Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles have depth issues at wide receiver

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Eagles have depth issues at wide receiver

LeSean McCoy was at the podium first. When he was done, he said he was interested to see what reporters would ask Jeremy Maclin, because Maclin didn’t practice. Maclin was standing nearby. He laughed. McCoy laughed. He was busting Maclin’s chops. It was a joke, even if the Eagles' receiving situation isn’t all that funny at the moment.

Maclin — who said he has general soreness in his legs (plural) but vowed to return soon — did some half-speed routes on Tuesday and then shut it down, spending much of the afternoon watching from the sideline. Riley Cooper and Jeff Maehl didn’t even do that much. Over the last few days, the Eagles have been “a little short at receiver.” That’s how offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur put it. He wasn’t kidding.

It is early August. The Eagles won’t play a meaningful game for another month. But August will bleed into September before you know it. The roster will be trimmed to 53 men. The games will count. And Nick Foles will throw passes to … which wideouts, exactly?

During this last week or so of Eagles training camp, we’ve learned — or relearned — that the team’s depth at wide receiver gets awfully thin awfully quick. When Maclin went down with a brief scare on Monday, it was natural to flashback to last training camp when he tore his ACL and missed the season. Maclin says he’s fine. Maybe you believe it and maybe you don’t, but at least he was marginally active on Tuesday. Cooper and Maehl were not. They have ankle injuries (Cooper is still in a walking boot). Earlier this week, Chip Kelly said Cooper will be back soon but declined to elaborate.

The wide receiver competition is currently less about talent than it is about attrition and health. Stand upright long enough and you’ll get some playing time. For some of Tuesday’s practice, Arrelious Benn, Brad Smith and Ifeanyi Momah ran with the first team.  Your defending NFC East champs, everyone.

As Shurmur conceded, the Eagles are “at the point in camp where guys are just dealing with the stress on the body.” Then he tried to put a positive spin on it by employing the anticipated NFL talking points about the next guy up.

“The advantage of them being out is guys get the chance to step up and get more and more reps,” Shurmur said. “What we’re doing with them being out is developing the depth of the team. The guys that are second and third in line now become first and second. We obviously want all the guys out there all the time. The reality is, there are times when they’re not. And so the next guys up go.”

As advantages go, pressing Momah and Damaris Johnson into increased duty doesn’t seem like a terrific edge. Momah remains raw, and Johnson has almost certainly overstayed his welcome at the NovaCare Complex. If they’re on the roster this season, something will have likely gone terribly wrong.

There was concern about the Eagles’ receivers heading into training camp, even when the group was entirely healthy. In addition to coming off the knee injury, Maclin hasn’t played a snap in Kelly’s offense. Cooper acquitted himself better than expected a year ago, and posted career highs in receptions, targets, yards and touchdowns. Even so, his 835 receiving yards put him just 38th in the NFL among all pass catchers. After those two, you’re looking at a pair of rookies (Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff) and some veterans (Smith, Benn and Maehl).

Everyone from Shurmur to Kelly to LeSean McCoy has gushed about Matthews. He’s certainly been exciting in camp. But he’s a rookie. The Eagles are a long way from knowing what he can and can’t do and how much he can contribute. Double the unknown and multiply by even more questions for Huff.

Smith should make the team, but he’s more of a gadget play guy on offense. His biggest contribution is on special teams. Benn is only 25, but he’s missed 27 games in his career because of myriad injuries (two torn ACLs, a torn MCL, a concussion and issues with his neck and shoulder), and he hasn’t played in a regular season game since November 2012. Then there’s Maehl, who spent the majority of his pro career on practice squads before getting a promotion last season. He has four catches on nine targets for 67 yards and a touchdown in his career. You are forgiven if you’re a bit worried about the prospect of the Eagles playing any of them for any length of time.

The Eagles should mummify Maclin and Cooper in bubble wrap. Can’t be too careful. If either of them go down for any extended period, the receiving situation would look pretty grim.

Back to the advantage Shurmur mentioned. When the Eagles take the field in Chicago this Friday for their first preseason game, what do the coaches want to see from the pass catchers who fall behind Maclin and Cooper on the depth chart?

“We want our guys to go in and function,” Shurmur said. “Get lined up quickly. Run the right routes. When it’s time to block — block. Do all the things we ask on the perimeter. And then when it’s time, when you put the shiny pants on and the lights are bright, when the ball comes their way, can they actually make a play? Those are the things you see. Because sometimes, guys will be out here on the practice field, do an excellent job, and then when the lights are bright, not so good.”

Go in and function. Don’t make a mess in your shiny pants. Those aren’t high expectations. But that’s fine. They have to start somewhere – just so long as they don’t have to start in the regular season.

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

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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.