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August 28, 2018

What they're saying: Should Eagles be panicking about lackluster preseason?

As we discussed late last week, a team's preseason record has little correlation with what they'll go on to do in the regular season. The Eagles being 0-3 going into their final preseason game is fairly meaningless — when backups play such heavy snap counts, what can you possibly extract from the games?

Considering how poorly they've looked on the offensive side of the ball, I'd argue a decent amount, at least relative to what you'd normally judge from preseason. Vanilla looks or not, the Eagles have not been able to execute and score consistently, and that's a huge bummer with Week 1's starting quarterback still in doubt.

Doug Pederson has told reporters a decision on the Week 1 starter will be reached by this Friday, but until then uncertainty and perhaps a little nervousness will reign.

Time to panic (or not) as preseason nears end

Martin Frank | Delaware News Journal

With the Philadelphia area divided into opposite camps at the moment, a run through of the cases for and against panicking only seems fitting. That's exactly what Martin Frank provided for you here.

The most compelling case to this writer rests on the strength of the defense, which has excelled early on with the offense searching for its footing.

Panic: The NFC is stacked as the Rams and Vikings, in particular, got much better, and the Falcons are always formidable. So the Eagles can't afford a slow start to the regular season, especially in the opener, at home, against the Falcons. Home field advantage in the playoffs is crucial, and the Eagles proved that last season. 

Don't panic: Even if the offense struggles in the early part of the season, the defense is strong enough to keep the games close. The Eagles are as deep as they've ever been at defensive end, especially with Brandon Graham pushing to be ready for the season opener, along with the expected emergence of Derek Barnett. The secondary is also much stronger than it has been, with cornerback Ronald Darby healthy and familiar with the system. He was acquired last August in a trade, then broke his ankle in the second game and never fully recovered. 

After the Falcons, the Eagles have winnable games against Tampa Bay and Indianapolis. That should give Wentz some time to get himself back into football shape for the meaty part of the schedule. []

If that's not your sort of thing, Frank has another recent column that might warm your heart on why he believes Wentz will be a full go for opening day next Thursday.

Maliata's development forces Eagles to find roster spot

Paul Domowitch |

His debut may have opened with the rugby convert allowing a sack and fumble, but Jordan Mailata's progress in the time since has encouraged just about everyone covering the team right now. The athletic talent is plain for all to see, and all that's left to do is converting that into consistent football excellence.

Perhaps that's easier said than done, but given the way Halapoulivaati Vaitai has looked standing in for Jason Peters, the Eagles could use another option at tackle in the event of a catastrophe. And he's already bonding well with his position coach, Jeff Stoutland.

Mailata is a fast learner who has benefitted not only from Stoutland's expert teaching but from Eagles all-pro offensive tackles Jason Peters and Lane Johnson. 

"There's a lot to learn, but having coach Stout as my coach and having the peers that I have, especially the vets – Lane and JP [Peters] and even Big V – they've all been massive helps,'' Mailata said. "They tell me what to emphasize and what to focus on. I'm happy with the progress I'm making, but I still have a long way to go.'' 

Stoutland has handled the mature-beyond-his-years Mailata well. He's been tough on him in practice but takes a kinder, gentler approach with the Aussie on game day. 

"I'm a lot different on game day than I am during practice sessions,'' Stoutland said. "Before the Pittsburgh game, I sat and talked with him and said, 'Look, you gotta have fun with this. This is where you enjoy what you do. This is why we grind.'''

Mailata said: "It's like reverse psychology. In training, he gets up everybody's ass. No tomorrow. Then come game day, he's like a totally different person. And I love that, because we still listen to him when he's getting up our ass. But then when he fine-tunes it down and he speaks calmly to you, it's so clear, everything he's saying." []

Eagles fall in NFL power rankings

Bleacher Report 

They don't award trophies based on power rankings, as we all found out during Philadelphia's "underdog" run to a Lombardi trophy last winter. If you come out on the winning end on the scoreboard, no one cares about rankings from before the game unless they want to throw it in the face of the writer who slighted their guys.

So feel free to hold onto this one just in case, with the Eagles trailing three teams they beat last season (New England, Los Angeles, Minnesota) and another (New Orleans) who was eliminated from the playoffs by a team they blew out.

The explanation?

OK, this is where things get complicated. 

There was a three-way tie between the Eagles, Patriots and Saints. But since Philly's highest individual ranking was the lowest of the lot, the defending Super Bowl champs fell three spots. 

[Bleacher Report's Gary] Davenport was the one who ranked the Eagles third. But that marked a drop—in the first few editions of these rankings, he slotted Philadelphia in the top spot. 

Davenport said he just couldn't do it again. 

"I'm all for not overreacting," he said, "and for giving the defending champions their due. But Carson Wentz hasn't been cleared for contact. Nick Foles doesn't look right. There's still no sign of Alshon Jeffery. And the offense has been hot garbage. Maybe the Eagles will flip a switch against the Falcons and I'll look like a fool. But as things stand, the Eagles have real problems." []

Doug Pederson vs. the Super Bowl hangover

Albert Breer | Sports Illustrated

Will the Eagles fall victim to the legend of the Super Bowl hangover? Our own Jimmy Kempski wrote about the supposed phenomenon this week, and concluded there's not much data to suggest it's a real problem. He's the Birds expert, so I'm taking his word (and numbers) for it.

But there are still plenty who read into this stuff, so it will be discussed until the Eagles prove they're not susceptible to it.

“I didn’t see any of it in the spring. And you didn’t want any of that lingering when you get into camp and guys were really saying the right things,” says Pederson. “But there have been times—maybe it’s just my own gut feeling—where I gotta reel back in a little bit, maybe you feel like you’re letting things go. And I think every coach goes through that anyway, things get that way, you bring them back down.” 

Pederson mentioned that experience in Green Bay, and there’s no question that it’s marked the way he’s handled winning his second ring, in a much different capacity, 21 years later. He was the third string quarterback on that Packers team, and even then the afterglow of adulation and crush of requests hit him, which taught him about the depth of the challenge. It literally touches every part of your operation. 

That’s why one of the most important calls he made this offseason was to his old coach, Mike Holmgren, and that affirmed what he thought as the two discussed the “other side” of success: “What it looks like from the standpoint of being pulled in a lot of different directions.” Holmgren told Pederson to create repetition in the program, to remind the players of what got them there last year. 

And Holmgren reminded his old backup QB that it had to start with the head coach, which is the way Pederson was looking at it anyway. 

“There’s not enough of me to go around,” Pederson says. “It takes you away from your job. That’s time away, and personally I hate being away. This is what I was hired to do. That’s why I respect what Bill Belichick’s done, really being able to keep things grounded and focused with that team, and just be point-blank with everybody. You don’t see him doing a lot of stuff. He’s very selective." []

Can Alshon actually make Week 1 return?

Zach Rosenblatt |

No one questions Alshon Jeffery's toughness after he powered through a torn rotator cuff all the way through a Super Bowl run, but his status (much like Wentz's) hangs in the balance heading into next Thursday's opener against Atlanta.

Maybe the timeline will speed up out of nowhere, but this late in the preseason it seems unlikely.

He's paying the consequences this season, as it seems increasingly unlikely that Jeffery will be ready to play Sept. 6 for the Eagles' season-opener against the Atlanta Falcons. 

Eagles coach Doug Pederson wouldn't divulge any sort of timeline for Jeffery's return on Tuesday before practice at NovaCare Complex, though he did say that Jeffery is "doing well in his rehab." 

The Eagles' No. 1 receiver has been on the preseason Physically Unable to Perform list throughout training camp and hasn't practiced since the Super Bowl, though he has increased his workload in recent weeks. Jeffery was recently seen on the sideline running with a trainer, and Pederson said that he is "up to 75 throws per day." 

Pederson said the plan is to reconvene next week and "see where he's at" before making a decision for Week 1. Typically, recovery from rotator cuff surgery can take anywhere from 6-9 months. Jeffery had the surgery in February, placing the short end of that timeline in this month. []

The race to win a roster spot in the final preseason game

Dave Spadaro | Philadelphia Eagles

Following last week's dress rehearsal game, the preseason focus shifts from what the first team looks like to who can set themselves apart from the clutter at the bottom of the roster. The fourth preseason game tends to be sloppy, but it's a spirited battle for the right to remain in the NFL.

At the top of the list for the Eagles' own insider? Josh Adams, who has impressed in short stints as a backup running back.

Who is the team’s fourth running back if the Eagles keep four? Will it be Wendell Smallwood, who had a big game with 53 rushing yards in Cleveland? Could it be Josh Adams, the undrafted rookie from Notre Dame who at 6-2 and 225 pounds runs upright, has some nimble feet, and burst and power. 

He’s looked good in the two preseason games Adams has played. You’d think the Eagles would give him a chance to show his skills on Thursday night against the Jets. The running back competition seems to be down to Smallwood and Adams, with Matt Jones and Donnel Pumphrey, ready to make his preseason debut, still hopeful. []

Sidney Jones is living up to the hype

Michael Kist | Bleeding Green Nation

While Jones has had to fight off competition from rookie Avonte Maddox at the nickel spot this preseason, his play over the last couple weeks has gone a long way toward solidifying his spot on the depth chart. The recovery speed and plus instincts remain in place after a long layoff, and he might give the Eagles a big boost in his first season.

Kist has film to support his point, but to get to the heart of the issue:

Jones has a skill set that translates not just to the outside, but to the nickel, which has been the concern since the move inside began to unfold. The explosiveness in and out of his breaks, typewriter feet, sharp mental processing, ball skills and use of his hands all point to a package that can thrive in any scheme and from any alignment. If I had to put money on it, I would be that we were right in calling Sidney Jones the next big thing. []

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