Eagles Week 2 Preseason Autopsy

Eagles Week 2 Preseason Autopsy

The sky was supposedly falling last Thursday.  The Eagles, after dropping their second preseason contest 23-15 against a quality opponent with a Hall of Fame QB, drew scathing reviews for their performance.  Once again, we're attempting to walk you back from the preseason ledge.

The Colts did everything right on their first drive.  Peyton Manning was exactly what we've come to expect.  He controlled the pace, getting the offense up to the line of scrimmage quickly, making it difficult for the Eagles to sub or adjust.  They called almost entirely passing plays, attacking Ellis Hobbs' side of the field and using play action to pull the linebackers up from their assignments.  And Manning made the whole thing look simple, as only he can.

It wasn't all bad though.  A few plays after a successful WR screen kicked off the drive, the Colts went back to it, only this time Quintin Demps was all over it, making the stop for no gain.  Shortly after, Akeem Jordan recovered from being beat in coverage to separate the ball from a receiver, saving a sure touchdown.  And Manning had to complete a difficult 3rd and 10 throw in a tiny window over Joe Mays and between Demps and the sideline while being tossed to the ground by Jason Babin to keep the drive alive.  How many quarterbacks complete that pass?  And prior to the score, Asante Samuel nearly ended the drive with an interception in the end zone, but was unable to catch the ball cleanly.

When it looked like Manning would start doing the same thing all over on their second drive, Babin struck again, this time stripping the ball to give the Birds excellent field position.  Of course, what really sticks out was the following possession, one play, one uncontested 76-yard jaunt for Reggie Wayne, although it was clearly a mis-communication, and exactly the kind of play preseason is there to correct. 

Manning executed the Colts basic gameplan against the Eagles vanilla defensive schemes.  Is that a legitimate cause for concern?  There's room for improvement, but this wasn't the end of defense as we know it in Philadelphia.

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All things considered, the offensive line wasn't terrible either.  That's quite the backhanded compliment, but we are talking about four reserves, and King Dunlap doesn't even belong on an NFL field, which we sort of knew heading into the game.  The scenario would have to become extremely dire for that to ever happen anyway, so let's concentrate on the backups who might actually see gameday.

Nick Cole was shaky filling in at left guard as well.  Actually, sloppy is more fitting in this case.  He's been slow getting out into space, man-handled up front, and just generally ineffective in every phase of the game.  On one play, he just fell down inexplicably.  Can't say for sure what the deal is - the most obvious theories being he is either out of shape (too late) or looked better mixed in a cohesive unit - any way you slice it though, he hasn't impressed.

On the flip side, much to everyone's surprise, Winston Justice is living up to the reports of his revival.  The idea he could be starting for the Eagles in the regular season remains a delicate subject, and there still seems to be some hesitation when run blocking, but he is holding his own in pass protection.  Justice was probably miscast as a left tackle, and we would no longer be surprised to see him as a spot starter for a lesser NFL team somewhere down the line, as long as he continues to show he is indeed a football player.

Are the Eagles going to win the Super Bowl if Cole and Justice are major contributors for any length of time?  It certainly lessens their chances (a lot), we simply think it's a stretch they will wind up in such a predicament.  Peters' injury sounds minor and perhaps related to conditioning.  Herremans being held out is partly as a precaution.  Odds are one or two of the Andrews brothers will eventually get right.  The group deserves an incomplete, not an F.

Offense

- McNabb's touchdown pass to Jackson was perfectly executed by both players.

- Have to agree with the negative assessments of Feeley's clock management in the comments.  What was he thinking dumping the ball in the middle with no timeouts?

- Eldra Buckley, with another solid special teams contribution tacked onto some tough running, has the upper hand over Booker for the third running back spot.  Kyle Eckel struggled filling in for Weaver.

- Looks like they might have picked a nice player with sixth rounder Brandon Gibson.  His four catches for 49 yards and a TD led the team.  Probably will spend a year on the practice squad or IR, unless they move one of their receivers.

- Random thought: could Hank Baskett play some tight end?

Defense

- Jason Babin set up camp in the Colts backfield and wreaked havoc basically the entire first half.  It leads us to wonder which ends could be the odd guys out if he makes the roster.  No easy decisions there right now.

- Spadaro-ish comment alert: the linebackers remain a work in progress.  Brady and Manning are two of the best play action quarterbacks in the NFL, but the entire unit is getting fooled, creating massive vacancies in the middle of the field.  While they've been fortunate so far, any coach in the league is going to see this and exploit it.

Individually, Gocong has been invisible.  Mays is still learning.  Jordan has some plays where he's in position, and some where he's not.

- Ellis Hobbs had an awful game, even if we give him a free pass on that TD.  That does not excuse a couple of missed tackles and another completion to Wayne, all leading to first downs.  The competition at right corner is over, not that there ever really was one.

- Aside from getting beat for the game's first score, a perfect throw that would have given any corner problems, Asante Samuel picked up from where he left off last season.  Colts quarterbacks found Samuel draped all over their receivers, and he very nearly intercepted Manning in the end zone prior to allowing 6.

- Two rookies, Macho Harris and Moise Fokou, are having a nice preseason.  Harris seems to be playing the Dawkins role.  He's had some successful blitzes, has been a sound tackler, and broken up a pass or two.  Fokou seems to be freelancing a bit, but he's been finding the ball.  Don't think he's game ready though.

Eagles Injury Update: Isaac Seumalo, Wendell Smallwood, Vinny Curry still out

Eagles Injury Update: Isaac Seumalo, Wendell Smallwood, Vinny Curry still out

The Eagles were back to practice on Tuesday without the same four players.

Isaac Seumalo (pec), Wendell Smallwood (concussion), Vinny Curry (knee) and Taylor Hart (knee) were all held out of practice.

On Monday, head coach Doug Pederson said the team would hold Seumalo back from practice until he was 100 percent. Pederson expects Seumalo back next week and then the team will make a decision about the starting offensive line.

Pederson also said he expects Curry and Hart back for the season opener on Sept. 11.

For the second straight day, however, Carson Wentz (ribs) and Jordan Matthews (knee) were practicing. Neither will play on Thursday in the preseason finale against the Jets, but both also said they'll be ready for the opener.

The Eagles wrap up their preseason at the Linc on Thursday with a 7 p.m. kickoff against the Jets.

Penn star receiver Justin Watson ready to keep doing it all in 2016

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Photo: Dave Zeitlin

Penn star receiver Justin Watson ready to keep doing it all in 2016

As Penn football players spread out around Franklin Field to take photos and do interviews for the program’s annual media day, Justin Watson hung by the track, playing a quick game of tag near the hurdles.

“Come and get me, J-Wat!” cried out Vhito DeCapria, the precocious 5-year-old cancer patient the team adopted last year through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation and who’s now back for his “sophomore” season.

Watson, known as “J-Wat” to most, smiled and played along. Being Vhito’s favorite player is just one of the many hats he wears. He’s also one of the team’s hardest-working, smartest and most versatile players — and he enters his junior season as perhaps the top wide receiver in the Ivy League, if not the entire FCS.

“Does he do anything to surprise me?” senior quarterback Alec Torgersen said from media day Monday. “Not anymore. He did at the beginning when he first got here. But now it’s just expected of him. I expect him to make those crazy one-handed grabs. I expect him to catch every ball I throw to him. When he doesn’t, I get disappointed.”

Torgersen has had plenty of opportunities to throw Watson passes — and not only last season when the star receiver caught 74 balls (fourth all-time at Penn) for 1,087 yards (second all-time) and nine touchdowns (third all-time). Throughout the summer, the two friends worked together at the same internship downtown. They ate lunch together every day and, at 5 p.m., they hopped on a subway back to Franklin Field, where they worked out in the weight room and practiced back-shoulder fades and option routes.

“A lot of college quarterbacks and receivers can’t have that type of chemistry but I think us being here all summer really helped,” Watson said. “It’s been cool doing that. It’s a special thing that’s definitely going to help us in the fall.”

In truth, Watson is actually more than just a receiver. Last season, he was also used on running plays, gaining 154 yards on the ground, including a 79-yard scamper that sealed Penn’s huge upset at Harvard. Watson finished with a staggering 249 all-purpose yards that day at Harvard Stadium, helping the Quakers win the game that effectively led to them sharing a piece of the Ivy League title. And he said he was all set to play another position by taking direct snaps in the team’s regular-season finale vs. Cornell before getting hurt.

“The uniqueness about Justin is not only his talent and skill on the field but his football IQ,” second-year head coach Ray Priore said. “During the course of the year, he in theory played every skill position on offense. And he didn’t even blink an eye doing it. That’s a special characteristic.”

Priore laughed when asked if he can find more ways to utilize Watson in 2016 but said he won’t put him back on kick returns, “which he probably could do.” He will, however, play safety when the Quakers line up in their “victory defense” at the end of games, “so you may see an interception.”

Watson says he’s ready for anything.

“That’s so much fun,” he said. “When you’re a kid in middle school, that’s what you do. It’s awesome to be back doing that. Anything I can do to help us win, I’ll do it, whether it’s running back or receiver. I don’t think they’ll let me throw it at quarterback after seeing my arm. But anything else I’m definitely willing and ready to do.”

In the end, though, playing receiver is what Watson loves most, saying that catching a deep ball — and hearing the crowd “hold their breath when the ball’s in the air and then erupt” — is his favorite thing as a football player. It’s also his skills as a receiver that has him earning so much attention heading into Penn’s opener vs. Lehigh on Sept. 17. Among his preseason accolades, the junior was named one of 22 players on the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year Watch List — the only Ivy Leaguer to receive such an honor.

But if all of his records and accolades leads to opposing defenses paying more attention to him, Watson isn’t worried. That’s because he knows the team’s other receivers like fifth-year senior Cam Countryman and sophomore Christian Pearson are more than capable of having big years too.

“If you put two guys on me, we’ve got a bunch of other great receivers who will be open and will kill you down the field,” Watson said. “If I’ve got to take two or three guys every game, we’ll be 10-0 because I know everyone else will be making plays.”

It’s that kind of selflessness that has endeared Watson to his teammates, who enjoy the energy he brings to practice and how he always seems to be the first player in the training room.

“He’s an incredible player,” said Countryman, one of Penn’s leaders. “I have the utmost respect for him. When he came in his freshman year, you noticed right away the talent he had. So all of the accomplishments that he gets, I’m not surprised at all. 

“And they’ll keep coming in.”

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Following a shutout, Phillies get to face Max Scherzer

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Following a shutout, Phillies get to face Max Scherzer

Phillies (60-71) vs. Nationals (76-55)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies couldn't hit in Monday's series opener, but they did receive the positive of Jake Thompson finally looking like he can get outs at the big-league level. Thompson allowed two runs over seven innings, but the Phils were blanked by Tanner Roark for the third time this season.

The task Tuesday night is no easier.

1. Due vs. Scherzer?
When the Phillies face Max Scherzer, you can essentially chalk it up as an automatic loss. The Phils are one of the weaker offenses, Scherzer is one of the game's best pitchers, and his track record against them is nearly flawless.

Scherzer (14-7, 2.92) has faced the Phillies eight times since 2013. He's 6-0 with 1.74 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP, with 62 strikeouts and 10 walks in 57 innings. 

Scherzer had some early missteps this season, caused mostly by home runs, but he's been incredible since the middle of May, when he tied a MLB record with 20 strikeouts in a game. Since that game, he's 11-5 with a 2.40 ERA and .172 opponents' batting average in 20 starts. He's struck out 181 and walked 29 in those 139 innings. Ridiculous. Otherworldly.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, they'll be seeing a lot of Scherzer moving forward. He's in the second of a seven-year, $210 million free-agent contract with the Nationals that, to this point, he's lived up to.

Scherzer has a blazing fastball and a disappearing breaking ball. He throws strike after strike after strike, which is ironically what gets him into trouble at times. Like Cliff Lee, Scherzer is around the plate so often that hitters tend to attack his early fastballs. The result is a lot of solo home runs. But Scherzer has even corrected that issue of late, allowing just five homers over his last 11 starts.

2. Learn from Herrera
Odubel Herrera has had by far the most success of any active Phillie vs. Scherzer. He's 6 for 19 with a double, a triple and five walks. There are only six players in baseball with at least 20 plate appearances against Scherzer and an on-base percentage higher than Herrera's .458.

Herrera had a multi-hit game Monday, his fourth in his last eight contests. He's hitting .283/.361/.413 in 540 plate appearances this season, providing pretty much the same offense he did a year ago. But still, the Phillies would like to see more consistency from Herrera over the season's final month. His OBP had declined every month this year until August.

Phils manager Pete Mackanin said on Monday that Herrera will remain in center field the rest of the season. Mackanin had indicated several weeks ago that Herrera would see some time in the corner outfield to allow the organization to get a look at Aaron Altherr and perhaps even Roman Quinn in center field in September, but that's no longer the plan. Quinn is on the concussion DL at Double A, and the Phillies don't want to move Herrera around or do anything to affect his confidence at this point.

It still seems likely that Herrera will end up at a different position in the future because the Phillies have better defensive centerfielders.

3. Their steadiest starter
Jerad Eickhoff tonight makes his 27th start of 2016 and 35th career start for the Phillies. He's 9-12 with a 3.87 ERA this season and 12-15 with a 3.57 ERA in his career.

Eickhoff is coming off yet another quality start, his 14th. He's pitched at least six innings in 17 of his 25 starts. 

Strange as it is, Eickhoff has faced the division-rival Nationals only once in his career so far. He allowed two runs to them over seven innings with 10 strikeouts in his penultimate start last season.

Eickhoff has been much better this season at home (3.27 ERA) than on the road (4.56).

4. A night for small ball
One of the Phillies' goals this season was to manufacture runs because they don't have a ton of power. That will be especially necessary tonight against Scherzer, who's shut down every Phils hitter with pop.

Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp are a combined 5 for 31 (.161) off Scherzer. Ryan Howard, who's unlikely to play, is 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts.

Meanwhile, Herrera has gotten on base with regularity against him, and Cesar Hernandez is 5 for 18 with a double. Herrera and Hernandez will need to reach base and run tonight. Scherzer, however, does a better job than most aces of controlling the running game. He's allowed just 11 steals on 14 attempts in 60 starts with the Nationals.

5. This and that
• A loss tonight would put the Phillies 12 games under .500. Their record hasn't been that bad since June 27, which was 53 games ago.

• The Phils are 6-12 against the NL East since the All-Star break.

• It would have been difficult for Jayson Werth to play up to the seven-year, $126 million contract he got with the Nationals after 2010, but when you look back at his tenure in Washington he's had only two bad years out of six. In more than 3,000 plate appearances with the Nats, Werth has hit .269/.361/.442 for an .803 OPS that is 18 percent better than the league average over that span.