Catchy Ending: Jets Hail Mary Forges Tie In Backup Bowl
Well, it’s over. Camp’s over. The preseason’s over.
The first preseason under first-year Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni concluded with Friday night’s uneventful 31-31 tie against the Jets at MetLife Stadium.
The Eagles led by eight with about one minute to go until Jets tight end Kenny Yeboah, a rookie who started his college career at Temple, came down with quarterback James Morgan’s Hail Mary in the end zone with no time on the clock. The Jets then tied the game on a 2-point conversion run by former Eagle Josh Adams.
Sirianni’s first preseason ends without a win, at 0-2-1. Thunderstorms and downpours pushed back kickoff a half hour, but Sirianni and the team had already decided that almost all of the starters, and some significant backups, wouldn’t play.
While some NFL teams are using the third and final preseason game as a dress rehearsal, the Jets joined the Eagles in also resting most of their expected starters, so the annual preseason finale between these two teams resembled most of the exhibitions that came before Friday night’s.
The Eagles will be off Saturday. Final cuts are due by 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Let’s go with the observations:
1. Arguing about the benefit of starters playing vs. resting is moot, really. The Eagles are driven by sports science. As we discussed on the last pod, the team’s sports science department, headed by Ted Rath, is influential in these decisions. Rath came over from the Rams, where he and Sean McVay were in lock step about resting starters for preseason games. McVay has never played starters in the preseason. Whether or not this positively or negatively impacts the Eagles in the opener and first month of the season remains to be seen. For what it’s worth, the Falcons rested their starters for the first two preseason games, so even if Falcons starters play a little Sunday against the Browns, they’ll finish without the same number of preseason game snaps as Eagles starters did.
2. The Eagles told you how they felt about their wide receiver situation, which is that they’d like to see more improvement from now until the season opener. While several key backups/role players didn’t play, every Eagles receiver except first-round pick DeVonta Smith played in the game. The fact that Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins played – even just sparingly – showed you the coaches are still working these guys. The Eagles aren’t very deep at receiver and still played nearly all of their guys. Make of that what you will.
3. While we’re on the subject of wide receivers, kudos to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside for potentially going out on a positive note. The beleaguered 2019 second-round pick showed good awareness and the contested-catch acumen that was supposed to be his hallmark when he leaped to bring in Joe Flacco’s pass along the right side just before halftime, then broke some tackle to finish off the 42-yard TD catch. He still remains a long shot to make the team. Travis Fulgham’s playing in the second half of the last preseason game shows just how far he’s fallen since last October. Then came the fourth-quarter fumble inside the New York Jets 5-yard-line, which couldn’t have helped.
4. It might have benefitted the Eagles a little bit that Andre Dillard represented himself OK in his only preseason action, even more so if they’re going to try to deal him. Dillard got a little too much credit for a backside block on Kenneth Gainwell’s touchdown run — looked to me like he got pushed back on the inside zone, while tight end Jack Stoll’s block actually created the opening — but either way, Dillard didn’t embarrass himself given that he was facing a backup Jets D-line that lacks good pass rushers. He had some nice pulls and blocks on the edges, showing his athleticism. Not performing well against the Jets’ backups could’ve really damaged the third-year tackle’s confidence and reputation.
5. As for Gainwell, it’s clear he’s going to see playing time early during the regular season in certain packages that will exploit him as a passing mismatch. He’s handled everything they’ve asked of him, which is all you can ask of from a rookie picked in the fifth round. I see some Giovanni Bernard in him, with upside to be an even better all-around weapon. Good to see him run strong between the tackles, including his 5-yard touchdown run. The knocks on him coming out of Memphis was a tendency to bounce runs to the outside – fairly common among shifty college backs – and lack of pass protection acumen, which isn’t surprising since the Tigers used him more as a wide receiver. But Gainwell showed some help in pass protection on Joe Flacco’s touchdown pass to Arcega-Whiteside right before halftime.
6. I’m not making any broad-based assumptions about the potency of the Eagles’ run defense based on three preseason games in which the starting defensive line played little-to-no snaps, but two things are safe to assume: Jonathan Gannon will be more schematic in the regular season against the run, and the Eagles lack an overall stoutness among the backups on the interior defensive line. I’m not expecting Gannon to play this soft, Cover 2-style defense when the real games begin. Having written that, though, I would expect opponents to try take a smash-mouth approach early in the season to see if this porous run defense from the preseason is really a team weakness. The Jets picked up 175 yards on the ground and averaged 4.9 yards per carry against the Eagles, who were already carved up on the ground by the Steelers and Patriots.
7. Tarron Jackson’s fate on cutdown day is going to be interesting. The Eagles have depth at his position, with Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, Derek Barnett and Ryan Kerrigan. They’re also going to play Milton Williams on the edges. But Jackson, a sixth-round rookie from Coastal Carolina, has flashed. He played well against the Steelers, not so well against the Patriots, and then showed good burst against Jets. He had a few hurries and got inside the left tackle to drop running back Michael Carter for a loss. He’s an interesting rookie with upside. My guess is he’ll be waived with hopes of re-signing to the practice squad. The Jets, however, have taken a big hit this preseason on their defensive line and have a few days of practice worth’s tape along with Friday’s preseason game to see if he’s worthy of claiming.
8. Not sure why there was some movement to get Flacco off the team or find an upgrade after the second preseason game. Flacco has never had competition for the backup job, not from Jamie Newman, not from Nick Mullens. The Eagles committed almost $2.5 million in guaranteed money to him, which isn’t a tremendous amount, but given their financial issues, that should’ve been the first clue about the direction in which they were going. At this stage of his career, he’s a fine backup. He sure looked much better against the Jets with some decent protection from the second-string O-line.
9. Elijah Holyfield put some good tape out this preseason. He’s not going to make the team, and it’s tough for running backs to find employment because they tend to be dime-a-dozen, but Holyfield showed some added dimensions to his game – catching the ball and creating yards on the edges. Hope he’s able to land somewhere.
10. Some really interesting decisions ahead for the offensive line. After the starting five, the Eagles will probably end up keeping Landon Dickerson on the 53-man unless they think he can’t play this year, which is unlikely since they picked him in the second round. Dickerson and Driscoll are six and seven. Nate Herbig should make it. That’s eight. We’ll see what happens with Dillard and Le’Raven Clark. Don’t expect Matt Pryor to make it. Will be interesting to see how many the Eagles keep and what happpens with Dickerson.
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