10 observations from Eagles-Steelers

10 observations from Eagles-Steelers

PITTSBURGH — More big plays from the defense, no big plays from the offense, nothing much of anything from Sam Bradford.
 
The Eagles improved to 2-0 this preseason with a 17-0 win on Thursday at Heinz Field over a Steelers team playing without most of its stars (see Instant Replay).
 
Like the Eagles’ 17-9 win over Tampa last week at the Linc, there were some good things — mainly on defense — and some bad things — mainly on offense. And a few really, really bad things. Mainly on offense.
 
Kenjon Barner, Chase Daniel, Paul Turner, Nelson Agholor, Brandon Graham, Aaron Grymes, Jaylen Watkins? It’s all here.
 
Welcome to this preseason edition of my 10 instant observations!
 
1. I wish Mike Tomlin had played Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams for at least a few series Thursday night because it’s tough to truly evaluate the Eagles’ defense against a Steelers’ offense missing every one of its elite playmakers. Yeah, the Eagles’ defense recorded four interceptions, but they were against Landry Jones, who is a borderline pro. On the one hand, you love seeing that sort of aggressive playmaking, especially in the red zone. Nolan Carroll’s pick-six, end-zone INTs by Malcolm Jenkins and Grymes and a fourth INT by Watkins were all encouraging plays. But we need to keep in mind it was Jones throwing the football. Still, more encouraged than not by the first-team defense. It seems to have an aggressive mentality under Jim Schwartz. It's been solid against the run, it hasn't been allowing big plays and it did pitch a shutout Thursday night against an assortment of Steelers starters and backups. The first-team defense still has much to prove against real quarterbacks. But it's playing fast and aggressive, and that’s a good sign.
 
2. We’re still seeing nothing from the starting offense, and it has just one more chance to figure this out (see story). Since the starters aren’t expected to play in the preseason finale against the Jets on Sept. 1, the first offense has one more chance to come up with some sort of cohesion, some sort of consistency, before opening day against the Browns. That’s a week from Saturday in Indy vs. the Colts. The first offense played just three snaps against Tampa last week, which is the same as not playing at all, and against the Steelers, the unit managed three points and 122 yards in a half against a combination of the Steelers’ first- and second-team defenses. That’s five series and an average of 25 yards per drive. You can’t single out anybody. They’ve all been ineffective. The quarterback, the running back, the receivers, the tight ends, the offensive line. Right now, this is an ineffective offense lacking consistency, explosion and playmaking, and it doesn't have much time to fix it.
 
3. Focusing specifically on Bradford, he did complete 14 of 19 passes, which is good, but those 19 passes only went 115 yards, which is bad. That’s just six yards per attempt. Yeah, offenses are vanilla right now, yeah, his offensive line is in flux, yeah, he doesn’t have many weapons, but we really haven’t seen Bradford get into a rhythm yet, and that’s a concern. One preseason game to go for him and you really want to see him get the ball down the field against the Colts in Indy next week.
 
4. Turner has been the Eagles’ second-best wide receiver this preseason, the best if you consider that Jordan Matthews has been out a couple weeks. Turner has done what you hoped Agholor and Josh Huff would do. Make plays. Flash. His highlight-reel one-hander from Daniel for 23 yards to set up a touchdown in the third quarter is the kind of play we’ve been waiting to see Agholor make. Turner is an undrafted rookie free agent from Louisiana Tech, and Agholor is a second-year first-round pick, but Turner is flashing in a way that Agholor hasn’t. This team is desperate for wide receivers. So far, one guy is making plays. Not only does Turner deserve to make the team, he’s quickly showing that he deserves to play.
 
5. I don’t care if I write this every week, I really like Barner. He just looks like a football player to me. Sometimes you see guys put up big numbers in the preseason but you don’t really expect them to ever carry it over into the regular season. Barner hasn’t done anything since he got here in 2014 to make me think he can’t play in this league. He runs hard, slashes through traffic, has a terrific feel for the defenders around him and is tough enough to run through guys (rushing stats: 7 for 35 vs. the Bucs, 6 for 41 Thursday night). He’s explosive in the return game, picks up the blitz, getting better as a receiver. We all know Ryan Mathews’ injury history. We all know Darren Sproles is a gifted player but not equipped for double-digit carries. We haven’t even seen Wendell Smallwood play yet. It’s pretty clear Barner has to be this team’s No. 2 back. Not only that, he needs to have a role on offense as well.
 
6. Watkins has shown up in both preseason games. Watkins is an interesting guy. Weird story. The Eagles drafted him in the fourth round in 2014, cut him last September, then signed him off the Bills’ practice squad in November, and he’s been here ever since. Can play some corner, can play some safety. He’s never been a great tackler, but he’s shown enough in coverage and playmaking that he’s going to make it tough to cut him. He’s still only 24 and in a secondary with a lot of unanswered questions, he’s got a chance.
 
7. While we’re praising young defensive backs, Grymes is another kid who’s put together two solid games in a row. Grymes, like Watkins, had an INT Thursday night in Pittsburgh and has shown the ability to be around the ball. Grymes has three years of CFL experience, but he’s only 25, so he’s got an unusual combination of youth and experience. He’s another one who still has work to do to survive roster cuts, but he’s done some nice things.
 
8. I don’t know what else to say at this point about Huff and Agholor. You just keep looking and hoping and waiting for the two draft picks to shine and it doesn’t happen. Agholor did have a nice 22-yard catch Thursday night, but he sure hasn’t looked like a special player this preseason, and when you’re the 20th pick in last year’s draft you really should be doing something special at this point. I’m still not ready to give up on him, but with each passing game, I wonder more and more if it’ll ever happen for him.
 
9. It was nice to see Daniel actually look like a quarterback. After that performance against the Bucs, I was starting to wonder about him. Daniel was an unspectacular but not horrific 10 for 16 for 82 yards in the third quarter and most of the fourth quarter. Hey, small steps. It’s still terrifying to think of him as the No. 2 quarterback, but at least he didn’t embarrass himself out there.
 
10. Finally, a quick shout out to Brandon Graham, who we haven’t talked about enough. BeeGee, making that switch back from linebacker to defensive end, has had a solid training camp and has had consistently good pressures in the two preseason games. Graham has actually hung in there against the run, too. Graham is the longest-tenured Eagle on the defense, the only holdover from the 2010 team that faced the Packers in the playoffs. Heck, he’s been here so long he was teammates with Stewart Bradley, Quintin Mikell and Ernie Sims. Graham has been a solid player the last few years, but he’s never put together a full season that you’d want from a first-round pick. He’s now playing under his fifth defensive coordinator in seven years, and if anybody can bring out consistency from Graham, it’s Schwartz. So far, Graham looks like a nice fit in Schwartz's scheme. I’m looking for big things this year from Graham.

Former Eagles personnel exec Tom Gamble leaves 49ers

Former Eagles personnel exec Tom Gamble leaves 49ers

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Longtime San Francisco 49ers personnel executive Tom Gamble is leaving the organization after a front-office overhaul this offseason.

General manager John Lynch announced on Wednesday that he and Gamble decided it would be in the best interest for the team and Gamble for him to leave the team.

Lynch was hired as GM to replace Trent Baalke late last month. Lynch then hired former Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew as a senior personnel executive and Adam Peters as vice president of player personnel to be his top personnel executives.

Gamble has 29 years of experience in the NFL, including 10 years with the 49ers. He was assistant general manager for San Francisco this past season.

Eagles Mailbag: Bennie Logan, top WRs in draft, Jeremy Maclin return?

Eagles Mailbag: Bennie Logan, top WRs in draft, Jeremy Maclin return?

There hasn't been much Eagles talk recently. The last few weeks have been pretty dead. 

That's about to change soon enough. Next week, the football world will take over Indianapolis for the combine and just after that, free agency will begin on March 9. After that, the draft isn't too far away. 

So let's jump into your mailbag questions: 

Yeah, I think there's a real chance Bennie Logan isn't an Eagle next year. Howie Roseman has been pretty consistent in saying he wants Logan to return, but it's fair to wonder about the price. Logan has now proven that he can play in a 4-3 or a 3-4 scheme, so there will be plenty of teams interested. 

If the Eagles lose Logan, their defense will take a big hit. There's not really a way around that. He's a good player and has been an important part of the line. But with a ton of money devoted to the defensive line over the next few years -- even assuming Connor Barwin isn't back -- will the Eagles pay another? I'm not so sure. 

And I agree that Logan was really good against the run last year. But I think his real value is in being great against the run while also being able to generate some pass rush. I think Beau Allen can be a decent run-stuffer, but he's clearly not the same player as Logan. 

I can't give a real answer here. Sorry. While I don't wholeheartedly agree with the best player available notion, the Eagles also can't prioritize one need over the other in this scenario. There will be either 13 or 14 picks before the Eagles are on the board. 

Really, it's going to depend on which players are left. Are Mike Williams and Corey Davis on the board? How about the top corners? There's a lot of them. If the player the Eagles really want at one of those positions is off the board, they could look elsewhere. And it's not automatic they'll take a receiver or a cornerback. What if they opt for an edge rusher? 

But getting back to corner vs. receiver, there are a couple thoughts: 

1. They'll pick a corner because receivers are far from a sure thing. Roseman made it a point to talk about how the 2014 draft changed expectations for rookie receivers. And the Eagles haven't had much luck recently drafting receivers in the first round. And Roseman has also said that while it might make sense to grab a first-round corner in the second round because of depth, there's often a run at positions where a draft is strong. It would be better to just get the best one. 

2. On the flip side of that, maybe they'll pick a receiver with the idea that at least one really good corner will be on the board in the second round. That would maximize value, especially if they get the receiver they want in the first round. 

That's a long way to say: I don't think it'll be about position as much as it will be about the specific player at 14 or 15. 

This is a tough one. I really think the margin separating these two is so close that the combine could flip them for me. But for now, I'm going with Mike Williams. 

Clemson listed him at 6-3, 225 and I think he's going to come close to that at the combine. And he might not have Corey Davis' speed or quick twitch, but he makes up for it. I really want to see how he performs at the combine; I expect it to confirm my belief that he's the top receiver in the draft. Davis will reportedly not run at the combine because of an ankle injury. 

It's possible a team like the Eagles could fall in love with Davis' deep threat ability. That's clearly what they value right now. But ultimately, I think Williams is the top guy. 

I don't think Ryan Mathews will be back next season. He's 29, coming off a serious neck injury and is way too expensive. The Eagles can save $4 million by cutting him. I expect that to happen and for the Eagles to try to find some younger, healthier talent. 

Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy! Let's get the band back together! 

I understand why the Maclin questions are rolling in. An ESPN column recently suggested that the Chiefs could cut the former Eagle. Maclin is familiar with the Eagles' offense and Doug Pederson, which means the move would make some sense. 

But from a football standpoint, Jackson would give the Eagles what they need more than Maclin. Over the last couple years, Maclin has really been utilized in the slot, which happens to be where the Eagles' only decent receiver plays. Sure, Pederson will move around his receivers, but there are probably better fits out there for the Eagles than Maclin. If he does become a free agent, though, it's at least worth inquiring.