EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There legitimately couldn't have been more than 3,500 fans at MetLife Stadium Thursday night, and you have to wonder what the few thousand who were there were thinking.
This was awful football even by typical fourth preseason game standards.
The Eagles' scrubs finished the preseason with a grotesque 16-10 loss to the Jets' scrubs (see breakdown), and all that's left before the Eagles open the season against the Redskins a week from Sunday at FedExField is a roster cut this weekend from 90 to 53.
How much did Thursday night's game impact the final roster? Probably not a whole lot. But there were a few notable tidbits, so let's get right to 10 instant observations.
1. I don't care how many times Doug Pederson says Nick Foles is day to day, I'm concerned. Foles did not play Thursday night, so he didn't play a single snap in the preseason. Beyond the obvious reason that's disappointing — we got to see Matt McGloin throw 109 passes in four preseason games — is that this mysterious elbow injury that won't go away wiped out Foles' entire preseason (see story). I wouldn't be as concerned if the injury didn't date back to last year and if Foles hadn't said back on Aug. 15 that he was back to 100 percent after a two-week layoff from training camp. Foles was throwing before the game, so the injury has to be improving to some extent. But if he was healthy enough to play, he should have played. And if he wasn't healthy enough to play, then that's definitely cause for concern.
2. Going to be very interesting to see what happens with Corey Clement this weekend. Clement has been consistently productive throughout the preseason and over the last three preseason games is 21 for 92, good for a 4.4-yard rushing average. I don't have Clement on my projected 53-man roster, only because I just don't see the Eagles keeping five running backs and I can't see releasing rookie fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey, only because this was always going to be a redshirt year for Pumphrey and a sluggish preseason shouldn't change their long-term plans for him. Sluggish isn't the word. Awful. Is it fair? Clement has been by far the more productive of the two rookie backs. He's got juice and so far Pumphrey hasn't shown anything. He ran the ball 26 times this preseason and his longest run was five yards. Heck, Byron Marshall has shown more than Pumphrey. But the Eagles have that fourth-round pick invested in Pumphrey, and Clement was undrafted (see story). It's been 20 years since the Eagles cut a fourth-round pick before his rookie year (Damien Robinson in 1997), and I just don't see it happening this weekend. If the Eagles give up on Pumphrey this fast, it's another draft-day disaster for Howie Roseman. (Then there's the possibility that Pumphrey will wind up on injured reserve with the possible concussion he suffered in the fourth quarter Thursday night. You never want to see anybody get hurt, but if the Eagles could get Pumphrey on IR, they could avoid a difficult decision.)
3. If it were me, and I had assurances that Foles were indeed healthy, I would say goodbye to McGloin so fast. He did finish the preseason with a high completion percentage — but he also committed four turnovers (three interceptions, one fumble) in the equivalent of about 2½ games. I'd rather keep Dane Evans on the practice squad and save a roster spot than have Foles and McGloin both on the 53. McGloin is never going to win games in the NFL. Period. So why even bother? I'd rather keep a promising young defensive lineman, cornerback or wide receiver than have McGloin gumming up a roster spot all year.
4. Here's a guy we haven't talked about a whole lot but I have on my 53-man roster: Elijah Qualls. The rookie sixth-round pick, a 320-pound defensive tackle from Washington, has been active and physical and will add good depth to a loaded position group. That's Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan starting, and Beau Allen, Destiny Vaeao and Qualls adding depth. Not many teams can match that.
5. Another defensive lineman who's been very impressive is Alex McCalister, a 6-6, 240-pounder from Florida that looks like a tight end but is quite an effective pass rusher. McCalister's sack Thursday night gave him 3½ this preseason. McCalister, a seventh-round pick last year, deserves a roster spot, but where do you put him? The Eagles are so loaded at defensive end, with Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Steven Means. In a perfect world, you could cut ties with Curry, who has not only had an unproductive preseason but has just six sacks in his last 34 regular-season games. But Curry is un-cuttable. It would cost $6 million more to release him ($15 million in dead money) than keep him ($9 million cap figure). And that's not happening. The Eagles have to hope they can stash McCalister on the practice squad. The kid sure seems to have some explosiveness and power.
6. It never occurred to me before the Eagles traded Jon Dorenbos, but could Donnie Jones also be in trouble? Jones is 37, the same age as Dorenbos, and Roseman made it clear he wants to get younger across the board. Younger also equalling cheaper against the cap. Jones has been very good and consistent in his four years with the Eagles. He's actually the best punter in franchise history. But Cameron Johnston, like Rick Lovato, has been very good this summer. He got all six punts Thursday night and averaged 46.0 yards with three inside the 20 and a net of 42.2. In the entire preseason, Jones averaged 43.3 with a net of 31.7, and Johnston, an Australian out of Ohio State, averaged 45.1 with a net of 42.7. Jones' strength has always been his ability to drop the ball inside the 20, but Johnston landed three of his six Thursday night inside the 20. If you just look at the stats, Johnston wins this battle.
7. I would be shocked if Marcus Johnson doesn't make the 53. Johnson has just made plays every chance he's gotten. He had only one catch Thursday night — a 41-yard TD from Evans — and finished the preseason 5 for 99 with two TDs. But he was just very consistent in practice, caught the ball well and after spending much of last year on the practice squad, just looked comfortable playing NFL wide receiver.
8. I liked Todd Bowles when he was on Andy Reid's staff in 2012. When he replaced Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator midway through the season, it was an impossible situation, but he handled it as well as anybody could have. I had high hopes when the former Temple Owl became the Jets' head coach in 2015. But what a wreck that franchise is. I don't know what's worse — that the Jets used their opening day starting quarterback in the fourth preseason game or that their opening day starting quarterback is 38-year-old Josh McCown, proud owner of a 2-20 win-loss record over the last three seasons. By the way, try to convince me McCown is a better quarterback than Colin Kaepernick. You can't do it.
9. Beautiful national anthem Thursday night by the Freeport (New York) High School Select Chorale. I’ve heard thousands of anthems before but never heard one where the end of each phrase was sung staccato, similar to much classical music, where musical phrases frequently end with a staccato — or a brief, shortened burst as opposed to a lengthy, sustained note. So, for instance, when they sang, “Dawn’s early light,” the “t” sound at the end of light was extremely brief. I thought they did a fantastic job. The arrangement was unique and the performance was respectful and perfectly sung. So far, my Anthem of the Year.
10. Finally this: If there was ever an argument that the preseason is too long, it's the three hours of garbage we watched Thursday night at MetLife Stadium. The NFL insults all of us forcing these meaningless games played with primarily guys who are going to get cut on us. The owners are making too much money to eliminate two or even one of the four preseason games, but really, nobody is benefiting from these games. They are just awful.