August 22, 2018
The preseason has been a bit of a mixed bag for the Super Bowl champions so far, at least depending on your perspective. On the positive side of the ledger, the Eagles haven't picked up any additional serious injuries and their star quarterback is nearing a return to action. The bad news? They've looked pretty pedestrian when they've suited up for games.
But that's a combination you'll take every time if you're an NFL team, and Philadelphia will have another chance to prove themselves on Thursday night in their third preseason game against the Cleveland Browns. With starters expected to play roughly the entire first half, per head coach Doug Pederson, we should have a more concrete idea of how prepared they are for a title defense.
(Or, at least as concrete an idea as you can have with the starting QB on the sideline and the game only being a preseason matchup.)
As the date with those world-beating Browns looms, let's check in on what some folks around the league have to say about the team.
Dave Spadaro | Eagles.com
To be kind to Nick Foles, his first start of the preseason could have gone much better. And when Nate Sudfeld came out and dropped dimes all over the New England Patriots — granted, against lesser competition — it made the Super Bowl MVP's start to the evening look that much worse.
So with Carson Wentz still in doubt for Week 1 and Foles not knowing what he'll be expected to do to start the year, Thursday night is a big evening.
It’s all about the “now,” a mindset that has served Foles well in his up, then down, then very up NFL career. He says his “body feels great. I’m very fortunate with my shoulder” and that’s all that matters in this moment. On Thursday, it’s going to be a different story. The Eagles have played sloppy, mistake-ridden football the first two weeks of the preseason. Coaches talk about “self-inflicted wounds” and the Eagles have had a slew of penalties, giveaways, missed assignments, and dropped passes.
The opportunity to turn it around and head into the regular season with some momentum comes in Cleveland.
“I think having a half, getting out there, moving the ball, running our offense, I think it will be great for us,” Foles said.
There is some importance to this preseason game, one that obviously doesn’t count in the standings but one that matters to Foles and his reliance on touch and timing. He didn’t have much of either last week. Thursday night, it’s an entirely new experience, and one he hopes will vault the offense into that September 6 focus and whatever that might mean for No. 9 and the quarterback position. [philadelphiaeagles.com]
Given that this guy stepped in as a backup and won the whole dang thing, I imagine he's going to be okay.
Tim McManus | ESPN
The rookie tight end was close to getting his hands on a pair of touchdowns against New England after coming up with a score in his opening game, so expectations are naturally starting to get high for Goedert. Assuming he gets up to speed as a blocker, the Eagles are going to give teams fits with the versatility of Goedert and Zach Ertz.
He's not the only rookie making a statement this preseason, however. Cornerback Avonte Maddox is challenging for the starting nickel corner position, and even Jordan Mailata has shown some flashes in his first real football action.
Make no mistake though, it has been the Goedert show all summer.
Goedert has been one of the real bright spots of camp. He has made the transition well from South Dakota State to this point, showing off the athleticism and playmaking ability that drew the Eagles to him. His body type and movement are so similar to Zach Ertz's, it's hard to tell them apart on the field. Goedert should see playing time immediately. [ESPN.com]
Sheil Kapadia | The Athletic
There's a natural expectation for the best guys on a given team to be the best leaders, too. It's why there tends to be a bit of debate about who deserves to wear the 'C' on a hockey team — is your top scorer always meant to carry that badge with them?
Last year proved the Eagles have a lot of natural leaders on their team, including further down the bench. And from the sound of things, the example of hard work set by Means has an influence on both sides of the ball.
During games, [Lane] Johnson will ask Means to keep an eye on him vs. opposing pass-rushers and offer tips. Johnson will often come to the sideline and tell Means that practice was much harder than the game.
Sometimes, Peters will ask Means to ease up. Means doesn’t listen, and so they get close to fighting. During Means’ rookie season, before they were teammates, Peters provided his “Welcome to the NFL” moment by slamming Means to the ground during a game. Reminded of that, Means starts laughing and starts looking around the locker room for Peters.
“I’ll go at whoever,” he says, unable to keep a straight face. “JP knows what’s up, man. Where’s JP at? Let JP know if I see him out there today, I’m gonna pay him back just because you said something.”
Means’ energy is important to the Eagles’ culture. There are midweek practices in November where the season feels like a grind. The players are grumpy, worn down and in physical pain. That’s where Means comes in.
“He’s somebody who inspires me,” said Chris Long. “If I’m feeling a little bit tired or old or not motivated on any given day, I can look at Steve, and he picks me up just by his example. I think you don’t have to be a guy who plays a ton to be a leader. And I think of Steven as a leader.” [theathletic.com]
Gary Davenport | Bleacher Report
While it was Philadelphia's offense and their MVP-caliber quarterback who stole a lot of the headlines last season, it was often the Eagles' defense who set the tone for their success in the regular season. The way the Super Bowl played out has blurred that now, but crushing run defense and a knack for coming up with big stops fueled Philadelphia's dream season.
Is that part of the team strong enough to hold down the fort as key offensive contributors, Wentz and Alshon Jeffery among them, attempt to return from injury?
In 2017, the Eagles were able to paper over the warts on the defense with great success, but that was because they had several things going for them.
First, Schwartz is good at what he does. The team also had a proven linebacker in Kendricks who could fill the void when Hicks got hurt, and its smothering run defense compensated for the occasional lapse in coverage. The offense would march right down the field and score if the defense faltered.
Now, however, Kendricks is gone. So is arguably the team's best cover man. The belief that Philadelphia's secondary will be better in 2018 is grounded as much in hope as empirical fact. And with the offense struggling to get healthy, there's no guarantee the Eagles will be able to win shootouts—especially early in the season.
None of this means the defense can't carry the team for a while. Schwartz has shown that he can craft one in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And that line—man, oh man, that line is stacked. I ranked the Eagles first in Bleacher Report's NFL power rankings, and they will stay there through at least Week 1.
Such is the virtue of being the defending champs. [BleacherReport.com]
I'm just going to throw this in here real quick.
Kendricks says “we’ve got so much more talent in this room than we had in Philly, it’s not even funny.” for the teaser to next week’s Hard Knocks pic.twitter.com/NQMCWQ5oUR— John Barchard (@JohnBarchard) August 22, 2018
Going to have to go ahead and disagree with you there, chief. But no one ever accused professional athletes of being shy about talking up their abilities!
Andrew Kulp | NBC Sports Philadelphia
There has been some talk framing Wentz's return to play as a potential debate, even if he's ruled healthy by the doctors. As the argument goes, the third-year QB needs time to get up to game speed and make sure his legs are really under him before he heads back out there. Besides, they have a Super Bowl winner on the bench to hold down the fort.
Some people are just sick of having the debate.
The only type of opinion there’s room for is a medical opinion, preferably that of somebody who is directly involved in Wentz’s treatment.
The Eagles have tried pouring cold water on this cycle all along, repeatedly telling reporters over the course of many months there’s a plan for Wentz’s rehab, and doctors will ultimately inform the team when he’s ready.
Yet, we’re a little more than two weeks from the Eagles’ regular season opener against the Falcons, and it seems everybody wants to give their two cents on what should happen.
If Wentz is ready, great. If he isn’t, that’s not a problem, either. The Eagles still have Foles. Obviously, there’s no reason to rush Wentz back.
Except there is no indication the Eagles would do that. If Wentz plays Week 1, it will be because the team’s medical staff is confident he is no more at risk of serious injury than any other human being who steps on the field that Thursday night. What more do you want? [nbcsports.com]
Stephen White | SB Nation
This feels like a fairly bold prediction, given that there's only one real opening in the linebacker group and Walker has not exactly risen above the crowd in the preseason. More talk from the guys who analyze this stuff for a living has focused on the likes of Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry potentially starting at the WILL linebacker spot.
But White believes Walker will emerge from this picture a winner, provided he stays healthy. That belief rests on the idea that Jim Schwartz might ask Jordan Hicks to slide to the outside more this season.
At 6’2 and 236 pounds, Walker is an old-school thumper type who fits right in as a run stopper. He was always on his toes, often inching forward right before the snap, and did a good job recognizing runs and getting downhill in a hurry last season. Walker also had no problem taking on offensive linemen and fighting off those blocks. He didn’t mind blowing up a fullback on ISO plays, either.
At the same time Walker also did a good job of playing under control and usually wasn’t fooled by play action passes. He didn’t play a lot of man-to-man or anything, but he appeared to be getting good zone drops and breaking up passes that came into his area. He may not be a great guy in coverage, but I didn’t see him as much of a liability when he did have to drop, either.
Hicks is going to stay in on passing downs anyway when they go to nickel, and there are more things you can do with him as an outside linebacker than you can just keeping him in the middle all the time. It just makes sense to me to shuffle them around so that their linebacker unit as a whole is at its best.
If it goes that way, Walker’s production should explode this season as a starter. If they choose to keep Hicks in the middle and start someone else outside, even as a backup, I would expect Walker’s production this season will dwarf the 10 tackles he was credited with last year.
One way or another I believe the guy is going to have a breakout season, regardless. The only question now is if it will be as a starter or not. [SBNation.com]
Nate Davis | USA Today
A team that just won the Super Bowl has a lot of strengths. News at 11.
In all seriousness, the areas in which the Eagles have depth tend to be those that influence the outcome of football games the most. We all know how strong the QB group is, so let's take a gander at what Davis has to say about the offensive line.
The Cowboys are naturally compelling with LT Tyron Smith, G Zack Martin and C Travis Frederick each owning legit arguments that they top the charts at their respective positions. Dallas' front five could be even better in 2018 with the addition of second rounder Connor Williams at left guard.
But the champion Eagles are the choice given their combo of quality and quantity. Jason Peters is coming back from a major knee injury but remains one of the premier left tackles of his generation. Mobile C Jason Kelce and mauling RT Lane Johnson both earned all-pro honors in 2017 while G Brandon Brooks emerged as a Pro Bowler. Stefen Wisniewski can play guard or center, while Chance Warmack and Isaac Seumalo bolster interior depth. And let's not forget Halapoulivaati "Big V" Vaitai, who capably protected both Wentz and Foles last season after Peters went down. [USAToday.com]
It's always nice to be strong in the trenches. When you can accomplish that and get national media to prop you up at the expense of the Dallas Cowboys? Even better.
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