The Eagles edged the Bills, 20-16, Thursday night after a see-saw fourth quarter, but everybody knows the final score in a preseason game is irrelevant (see Instant Replay).
August football is all about evaluations, and we have plenty of instant analysis from the second exhibition game.
Carson Wentz did not look sharp in his first few series. Two of his first three pass attempts were uncatchable, sailing way over the receiver's head and out of bounds. Wentz was eventually able to get into a rhythm, completing five of his final six passes for 45 yards. Matt McGloin picked up where he left off last week, mixing the occasional nice throw with a bunch that was nowhere near the intended target. An easy interception into double coverage was the cherry on top.
Eagles ball carriers once again found little room to run, which would partially explain how LeGarrette Blount managed to carry five times for eight yards. Blount's fumble on one of his two receptions was unforgivable, though. Undrafted rookie Corey Clement outplayed his 30-year-old teammate, carrying it eight times for 34 yards — a solid 4.3 average — and one touchdown. Clement came up with an impressive blitz pickup as well. His performance salvaged the whole operation.
Alshon Jeffery didn't get a ton of work, catching two passes for 24 yards, but was able to showcase his explosiveness on a 14-yard slant. There's a reason for all the hype. Nelson Agholor added two catches for 43 yards, and Marcus Johnson had the long reception of the game for 38 yards. Late in the game, rookie Shelton Gibson drew a 35-yard pass interference penalty. The unit seemed to make the most of its targets despite a lackluster performance from the rest of the offense.
Brent Celek, Trey Burton and Billy Brown combined to make seven receptions for 59 yards. Perhaps more impressive still, the trio combined to clear the away the left side of the field on the Eagles' longest run of the game, a 24-yard scamper. Brown had 4 for 34 all by himself. Nothing spectacular, but much improved from the previous week.
Lane Johnson did not instill confidence in place of Jason Peters at left tackle, struggling mightily. Johnson surrendered one sack and was forced to commit a holding penalty to prevent another. The O-line as a whole was less than stellar, opening few holes on the ground and providing shaky protection. The second unit and third units were a bit better, paving the way for a still subpar 3.2 yards per carry, but limiting the Bills defense to one sack.
The front four didn't post eye-popping numbers but harassed Bills signal callers throughout the contest. Fletcher Cox drove an offensive lineman right into the quarterback's lap on one play, forcing an incompletion, and Brandon Graham had a tackle for loss. On Derek Barnett watch, the rookie was quiet against Buffalo's first-team offense but finished with two quarterback hits and one sack. Second-year defensive end Alex McCalister has a strip sack as well. Steven Means was a man among boys down the stretch, getting tot he passer twice.
Remember Mychal Kendricks? The sixth-year veteran was everywhere in this one. Kendricks sacked the quarterback, had a second tackle for a loss, and also came up with an interception. He looks motivated. Jordan Hicks also got to the quarterback once. Then the reserves cleaned up during extended garbage time. Joe Walker had five solo tackles, while Don Cherry had three and a forced fumble.
The Ronald Darby trade is already paying dividends (see 10 observations). Darby recorded one interception and should've had another. The 48-yard return on the pick was fun, too. Rodney McLeod's pass deflection at the line of scrimmage led to another INT as well. Corey Graham was the third safety when Malcolm Jenkins moved into the slot and made five tackles, including one in the backfield. Jalen Mills was solid in coverage as well and finished with two tackles, while Rasul Douglas had a nice pass breakup. An encouraging showing all around, as Bills starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor was held to eight completions for 43 yards on 18 attempts (44.4 percent). Terrence Brooks finished with a team-high eight tackles.
Caleb Sturgis missed a field goal from 45 yards, but connected from distances of 24 and 48 and was perfect on extra points. Donnie Jones pinned two of three punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Rasul Douglas and Kamu Grugier-Hill each made a nice tackle. Penalties were an issue for the unit as a whole, and Donnel Pumphrey still hasn't shown much explosiveness in the return game, taking three punts a grand total of 11 yards.
The decision to send Wentz back on the field for a fourth series after the offense failed to get a first down in its first three opportunities. Wentz's final drive didn't produce points, but the unit was able to move the ball and build some confidence before a turnover ended the night. As always, the Eagles aren't scheming or game-planning for specific opponents, so the usage of starters is the only aspect of coaching that's worth evaluating.