. Maybe not.
More importantly, I think the return of Wendell Smallwood is only going to help Blount against the Dolphins. Without Darren Sproles this preseason and with Smallwood missing so much time with injury, the Birds have been relying on Blount to handle the majority of the first-team work in the backfield. Against the Bills, he was the only running back to carry the ball while Wentz was in the game. That’s probably not the best role for him.
This week, Smallwood is expected to get first-team reps, which will actually help Blount, who is really good at getting those extra yards when you need them, but is much better when he has a change-of-pace back to play alongside.
Again, small sample size – I’m just working with what I’ve got – but Torrey Smith has yet to catch a pass this preseason. More shocking than that is the fact that he hasn’t even been targeted once, not by Carson Wentz or any other quarterback on this roster.
Even though he doesn’t seem to be worried, much like Blount, it would be nice to see him catch at least one pass before heading into the season, specifically one from the starting quarterback. Neither Smith nor Wentz are likely to play in the preseason finale, so you have to imagine that they’re going to try to make that happen on Thursday night at The Linc.
He’ll be targeted. Mark my words. I’m just hoping he remembers how to catch – it’s been a while…
In his preseason debut with the Birds, Darby was quite impressive. Sure, he missed a tackle on LeSean McCoy on the first series, but he more than made up for it throughout the rest of the night. On each of the plays that went his direction, Darby was right there.
On the first, he jumped a route on Anquan Boldin, who coincidentally retired* a few days later, and nearly had a pick-six. On the second, he made sure to hold on to the interception, and added a nice return, putting the Birds in great field position. He’ll likely see more snaps on Thursday against a team that’s likely going to throw a bit more than Tyrod Taylor and the Bills. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
This one is tied into the first one – sorta. In the opener, Wentz and the starters scored a touchdown on their opening drive against the Packers … and that was that. Last week, however, they struggled, finishing with just three points on four drives (0.75 PPD) despite some decent starting field position. Their best drive of the night, which was also their final drive, ended on a Blount fumble, which cost them at adding to the score and making my decision here a lot more difficult.
I hope I’m wrong – for the sake of my own enjoyment of the game – but I don’t see them doing much better than 2.5 points per drive (or 10 points for every four drives).
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