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.

Questions loom for Mark Sanchez entering Broncos' 3rd preseason game

Questions loom for Mark Sanchez entering Broncos' 3rd preseason game

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos face critical decisions two weeks before the Super Bowl champions open the season.

They have more questions than answers heading into the third preseason game, none more glaring than at quarterback. Trevor Siemian was named the starter ahead of veteran Mark Sanchez for the game against the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday, and the full-time job appears to be his to lose.

Siemian, in his second year out of Northwestern, said he isn't looking beyond the Rams.

"I'm not reading too much into it," he said of his second straight start.

Siemian was limited in practice Tuesday because of a bruised right shoulder but he was throwing Wednesday. Coach Gary Kubiak said Siemian did 80 percent of his usual workload and is still on track to be the starter against the Rams.

"He looked good," Kubiak said. "I think he was a little sore coming out but he worked through it and hopefully he'll be better (Thursday)."

Siemian was 10 of 14 for 75 yards and led the Broncos to a touchdown on their first drive of Saturday's game against San Francisco. He dinged his shoulder when he tried to make a tackle on safety Ed Reid, who intercepted him and returned it for a touchdown early in the second quarter.

"I was a little sore and it got a little more sore as it went on. I didn't feel anything right away," Siemian said. "I've gotten better each day. If I'm playing (Saturday) I won't be holding back."

Sanchez struggled in last Saturday's loss to San Francisco. He was 10 of 17 for 120 yards, fumbled twice and was nearly picked off. He said after the game that he "squandered an opportunity" to separate himself from Siemian as the No. 1 quarterback. He clarified that comment Wednesday.

"Squandered an opportunity that game," he said. "It wasn't like, `OK, that's it, throw in the towel.' A lot of people interpreted it that way. That's never been my attitude. I don't quit. I'll take this thing down the wire if that's what it takes, and that's what it looks like, so let's go."

Sanchez wouldn't speculate when asked if this is his last chance to be a starter in the NFL.

"That's a big-picture question," he said. "I'm still in the moment."

The offensive line is still unsettled, most notably right guard. Ty Sambrailo was the projected starter but a hyperextended elbow has sidelined him for most of training camp. Darrion Weems was playing well in place of Sambrailo but suffered a concussion against San Francisco.

Sambrailo is still wearing a brace and has not taken part in practice. Weems is in the concussion protocol.

C.J. Anderson is the clear No. 1 running back but veteran Ronnie Hillman's spot on the roster is in jeopardy because of the play of rookie Devontae Booker and second-year back Kapri Bibbs.

Hillman led the Broncos in rushing last year with 863 yards but Anderson was the main back in the postseason. Anderson rushed for 90 yards and a score in the Super Bowl while Hillman had just five attempts for no gain.

Hillman has responded after being pushed by Booker and Bibbs.

"I thought Ronnie had his most productive game and week last week," Kubiak said. "Ronnie is pushing hard. Kapri has been consistent and Kapri has been a really good special teams player. Those are the things that are really important."

Notes
WR Bennie Fowler had the brace removed from his fractured right elbow and did some work on the field before practice Wednesday. Kubiak said Fowler could be ready for the season opener against Carolina. ... C James Ferentz is out for a few weeks after having a knee scoped Monday. ... DE Derek Wolfe missed his second straight practice to deal with a family issue, Kubiak said. ... CB Aqib Talib returned to practice after missing Tuesday due to illness.

NFL Notes: Chargers withdraw offer to 1st-round pick Joey Bosa

NFL Notes: Chargers withdraw offer to 1st-round pick Joey Bosa

SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers have withdrawn their contract offer to first-round draft pick Joey Bosa and will restructure a new deal that takes into account his absence from the team.

The Chargers' statement Wednesday said they believe "Joey will be unable to contribute for the full 16-game season without the adequate time on the practice field, in the classroom, and in preseason games." They characterized their previous offers to the Ohio state defensive end as fair and structurally consistent with the contracts of every other Chargers player."

Bosa is the only first-rounder who has not signed with his team.

Negotiations stalled over when Bosa's $17 million bonus would be distributed and offset language in the contract.

San Diego said it offered an initial signing bonus payment larger than any draftee received in the last two drafts, and more money in 2016 than anyone draftee except Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (see full story).

Giants: Owner Mara 'comfortable' with Brown suspension
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A visibly shaken Giants owner John Mara said Wednesday he was fine with the NFL's suspension of placekicker Josh Brown for one game, despite allegations Brown abused his ex-wife as many as 20 times prior to the Giants signing Brown to a two-year extension last spring.

The 37-year-old Brown was arrested in May 2015, when he allegedly grabbed his ex-wife Molly by the throat and held her down with his knee in their Woodinville, Washington home. Brown was charged with fourth-degree domestic assault. Five days later, the King County prosecutor's office dropped the charges because of insufficient evidence. Brown's ex-wife reportedly dropped the charges.

After the NFL hit Brown with a one-game suspension instead of the six games mandated by the league's new personal conduct policy, Molly Brown told media she was physically accosted at least 20 times, including once when she was pregnant in 2009.

Vikings: Bridgewater expects to play Sunday 
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater says he'll play this weekend in the first game at the team's new stadium.

Bridgewater was coy after practice Wednesday about his shoulder injury, but he said "of course" when asked if he's expecting to take the field Sunday for the opener at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings host San Diego, and the third exhibition contest is typically when the starters play the longest in the preseason.

Last week at Seattle, Bridgewater was a surprise scratch from the lineup. Coach Mike Zimmer has refused to discuss his condition.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner said Wednesday he didn't see any limitations with Bridgewater the day before.

Panthers: Rivera expects Short to get long-term deal
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Coach Ron Rivera says defensive tackle Kawann Short is "too important a player" for the Panthers not to sign him to a long-term contract.

Short has one year remaining on his rookie deal. He's outperformed his current contract, recording 11 sacks last season while being named NFC Player of the Month twice.

Rivera said Wednesday that "somewhere along the line, those are good guys, they'll figure it out. I believe they will. ... (Short) likes where he is. We'll see where it all unfolds."

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has a policy of not discussing contract negotiations in the media.

Gettleman also does not negotiate contracts once the regular season begins, so the Panthers essentially have two weeks to strike a deal.

Short said last month he has no plans to holdout.

Lane Johnson declares he's done taking supplements

Lane Johnson declares he's done taking supplements

No more supplements, Lane Johnson says. Those days are over.
 
Johnson, who faces a 10-game NFL suspension after a second positive test for a banned substance, said Wednesday he’s finished taking anything that could possibly put him at risk for a career-threatening third suspension.
 
Johnson claims the amino acid he ordered online and took was approved by the NFL but was tainted with a banned substance that didn't appear on the label, the so-called peptide found in Johnson’s sample.
 
Johnson also said he is planning to take legal action against the company that provided him with the amino acid.
 
“Going after them,” he said. “I have people on it to get it done.”

Johnson declined to identify the company that supplied him with the supplement.

Johnson was suspended for four games in 2014. A third suspension would result in a two-year ban.
 
“Seriously, I don’t want to have to go through this again,” Johnson said at his locker after practice Wednesday. “Unless something changes, the policy, I don’t trust anything.
 
“I can’t risk it. If it happens again, I miss two years and I’m just not going to risk that happening. I’m not taking any chances.

"Food and water. That's all I'm going to put in my system. Food and water. No supplements, no powders, nothing."
 
Johnson has been practicing with the second team and playing in the preseason games while he awaits his fate.

Johnson was the fourth pick in the 2013 draft, the Eagles' highest-drafted player since Donovan McNabb was the second pick in 1999.
 
Once Johnson’s B sample comes back — presumably positive, since Johnson has admitted taking the supplement — Johnson said he plans to appeal the suspension. But he said he doesn’t expect it to be reduced.
 
“Even if you prove it (was tainted), there’s nothing you can do,” he said.
 
It would be unusual for an NFL offensive lineman to not use any supplements at all.
 
“Look in everybody’s locker,” Johnson said. “Everybody’s got ‘em. But you just don’t know what’s really in them.”
 
Players say supplements help them not only to build strength and muscle but also in their recovery following games.
 
Johnson insists he can get by without them.
 
“You’ve got cold tubs, you’ve got different stuff you can do, foam rolling, soft tissue stuff,” he said. “There’s only limited (benefits) with that stuff. I think I’ll be fine.”

Meanwhile, he waits.

“It’s like waiting for an execution date,” he said. “It’s been living hell the past month.”