Sam Bradford was almost perfect in the Eagles' biggest preseason tune-up on Saturday night.
Heard that one before. Bradford's line is the perfect example of why we can only lend so much validity to preseason performance. On paper, 17 of 20 for 167 yards and two touchdowns — with two dropped passes mind you — looks like an incredible line. What the box score fails to mention however is the Colts were without seven regulars on defense, so a veteran quarterback should excel, particularly against vanilla schemes.
Bradford's performance was eerily reminiscent of almost one year ago to the day, when he was 10 of 10 for 121 yards and three touchdowns against the Packers in an exhibition game. We all know how that turned out — an up-and-down season for the signal-caller, and a 7-9 record for the Eagles.
At the same time, it's not as if there weren't positives to take away from Bradford's performance this summer. He's actually pushing the ball downfield a little bit, not necessarily deep, but working the intermediate passing attack. He looks confident and is stepping up in the pocket, making good decisions, throwing the football accurately and with anticipation. Bradford looks great.
Of course, he's looked great in the preseason before, yet once again, it doesn't mean much. What we've seen from the Eagles through three games — on both sides of the football — certainly is encouraging, especially to those of us who don't think this is a bad team to begin with. That being said, not sure this stuff should change any minds until they get it done in the real thing starting on September 11 versus the Browns.
Dorial Green-Beckham, Josh Huff
Okay, if you weren't excited to see Green-Beckham sky over a cornerback to pluck a Bradford fade out of the air for a four-yard touchdown, you may not have a pulse. DGB made that play look effortless, which is exactly what you want to see from a 6-foot-5, 237-pound wideout on an overmatched defensive back. Not saying DGB is going to post prolific numbers in 2016, but he can be a dangerous weapon in the red zone if nowhere else.
Credit where credit is due to Huff, a frustrating player we like to have fun with. No miscues on Saturday, finishing with two receptions for 60 yards including a 38-yard catch-and-run, and scoring from nine yards out on a jet sweep. The Eagles have been making a conscious effort to put him in positions to showcase his talent, and he probably just made the team with this performance.
Trey Burton, Zach Ertz
Wouldn't it be something if Burton played a role in the offense this season? The hybrid tight end hauled in five passes for 35 yards and a touchdown while getting a long look with the first-team offense. Don't be surprised if the Eagles use a lot more three-tight end formations this season, because Burton is a real weapon.
Quick plug for Ertz here, who has impressed me in all three games with his work as a blocker. That was the area most in need of improvement when he entered the league, and it's reached a point where he's looked very effective thus far.
The fact that we haven't been talking about Peters the past few weeks is probably the biggest reason why his stock is on the rise. The Eagles simply need their left tackle to be healthy, and even if he's not the dominant force he once was, the eight-time Pro Bowler should bring stability to their offensive line. Peters has made it through the past two games, which in itself is a promising sign.
Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Bennie Logan, Beau Allen
Fletcher Cox too, obviously. The front four has done exactly what is expected of it from a Jim Schwartz-coached defense, which is wreak havoc in opposing backfields.
Barwin has adjusted well to the move from 3-4 linebacker to 4-3 end, notching a sack on Saturday to give him 1.5 in the preseason. That takedown came on a pressure by Graham, who's been very active in all three games as well. Logan has eased concerns as to whether he is tailored for the attacking scheme, getting consistent penetration from the tackle position. And even Allen, a 2013 seventh-round draft pick, has flashed with 1.5 sacks this summer, perhaps cementing a roster spot in the process. We could list a number of players in this space. They've all been pretty good.
Nigel Bradham, Jordan Hicks
You have to love what you've seen from Bradham in the running game. The free-agent addition racked up five tackles against the Colts, constantly crashing the line of scrimmage and stopping ballcarriers for minimal gains, no gain, or losses. He hasn't been tested as much in coverage, but the 6-foot-2, 241-pound linebacker is proving his worth against the ground attack.
Hicks probably had his best game of the preseason as well, finishing with three tackles and a quarterback hurry to force an errant throw on a 4th-and-1 attempt. Nothing special, but a solid performance overall from a key player who's had kind of a quiet summer.
C.J. Smith III
Smith had a team-high seven tackles, which is not a good statistic for a cornerback. Then again, the undrafted rookie out of North Dakota State was guarding the likes of T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief much of the night. That's some legit NFL talent right there, and Smith didn't back down. There was no busted coverages, the coverage was generally tight even if the catch was made and he got the receivers to the ground. It was strange seeing him on the first-team defense, which makes you wonder what the Eagles' intentions are. He didn't earn a starting job or anything, but it was a solid effort.
Doug Pederson, Jim Schwartz
One last note, and it's a credit to the coaching staff. After watching Chip Kelly and Bill Davis pretend they could just plug personnel into their systems without any thought given to the players' strengths and weaknesses, Pederson and Schwartz are a breath of fresh air. Kelly's team was successful in the preseason in large part because opponents didn't game-plan for the uptempo offense. Pederson's Eagles have looked good because they've put players in the right position to succeed. This is one area I am convinced is a clear upgrade from last season.
Kendricks was playing for the first time this preseason. Still, much like for large stretches of 2015, he was invisible out there, failing to so much as get in on a tackle. It's also worth noting he subbed off in the Eagles' nickel package and therefore appears to be facing a reduced role. The fifth-year linebacker can be excused to some extent for a slow start, but more will be expected of Kendricks going forward coming off of such a disappointing campaign.
Randle's absence from the first-team offense was notable, particularly while DGB and Huff were having big nights. Even Nelson Agholor, despite dropping a pass that went for an interception, has at least shown the ability to get open and a willingness to block. Randle had two catches for 12 yards on Saturday, with Jordan Matthews soon returning from injury and Chris Givens' downfield speed enticing to this Eagles coaching staff, Randle might be playing his final game in midnight green this Thursday.
To be fair, it's not Smallwood's fault he's been banged up this summer. Unfortunately, life often isn't fair, and the fact that the fifth-round rookie exited this game with a concussion will not help his chances of contributing this season. Smallwood simply hasn't had the reps in practice or games for the Eagles to feel comfortable that he knows the offense or could protect the quarterback. With Ryan Mathews looking good and Kenjon Barner having a strong summer, it seems likely Smallwood will be worked into the offense slowly in the season ahead.
It looked bad for Reynolds when the Eagles drafted Blake Countess in the sixth round. Then Jaylen Watkins emerged as a credible option as the third safety this summer, rendering Reynolds an afterthought. Now the 2014 fifth-round pick may have been responsible for the missed assignment on a blocked punt, special teams ultimately being the area where backups must make their mark. He's played the position aggressively this summer, and it would not be surprising to see him land on his feet somewhere, but Reynolds has an uphill battle to make this roster.
Parkey's preseason was going much more smoothly than his training camp, right up until he missed an extra point on Saturday. If it were just one kick, it might be easier to overlook, but the 2014 Pro Bowler's accuracy has been shaky all summer. It was simply the first time we saw it in a game. Meanwhile, Caleb Sturgis has been money, which we'll see how that works out for the Eagles when the regular season rolls around, but the job is probably his.