Philadelphia Eagles: What We've Learned Through Week 3 of Preseason
Preseason Week 3 brought its ups and downs for the Philadelphia Eagles.
On one hand, a dominant effort by the club’s starters in their final tune-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers showed us the Eagles are ready for the regular season to begin. However, that was followed a few days later with the team announcing a series of cuts as it prepares to trim the roster to the 75-player limit.
There were no major surprises in Philadelphia’s first wave of releases, and the team only has one more to go before Tuesday to get down to 75. But as the Eagles continue to work their way down toward the magic number of 53, we’ll learn a lot more about how the coaching staff and front office view the many ongoing position battles.
For now, we’re left to draw our own conclusions for one more week, as the Eagles prepare for their final exhibition game.
Here’s the latest on what we’ve learned this summer.
Nick Foles Poised to Pick Up Where He Left off
If you’re waiting for Nick Foles to reveal himself as a fraud, I would advise against holding your breath. After his preseason got off to a rocky start with a couple of interceptions in the opener—largely a result of struggles in pass protection—the third-year signal-caller settled into a nice groove over the past two weeks.
Foles completed 27 of 39 passes for 260 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers, good for a combined passer rating of 94.0. Okay, so that’s downright pedestrian compared to the 119.2 he posted for the 2013 regular season—third-highest mark in NFL history, mind you—but Foles’ recent performance is still nothing to sneeze at.
The fact of the matter is any quarterback would have a hard time even approaching Foles otherworldy numbers from a year ago, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t in line for a very nice year. If his work in the preseason serves as any indication, the Eagles’ starting quarterback is ready to continue building his legacy in 2014.
Jeremy Maclin Is Healthy and Ready to Contribute
Scary moment in Week 3 of Philadelphia’s preseason when Jeremy Maclin went down in a heap with an apparent knee or leg injury. A hushed silence fell over Lincoln Financial Field as the club’s No. 1 wide receiver lay on the ground writhing in pain.
Then Maclin got up and walked to the sideline. A short time later, he strapped on his helmet and returned to the game, adding several more catches to his total.
Many sighs of relief were breathed.
After everything was said and done, Maclin was the most targeted Eagles receiver for the contest. Foles looked his way eight times, with Maclin hauling in six receptions for 43 yards. Two of the grabs went for first downs, plus he appeared to be robbed of a touchdown on a play where he dove over top of the end-zone pylon.
Granted, Maclin didn’t show a ton of explosiveness, largely working over the Steelers defense on underneath routes, but they were effective. Besides, we already know what the sixth-year veteran can do as long as he’s healthy, so the most important thing right now is that he stays that way.
So far, so good.
Brent Celek Is as Good and Tough as Ever
People keep waiting for eighth-year tight end Brent Celek to decline or for 2013 second-round pick Zach Ertz to unseat the veteran at the top of the depth chart. But Celek just keeps on plugging away, keeps on getting up from the big hits like the ones he took from Patriots safety Patrick Chung and Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons the past couple weeks.
Celek continues to have a job in the NFL because of plays like those. He’s not going to unleash his death grip on the Eagles’ tight end position, either, so long as he maintains his status as one of the best blockers in the league.
Even his receiving numbers still hold up. To the naked eye, 32 receptions for 502 yards in 2013 might’ve seemed like a down year for the veteran. However, under closer inspection, his 15.7 yards per catch is three full yards better than his career average, while his six receiving touchdowns was the second-highest total of his career.
Ertz’s role in the offense will continue to grow—just not at the expense of Celek, not right now at least. The 29-year-old is proving he has plenty of good football left in the tank.
Brandon Bair Has Earned a Roster Spot
Nobody on the Eagles roster has benefitted more from preseason games than Brandon Bair. The soon-to-be 30-year-old defensive end was given a slim-to-none chance of making the team entering training camp. However, stellar play over the past three weeks has made Bair’s name appearing among the final 53 little more than formality.
Bair has been trying crack an NFL roster since departing Oregon in 2011, but he has yet to so much as appear in a regular season game. He’s been a two-gapping machine this summer, though, leading the remaining Birds defensive linemen with six tackles.
Obviously, Bair’s age is a concern, but Chip Kelly dismissed that as a reason to leave him off of the roster. The head coach made it clear to Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Daily News that his eyes are focused on who can help the team here and now in 2014.
"My concern is the season," Kelly said. "So I think if he continues to put himself in positions to play, then our focus with those guys is what's going to help us immediately. We're not building for the future. Our future is right now."
Mark my words: Bair is with the club and active for Week 1 on Sept. 7.
All Brandon Graham Needs Is an Opportunity
It’s become popular to write off Brandon Graham as a first-round bust, yet every time the fifth-year veteran finds his way on to the field, he makes something happen.
Graham is tied for the clubhouse lead with 2.0 sacks this preseason, one short of the number he recorded in all of 2013. Of course, that paltry total is largely due to the fact he was only in the game roughly a quarter of the time. According to metrics site Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Graham ranked seventh among all qualifying 3-4 outside linebackers last season in pass-rush productivity, a formula that combines sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rush attempt.
While the former defensive end struggles to play in space—the primary reason why he’s stuck on the bench in Philly’s 3-4—he can still get after the quarterback, no matter the scheme,. As long as two-time Pro Bowler Trent Cole is comfortably situated in his starting role, Graham’s opportunities will always be limited. However, as once again he’s demonstrated this summer, it’s not for lack of ability.
Nolan Carroll Proves His Value…Again
If the performances of Roc Carmichael and Curtis Marsh this summer weren’t enough to convince you of Nolan Carroll’s value, maybe the cornerback’s own play swayed you.
Carroll appeared in his first game as an Eagle last week, registering an interception and a pass breakup in the start.
Sure, the pick came on an overthrow, but Carroll’s diving grab was a heads-up play. More to the point, anybody that keeps the team from reserving a roster spot for a Carmichael or a Marsh is a welcome addition considering the frequency with which those two have been beaten throughout the preseason.
Carroll started 22 games over the past two seasons with the Miami Dolphins before signing a two-year deal in Philadelphia during free agency, so if nothing else, the fifth-year veteran is experienced.
Whether Carroll makes a push for a starting job remains to be seen, but his play this summer certainly warrants consideration. Even if Cary Williams or Bradley Fletcher is relegated to the bench, though, there’s no denying the depth at corner has been significantly improved.
Alex Henery Is Not a Reliable Kicker
Okay, this one we didn’t just learn during the preseason. Regular readers know I’ve been railing against Alex Henery since the Eagles were bounced from the playoffs in January. He doesn’t have the leg strength for kickoffs or for what are becoming increasingly ordinary in the NFL: 50-yard field goal attempts. Nor has he even been very accurate of late.
Henery’s miss from 31 yards the Eagles' third preseason game might’ve been the final nail in the coffin for the fourth-year veteran. Not that the Eagles were content with Henery beforehand.
The club signed rookie free agent Carey Spear on draft weekend, but the Vanderbilt product failed to challenge for the job. And just prior to last week’s game, the team sent running back David Fluellen to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for kicker Cody Parkey, another undrafted rookie. As a senior at Auburn in 2013, Parkey led the nation in touchbacks.
While Parkey remains with the team for now, it’s possible the answer to the Eagles kicking woes is not on the roster. No doubt the front office will be scanning the waiver wire for more place-kicking competition as more cuts are made, while a midseason change isn’t off the table, either.
Whatever the case, Henery is not a competent NFL kicker in any phase of his craft. Unfortunately, quality kickers have not been made readily available this year, so it remains to be seen whether the Eagles will find a respectable alternative.