Joint Practice Observations: Slow Birds?
Eagles Step Behind Fins At First Joint Session
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — On Sunday, the Eagles were in Cleveland for a preseason game against the Browns. On Monday, they were back in Philadelphia. On Tuesday, they were flying to Miami to prepare for joint practices against the Dolphins.
Three days, three different cities.
Maybe the rampant travel and abrupt climate change – from typical August temperatures in the Northeast to the sweltering, oppressive heat and humidity of South Florida – factored into a somewhat sluggish practice for the Eagles on Wednesday in the first of two joint practices at the pristine Baptist Health Training Center.
Third-year receiver Quez Watkins, asked for his view on why a small skirmish broke out early in practice, responded: “It’s hot!”
Even Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa after practice admitted that any team in the same situation as the Eagles probably wouldn’t have been at its best.
We’ll see if the Eagles can rebound Thursday, but they were noticeably a step behind on both sides of scrimmage.
Wednesday’s practice featured a few rounds of 7-on-7s before giving way to team drills, with the Eagles’ offense pitted against the Dolphins’ defense on the far field (the field furthest from the practice facility’s bleachers, therefore inhibiting our ability to see everything) and the Eagles’ defense against the Fins’ offense on the near field.
The team drills were mainly move-the-ball drills, without emphasis on situational football. The hunch here is Thursday’s practice will feature more scripted red-zone, goal-line, and third-down situations.
Before we get into the observations, a few important notes:
* The Eagles were without several starters, including Jason Kelce (elbow), Javon Hargrave (toe) and Miles Sanders (hamstring). Also, cornerback/safety Josiah Scott (hamstring), who exited the preseason game Sunday, didn’t practice, along with cornerback Josh Jobe (elbow), offensive lineman Jack Anderson (ribs), linebackers Shaun Bradley (illness) and Christian Ellis (hamstring), and wide receiver Greg Ward (toe). James Bradberry was listed as “limited,” with a groin, but didn’t participate in the drills.
* The Dolphins were without Jaylen Waddle, who left after warmups, along with their top two corners, Xavien Howard and Byron Jones.
OK, on with the observations from both Geoff Mosher and Adam Caplan.
1) We’ll start observations the same way 7-on-7s started – gushing over Tyreek Hill. Man, does this guy practice hard. He gave great work for the Eagles’ secondary, showcasing his elite speed, route-running, and change of direction. Hill beat Darius Slay on a go route on the first snap of 7-on-7s down the right sideline. There was some mild contact right before Hill reeled in the ball, and Slay limped slightly off the field.
Hill got Slay again on the opposite sideline – a sharper route with a quick cut inside – but in fairness, Tagovailoa had all day to throw, and Hill put about three moves on Slay before the ball was thrown. That doesn’t happen in an NFL game. Slay eventually came out of practice, leaving the Eagles with Zech McPhearson and Mac McCain to take a bunch of first-team reps. We’ll see if Slay goes Thursday. I like watching guys who’ve made multiple Pro Bowls and got paid still work their asses off in practice like Hill does.
2) An interesting contrast of defenses. The Dolphins, led by coordinator Josh Boyer, threw the kitchen sink at the Eagles. Lots of blitzing, movement before and after the snap, overloads, etc. Jalen Hurts and the offense struggled at times as the Dolphins created pressure, leading to plenty of check-downs and dump-offs. On the flip side, Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon only occasionally brought pressure. The Eagles did show multiple fronts and changed looks on the back end – some Cover 2, some Cover 3, some Quarters – but the Eagles didn’t come after Dolphins quarterbacks with heavy pressure packages the way Miami did Eagles quarterbacks. Wonder if that’ll be different Thursday.
3) In 7-on-7s, the ball didn’t hit the ground for the Dolphins offense until third-stringer Skylar Thompson just barely missed receiver Braylon Sanders on what appeared to be a post-corner along the right sideline. Tagovailoa connected on each of his first five attempts, followed by Teddy Bridgwater hitting on each of his. The Dolphins offense operated quickly and featured a slew of three-step drops to attack the Eagles with a short, timed passes, especially against two-deep coverages.
4) The flats were open for the Dolphins’ offense. Again, the absence of Slay and Bradberry didn’t help, but when the Eagles rushed one or two overhang defenders, Tagovailoa quickly targeted those void areas to make fast, precise connections that helped the Dolphins move the chains. I noticed one occasion where Haason Reddick dropped into coverage but Tagovailoa found his target for an easy connection. The Browns capitalized on the flats and seams on Sunday against the Eagles. Just an area to keep an eye on for the final preseason game and going forward.
5) As a pass rusher, Haason Reddick was active and everywhere. He didn’t just line up over left and right tackle. Gannon moved him around quite a bit, and watched as Reddick created numerous pressures and pocket collapses. On one snap, it appeared that a safety blitzed the A gap, with Reddick coming right behind in a twist. The Dolphins protection didn’t see it coming, and Bridgewater took the “sack.” He couldn’t even muster a bail-out throw because the pressure got in his face so quickly. Good to see Gannon come up with creative usage for his new pass-rushing weapon.
6) Miami’s pressure and changing looks caused disruption for Hurts and the Eagles’ offense. The Dolphins seemed to show a different look every snap, often crowding the line of scrimmage with defenders, but sometimes dropping into coverage at the last second. The Eagles’ offensive line can shoulder some blame, but Miami clearly sent more guys the the Eagles were prepared to block. When that happens, pass pro is also the responsibility of running backs and tight ends, and the quarterback needs to get rid of the ball quickly.
7) I didn’t see any interceptions from Hurts, but more completions went to tight ends and running backs than wide receivers. The Eagles also ran a decent number of RPOs, which appears to be a big part of their offense again. With so much blitzing from the Fins, though, you’d think Hurts would look to capitalize on single matchups outside. But the Dolphins also blitzed from zone looks, too, so not every pressure left obvious man-to-man situations.
8) Devonta Smith made the best catch for the Eagles when he Mossed a Dolphins corner for a big pickup downfield. Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki hauled in a sweet one-hander from Tagovailoa that excited the Miami fans sitting in the bleachers. The former Penn State star snared the ball with his right hand, secured the catch with his left, then cut upfield to tack on more yards.
* Other observations: A few too many penalties for the Eagles … Tarron Jackson scored a “sack” thanks to pressure from the second-team defensive front … Tay Gowan struggled in the 7s … A slight skirmish broke out when there was some extracurricular activity between Eagles left guard Landon Dickerson and Dolphins pass rusher Jaelan Phillips, but the pushing and shoving lasted maybe for three seconds and nothing else resulted.
Now for some Caplan observations (dictated to Mosher):
* “The multiple-front looks from the Dolphins presented issues for the Eagles’ offensive line.”
* “Wide receiver Zach Pascal had another great day. He’s been great since he came back, made plays downfield. He’s strong as [expletive].”
* “Grant Calcaterra looked good. He’s explosive as a runner [after the catch.]”
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