Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles-Jets: 10 observations

Eagles-Jets: 10 observations

Nice work from a couple wide receivers, a struggle from the backup quarterback, a couple intriguing positional battles, a Pro Bowler heading for the waiver wire and praise for the punter.
 
Welcome to the final preseason edition of Roob’s 10 instant observations!
 
1. I saw what I wanted from Dorial Green-Beckham in the Eagles’ 14-6 win over the Jets Thursday night at the the Linc (see Instant Replay). He played only a few snaps but he caught both passes Chase Daniel threw his way, one for 15 yards, another for 16 yards, and looked comfortable doing it. Man, I’m trying not to get too excited about this kid, and I keep telling myself, “There must be a reason the Titans got rid of a 23-year-old receiver with tremendous size and speed that they drafted early in the second round.” But so far, the change of scenery seems to be working for DGB. I see no reason he won’t be the Eagles’ second-best receiver this year. I guess the Titans really love Dennis Kelly.
 
2. And then there’s Paul Turner, who really needed an impressive performance to solidify that No. 5 wide receiver spot and certainly responded. Turner’s been solid but you know Howie Roseman is going to be scouring the waiver wire to upgrade the roster after final cuts, and Turner is the kind of kid who without an impressive performance Thursday night could have made the 53-man roster only to be replaced later in the weekend. But Turner once again was exceptional, with six catches for 66 yards — including first downs of 17 and 20 yards — and a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown. Turner doesn’t have super measurables but he has those soft hands that coaches talk about. He catches the ball quietly and softly and effortlessly and brings it into his body smoothly. I’m not sure who to compare Turner to. Probably Greg Lewis is the closest, but Turner doesn’t have his speed. It’s rare for an undrafted free-agent wide receiver to make this team, but Turner has done enough to earn it.
 
3. Speaking of Lewis, he deserves some credit for the work he’s done in his first year as the Eagles’ wide receivers coach. Josh Huff has shown improvement, Green-Beckham has quickly assimilated into the offense, Turner has looked like a steal and even the bottom-of-the-roster guys like Cayleb Jones, David Watford and Marcus Johnson look like potential NFL players. I was not a fan of Bob Bicknell, who coached receivers under Chip Kelly. I never thought he connected with his guys and I don’t think they ever really learned how to run crisp, decisive routes. I’m still not sure what to make of this wide receiver group, but I know it’s better than it would be without G-Lew.
 
4. Steven Means is better than Marcus Smith. He just is. He’s more active, more instinctive, more productive. That said, I still think the Eagles will keep Smith, simply because of the tremendous investment they made in him as a first-round pick. Smith has looked measurably better than last year, and as long as he’s improving, the Eagles will likely keep him around, hoping he can one day pay off on being the 26th player taken in the 2014 draft. But I like Means. Maybe the Eagles can keep them both (see story), but they’re not releasing special teams ace Bryan Braman, so that would mean six defensive ends — Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Connor Barwin, Smith, Means and Braman. Not sure that’s possible without going too light somewhere else. But it might be the smartest course of action.
 
5. Then there’s Daniel. Not an encouraging finish to the preseason for Sam Bradford’s backup. Two bad interceptions and no points generated in a full half of football against the Jets’ scrubs. This is why the Carson Wentz rib injury hurts so much. If Wentz had stayed healthy and performed at a high level this preseason, it would have been tough for Doug Pederson to keep Daniel ahead of him. Now? It’s tough to make a case for Wentz as No. 2 when he barely played in the preseason. Although I would sure make him No. 2 as soon as he’s healthy. Daniel may be Pederson’s hand-picked backup, but if Wentz dramatically outplayed Daniel in the preseason, there would have been a lot of pressure on Pederson to promote Wentz ahead of Daniel. Remember, the Eagles’ No. 2 quarterback has played meaningful snaps every year since 2005. The odds are No. 2 is going to play. I don’t want that to be Daniel.
 
6. Interesting battle for that fourth safety spot behind Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod and special teams ace Chris Maragos. Jaylen Watkins has had a very good preseason, but Ed Reynolds didn’t hurt himself with that 90-yard interception return Thursday night and nearly had a second. Watkins is probably a better special teamer, but Reynolds is more physical. Both look pretty sound in coverage. Reynolds played pretty well last year. His interception clinched a win over the Bills — Chip Kelly’s final win as head coach of the Eagles. Watkins and Reynolds were drafted a round apart in 2014 — Watkins in the fourth round, Reynolds in the fifth. I like both these guys, but I feel like Reynolds might have a little more upside. Interesting decision for Roseman.
 
7. Chris Pantale began training camp with a real good shot at sticking, but he’s been a disappointment this summer and certainly hasn’t acquitted himself well enough to be in the conversation for the 53-man roster. Pantale had a chance at a big play Thursday night and was wide open 20 yards down the field but let a perfectly thrown McLeod Bethel-Thompson spiral slip through his hands. The Eagles are in good shape at tight end with Zach Ertz, Brent Celek and Trey Burton, but Pantale will not be part of that rotation.
 
8. It’s been a year since JaCorey Shepherd tore his ACL, and the former Kansas Jayhawk just never got untracked this preseason and never looked as good as he did last summer. It takes some players a couple years to fully recover from ACLs, to regain their full speed and strength and ability, and Shepherd, a sixth-round pick last year, could be experiencing that now. He was very good last summer but just didn’t look like the same guy this year and finds himself now on the outside looking in going into roster cuts. Shepherd played in his first preseason game Thursday night and got beat on the Jets’ one touchdown. It wasn’t terrible coverage, but it seems like it’s a play he would have made last year. With the way Jalen Mills and C.J. Smith played, Shepherd will likely be released this weekend. But he does have practice squad eligibility and he’s the kind of guy I’d like to see the Eagles keep around.
 
9. I would have liked to have seen Cody Parkey attempt a few more field goals this preseason, but Caleb Sturgis beat him out any way you measure it, and I would expect the Eagles to go with Sturgis moving forward. Parkey says he’s healthy, but that was a serious injury he suffered last year, and he just didn’t kick the way he did in his record-setting Pro Bowl 2014 season. Parkey attempted only one field goal the entire preseason, a 40-yarder that he made. But he did miss a PAT against the Steelers. Sturgis was 3 for 3 in field goals (from 32, 42 and 47) and made his PATs. Parkey has the better résumé, but Sturgis has been better, both in practice and in the games. Parkey will ultimately go on to have a better career, but right now, the Eagles have to go with Sturgis.
 
10. Gotta throw in a word or two about Donnie Jones, who goes into his fourth year as the Eagles’ punter. Jones, now 36, keeps himself in tremendous shape and appears to be kicking as good as ever. Jones averaged 48 yards per punt this preseason with six inside the 20 and three touchbacks. Jones is the best punter in Eagles history and showing no signs of slowing down. 

Fantasy football: Tight end replacements, pass-catching RBs, sleeper WRs

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USA Today Images

Fantasy football: Tight end replacements, pass-catching RBs, sleeper WRs

I'm assuming you need a tight end.

Injuries to Greg Olsen, Tyler Eifert, Rob Gronkowski and Jordan Reed have turned a thin position into a fantasy wasteland two weeks into the season. Olsen is out at least eight weeks, Eifert appears to be out this week and has been brutal the last two, and Gronk and Reed will likely be game-time decisions Sunday.

The somewhat good news if you're in the market for a tight end, though, is that there should be several quality options available on waivers.

Here's a look at the top tight ends (and more importantly, top TE matchups) of Week 3, as well as suggestions at other positions:

Bears TE Zach Miller (vs. Steelers)
The Steelers have allowed just 27 points through two games thanks to a pair of favorable matchups against the hapless Browns and a Case Keenum-led Vikings team in Week 2.

Still, through two weeks they've allowed 10 catches and 107 yards to tight ends. If you average that out to 5-for-50, you're looking at a double-digit fantasy performance in PPR leagues. In standard leagues, 50 yards would still be more than Eifert brought you in two weeks.

I like Miller for five or six catches this Sunday. He's been targeted 15 times by Mike Glennon through two games. Only Jason Witten and Zach Ertz have seen more targets.

Miller isn't going to win you a week or go for 25 points but he's a steady short-term plug-and-play this week. If it's a PPR league, he'd be my No. 1 target if you're looking for safety over a boom-bust performance.

Ravens TE Ben Watson (vs. Jaguars in London)
The only reason I can't put Watson ahead of Miller is because the Ravens' tight end picture is a bit more crowded.

Whereas Miller has run 35 more pass routes than the Bears' second-string tight end, the pie in Baltimore has been split more evenly.

Watson has run 33 pass routes while Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams have combined to run 34, according to Pro Football Focus.

Watson is by far the most accomplished receiver of those three and he was a prime target of Joe Flacco's this past Sunday, catching all eight targets for 91 yards. 

Watson also has a great matchup against the Jaguars, who have allowed 151 yards (fourth-most) and a TD to tight ends so far.

Watson has more touchdown potential this Sunday than Miller, so if you're in a standard or even half-PPR league, I'd give Watson the slight edge on Miller. In PPR, it's just hard to pass up Miller's 8-to-10-point floor.

Other TEs:
Jack Doyle is probably owned in your league, but if not, he's a better season-long option than both Miller and Watson. He caught 8 of 8 targets for 79 yards in Week 2 from Jacoby Brissett, who starts again this Sunday vs. Cleveland.

• Folks will be intrigued by Evan Engram's 4-49-TD line on Monday Night Football but I'd avoid starting him this week against the Eagles, who are usually very good against opposing tight ends. Travis Kelce was an exception last week but he's one of the top three tight ends in the NFL.

• Keep an eye on the Jordan Reed situation. If he sits, Vernon Davis is a decent option. Last season, Davis had 13 catches for 176 yards and 3 TDs in the first three games Reed missed, having a quiet game in only the last one on Christmas Eve.

• It would be bold to start Antonio Gates against the Chiefs' stingy defense, but Gates always has top-five touchdown likelihood at his position because of his rapport with Philip Rivers. The problem is he also has more 1-catch likelihood than most tight ends.

Running backs
Chris Thompson is available in 68 percent of Yahoo leagues. Whether or not Rob Kelley plays Sunday, Thompson is worth grabbing. If it's a PPR league, he has no business sitting on the waiver wire. He won't scoop up between-the-tackles carries if Kelley misses the game but he's always a factor in the passing game.

• I also like Shane Vereen (22 percent owned) this week against the Eagles. The Giants have a porous offensive line and the Eagles' strength is their pass rush, which should result in plenty of quick passes from Eli Manning.

Wide receivers
• I'd advise picking up Allen Hurns but not starting him Sunday against the Ravens unless you absolutely need to. The Jaguars are always going to be playing garbage time minutes and that's where Hurns shines. He had six receptions for 82 yards and a TD in Week 2 with almost all of that coming in the fourth quarter of a lopsided loss. Hurns is available in 73 percent of leagues.

• I trumpeted Jermaine Kearse in this space last week as a cheap waiver option nobody will use a claim on, and he picked up two TDs Sunday. The Jets, like the Jags, will always be playing from behind. Josh McCown-to-Jermaine Kearse is one of those average QB-average WR pairings that can produce points out of sheer necessity and volume.

• The Packers' Geronimo Allison is a sleeper option this week, if and only if Green Bay is down a receiver or two. Jordy Nelson' prognosis is 50-50 for Sunday, whereas Randall Cobb is expected to play. If both miss, Allison is an intriguing option who could get six-plus targets from a top QB. If Nelson misses, Allison is worth starting only if your next-best option is like Cole Beasley.

Defenses
• The Dolphins are the best defense to stream in Week 3 because the Jets are the Jets.

• The Bucs' defense (26 percent owned) is worth starting in Minnesota if Sam Bradford misses another game.

Eagles Film Review: Exploring the good and bad of run game vs. Chiefs

Eagles Film Review: Exploring the good and bad of run game vs. Chiefs

LeGarrette Blount didn't get a single carry and the Eagles had just 13 designed runs to 56 called passes in Sunday's loss to the Chiefs. 

So much for balance. 

After the game, head coach Doug Pederson said the Eagles needed to fix their running game and repeated himself on Monday. 

"We've got to focus on the run game and we've got to get the run game fixed," he said. 

But as CSNPhilly's Reuben Frank pointed out in his column that same day, there wasn't really anything wrong with the run game other than the fact that the Eagles didn't run the ball (see story)

Darren Sproles had a good game, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. And while two of Wendell Smallwood's runs went for negative yards, he did have a nice eight-yarder in the second half. 

Is there still work to be done in the run game? Absolutely. 

But when asked about the team's rushing attack on Tuesday, offensive coordinator Frank Reich took a much different stance than Pederson. 

"There was some good things in the run game," Reich said. "We had a few nice runs. Darren's Darren. I mean, Darren made some plays and the offensive line did a good job at times. So, yeah, there were some good flashes."

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past two days, you're probably already sick of the word "balance." Should Pederson have run the ball more? Should Blount have gotten at least a few carries? Will Pederson ever actually commit to the run? You're probably sick of it. 

So we're not going to keep rehashing it. Instead, we'll look at a few run plays from Sunday — good and bad — to get a sense of where the run game is ... you know, when the Eagles actually do run the ball. 

If you wanted some proof that the Eagles at least put some thought into their run game heading into Kansas City, it came pretty early. Check out how the Eagles were lined up on their second offensive play from scrimmage. 

You'll notice that Jason Peters and Lane Johnson are both lined up to the left side of the line of scrimmage. Here was the line from right to left: Zach Ertz, Brandon Brooks, Jason Kelce, Isaac Seumalo, Johnson, Peters. Carson Wentz is in the shotgun, with Sproles to his right. 

"It was just a little change-up that you throw in there," Reich said. "Typically, you have a couple play packages off there. It was something we saw that we thought we could specifically use to attack their defensive front and their scheme."

Here you'll see each of the offensive linemen's assignments as Sproles is ready to take the handoff and run behind the powerful left side. While the difference in this formation was at left tackle, Kelce is the key. He'll need to get in front on the linebacker. 

The hole is starting to open up and Sproles sees it. Still, if Kelce can't hold his block (circled), it won't matter. 

Not only does Kelce hold his block, but he finishes it too. He ends up driving his man completely out of the play and throws him to the ground. Sproles goes off for a 12-yard gain on 1st-and-10. It was the biggest gain of a designed run on the day. 

Give credit to Pederson for running this next one. Just three plays after that first run, the Eagles are faced with a 2nd-and-13 and Pederson dials up a run to Sproles that picks up six yards and puts them in a manageable third down (that they'll convert). 

Nothing fancy. Peters does a good job in front of holding down his man for just long enough for Sproles to get to the corner and pick up a nice gain. Also, give Kelce credit for getting out and blocking safety Daniel Sorensen. We all seem to notice when Kelce gets blown up at the line of scrimmage, but getting out front on these types of blocks is what he does best. 

The Eagles' next drive is where they start to find some trouble in the run game. Two of their three runs on their second drive of the game went for negative yards and Pederson called just seven run plays after this drive. Perhaps the failure on this sequence drove him away from the ground game for the rest of the afternoon. 

This is a rare time the Eagles actually run the ball from under center. It doesn't work. 

At the handoff point, this play seems doomed. The left A gap is clogged by veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson but it's supposed to be a counter play. Lane Johnson (circled) is left blocking no one, while Brent Celek ends up with two guys. 

Celek takes out the linebacker, but that leaves Allen Bailey all alone with Smallwood, who doesn't have enough time or space to get around him. Meanwhile, Johnson is still blocking air, which very well could have been a miscommunication or a missed assignment. Either way, something didn't go right on this one. 

A few plays later, the Eagles are facing a 2nd-and-15. Like they did earlier in the game, the Eagles are going to use the run to try and set up a more manageable third down. This time, it doesn't work. 

It's a somewhat similar play to the one that picked up six on 2nd-and-long in the first quarter, but this time the Eagles use the bigger side of the field instead of going short field to the right. 

The problem here is that Peters has trouble holding his block on Pro Bowler Justin Houston, who is an underrated run-stuffer because of his pass-rush ability. If Peters is able to keep Houston outside, Seumalo is nailing his assignment and Sproles has a huge hole inside.  

Sproles realizes that Peters has been beaten but it's too late. He tries to bounce it outside but is dropped for a three-yard loss. Peters looked pretty frustrated after this play. 

Instead of setting up a manageable third down, the Eagles end up with a 3rd-and-18. They can't convert. 

After that second-quarter series when the Eagles had two negative plays, they didn't run the ball much, but they didn't completely abandon it either. This play came with 5:41 left in the third. 

Seumalo pulls on the play and does a nice job to get just enough of his man to create a hole (circled). And Trey Burton is fast to the hole, acting almost like a lead blocker. 

From there, Smallwood shows his burst to gain eight yards. Sproles carried the ball on the next play for a gain of three to pick up a first down. It was the only time all game the Eagles ran the ball back-to-back times.

So, no. The Eagles' run game wasn't great on Sunday against the Chiefs. There are still a lot of things to fix. 

But it wasn't that bad either. So while Pederson kept talking about fixing the run game, Reich had it right; there is plenty good about the run game right now. The Eagles just have to stick with it. Even though, if we're being honest, they probably won't.