This has been the most exciting Eagles preseason in recent memory, probably since at least 2004, but it doesn’t take very long to grow weary of games that don’t count toward the standings. I think I speak for everybody – fans, players, even the coaching staff – when I say I’m ready to get to September 9, ready for Washington.
Unfortunately that’s just not the way things work, and we still have a couple exhibitions to go. The good news is tonight’s is the big one. Week three is traditionally the “dress rehearsal” so to speak. The starters will play for the entirety of the first half, likely into the third quarter, which means among other things that we’ll get out first extended look at newly-named starting quarterback Michael Vick, not to mention more Chip ball in general.
Plus, the perception that these games don’t mean anything is false. It will be good for Vick to get the reps for sure. Jason Peters will be in action for the first time since rupturing his Achilles as well. Mainly this stacks up as a big game for Philly’s defense though. There are still jobs to be won or lost all over the field, and the night-and-day performances versus the Patriots and Panthers has everybody wondering which tape is closer to the truth.
Chances are we won’t really find out how good or bad the Birds’ defense is on Saturday night, as the Jaguars simply don’t provide much in the way of a test. Still, if they can take care of business again – this time against a Blaine Gabbert/Chad Henne-led Jaguar offense – that would be a lot more reassuring than the inverse.
Here’s a quick look at some of the individual battles taking place on D:
Vinny Curry and Bennie Logan to start?
The two guys who have probably made the most surprising impacts thus far. Curry is widely presumed to be playing out of position as a defensive end in a 3-4, but he’s been more than offensive linemen could handle through the first two games. Logan has been moving all over the line, doing a fantastic job at disrupting plays in the backfield and getting his hands up to bat down passes.
Fletcher Cox obviously has one spot on the defensive line locked down, but Curry and Logan are making bids for playing time at the others. Cedric Thornton is doing all he can to stave off both of them at the other end, and he’s been fantastic in doing so, so he’ll definitely be in the rotation. Isaac Sopoaga has been invisible at nose tackle however, and he’s considered a two-down player anyway, so we’ll see if Logan begins to get more looks there than on third down, although they like the third rounder at end as well.
Brandon Graham vs. … the trade block?
It’s out there, so I’ll address it, but I simply don’t agree with Geoff Mosher’s line of thinking on CSNPhilly today that this might be Graham’s “last chance.” Actually, aside from one mental lapse where he failed to contain the backside and allowed a huge cutback run, he’s been one of their most disruptive defenders at the point of attack. According to metrics by Pro Football Focus, Graham has been the best against the run, and only Curry grades higher overall. I'd say he's passed the eye test, too.
When you also consider the Eagles are thin at outside linebacker, I don’t see any way they are trading him as some have suggested, even if he's not the smoothest in coverage. Never say never, but Graham has shown me enough that he can be useful to the Eagles this season.
Who’s at safety?
Despite a very bad outing in Week 1, Nate Allen has managed to remain in the hunt for the second safety spot opposite of Patrick Chung. Earl Wolff made some noise last week when he was taking first-team reps at practice, but defensive coordinator Billy Davis seems hesitant to go with the rookie. Kenny Phillips didn’t play in the last game and has hardly practiced, so he might have trouble making the roster. And we haven’t seen anything from Kurt Coleman or David Sims that screams they are in line for the job.
We’ll be watching whether or not anyone gets in there with the starters besides Nate, but he might be in the lineup come September by default. Big night for this group.