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Eagles preseason stock report, Week 3: Wendell Smallwood up, Derek Barnett down

Eagles preseason stock report, Week 3: Wendell Smallwood up, Derek Barnett down

After giving up a completion of 72 yards and getting penalized 42 yards for pass interference, Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby chalked up his performance versus the Dolphins as “just one of those nights.” Given the circumstances, and given Darby’s stellar debut, he’s earned a pass – this time.

On both of the aforementioned plays, Darby was in position. The issue was finishing. The 5-foot-11 cornerback was simply outleapt by 6-3 Dolphins wide receivers DeVante Parker on the 72-yard catch-and-run – though Darby admits he should’ve used the sideline as a 12th man to prevent the catch. Darby then showed tremendous recovery speed after biting on a double move, but was overly aggressive with the ball in the air and made early contact with the intended target.

Yet, those arguably weren’t the most concerning moments of Darby’s night. Those plays were there to be made. However, Darby also missed a tackle on running back Jay Ajayi, got turned inside out on a 17-yard route by receiver Jarvis Landry, and was involved in some confusion on an easy touchdown to tight end Julius Thomas.

It wasn’t all bad. Darby was in on a tackle where Ajayi was stuffed for no gain, and broke up a pass intended for the back as well. Clearly, though, the third-year corner is a work in progress.

That’s to be expected, seeing as he’s been a member of the Eagles for all of two weeks. He’s learning a new scheme, and the coaches are making some adjustments with technique. And it’s not as if Darby’s athleticism and playmaking ability has not been on display. It’s simply too soon to say his stock has fallen after one rough preseason game – even though Thursday certainly qualified as “one of those nights.”

STOCK UP

Wendell Smallwood
Four rushes for 28 yards is an excellent 2017 debut for Smallwood. He hit the hole hard, showed nice burst, and created something from nothing for his longest gain of the night, slipping a tackle to rumble for 10. Smallwood caved in pass protection once, his lone knock. Yet, perhaps the most promising sign of all is the fact the second-year running back split first-team reps with LeGarrette Blount. Smallwood doesn’t appear to be competing for a roster spot – he’s going to see a lot of action this season.

Torrey Smith
Believe it or not, there was an odd sort of clamoring to see what Smith could do after going without a target in the first two exhibition games. So, the seventh-year wideout reminded everybody, racing through a broken coverage to haul in a 50-yard touchdown pass. Smith still has blazing speed, if nothing else, and that’s why the Eagles signed him. Now, that’s a wrap on the preseason.

Jaylen Watkins
In the grand scheme, Watkins’ interception wasn’t all that impressive. In fact, the pass was terrible. The 50-yard runback certainly was stellar, but the pick was as easy as they come. Yet, the truly beneficial aspect for Watkins is he’s getting the opportunity to play cornerback in the first place. Watkins served as the Eagles’ third safety last season, but there’s a logjam back there with Corey Graham and Terrence Brooks in the mix. Versatility and frankly anything else Watkins can get on tape increases his odds of sticking. Just a thought after his interception return – can he return kicks?

Elijah Qualls
A last second roster push from Qualls, the seventh-round draft pick who’s largely been invisible this summer. Qualls was in on three tackles, and also had a meeting at the quarterback to register a half-sack. The 6-foot-1, 322-pound defensive tackle was in the backfield quite a bit more than the statistics would indicate, too. If Beau Allen begins the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, it could come down to Qualls and Justin Hamilton for a roster spot.

Joe Walker and Don Cherry
Walker and Cherry combined for a big play Thursday. Walker brought the pressure on the quarterback, and Cherry finished with the interception and 42-yard return. It was Cherry’s second turnover in consecutive games, forcing a fumble one week earlier against the Bills. Walker added a tackle for loss, reading a screen and blowing it up in the backfield. With Kamu Grugier-Hill showing up on special teams, the Eagles have difficult decisions to make concerning the depth at at linebacker.

STOCK DOWN

Derek Barnett
Time to pump the brakes just a little bit on Barnett’s claim to a starting job. The 12th-overall draft pick got his opportunity with the first-team defense on Thursday, though maybe you didn’t notice. Barnett failed to crack the box score on 18 defensive snaps, and put only mild pressure on the quarterback, at best. This is not to sound any alarms on Barnett, who figures to play a prominent role this season. However, most of his success at this point has come at the expense of backups.

Lane Johnson
Johnson really prides himself on the way he trained this offseason, steering clear of anything that could cause him to be suspended for PEDs. Unfortunately, he’s been pushed around in pass protection at times this summer. One such pressure led to an interception when Johnson was bull-rushed and the defender – practically in Carson Wentz’s lap – tipped the pass attempt high into the air. The sample size isn’t large enough to draw sweeping conclusions, not to mention he lined up left tackle last week, but Johnson had issues in all three games.

Nick Foles
Foles has yet to play in the preseason, but that’s the problem. It’s not like he really needs it. The sixth-year veteran knows the system. Of course, a backup quarterback is only useful if he’s available, which so far he hasn’t. Matt McGloin’s extended audition in lieu of more snaps hints Foles’ arm injury may be worse than the Eagles are letting on, too. If healthy, Foles is one of the best backups in the NFL. That simply hasn’t been the case this summer.

Life is so much easier with three-point shooting

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Life is so much easier with three-point shooting

Feels like a pretty long time ago that the Sixers were shooting 40 percent from three, one of the league's best marks. The team has now slumped down to 35.7 -- which in past years would still at least be decent on NBA average, but in the sharpshooting days of 2017, leaves the Ballers in the league's bottom third. When things were going right beyond the arc for Philly, they had five regulars shooting over 40 percent themselves. These days, it's down to two: T.J. McConnell, who's only shot 16 triples this season, and Robert Covington.

The Sixers nearly stole their biggest upset win of the season last night in Cleveland, and Covington was one of the biggest reasons why. Aside from playing his typical lockdown D, combining with Ben Simmons to limit LeBron James to 9-23 shooting (LeBron still posted a 30-13-13 triple-double, natch) and picking up four steals in the process, he kept Philly in this one with his shooting, hitting 5 of 7 beyond the arc. But when he dove for a loose ball with the game on the line in the fourth and ended up hurting his back, he headed to the locker room and the game slipped away from Philly -- 105-98 final, in favor of the Cavs. 

Philly better hope he's back soon. After a six-game slump in late November that saw him shoot just 23 percent from deep, Cov has been back on target since the calendar flipped to December, hitting 17 of 36 over the team's four games. Rock is essential to the Sixers' lineup even when he's not hitting, but when he is, he's as dangerous a weapon as anyone on the team -- and with the Sixers in the midst of a three-game slide, and a tough Western Conference mini-swing coming up on the schedule, we need all the munitions we can manage. 

RoCo seems likely out for today's game against the Pelicans, so it'll be on the Sixers' other range-lifers to help provide space Simmons (third triple-double last night against LeBron, NBD) and a returning Joel Embiid. JJ Redick had a bounceback half in Cleveland, finishing 4 of 9 on the night from deep, but the rest of the team struggled, going just 2 of 17 from range between them. (Dario Saric, otherwise sparkling last night, went just 1-6, including a couple late clankers that could've put the game close to out of reach for the Cavs if they'd dropped.) Philly's shot just 31 percent overall from three over their last seven games, and they've lost five of those, despite Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons being mostly brilliant. This team largely goes as their shooting goes. 

So yeah, rest that back up and come back soon, Cov. We're in danger of falling back to .500 with a loss today -- which still feels a funny thing to complain about for a team that hasn't even sniffed .500 this late in the season in a half-decade, but c'mon, the Sixers are good now. Let's not let our record start to reflect otherwise.

Eagles, Rams a mirror image in many ways

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Eagles, Rams a mirror image in many ways

Who would’ve thought the Eagles would be 10-2 and preparing to face a 9-3 Rams squad when the schedule came out in April? Yet, here were are, waiting for an unlikely Week 14 showdown between two of the top teams in the conference.

This is no fluke. The Eagles and Rams both have talented rosters from top to bottom, with ascending, young quarterbacks in the midst of breakout seasons, and outstanding coaching staffs with sharp, fresh minds and time-tested defensive coordinators.

In many ways, these teams are like a mirror image of each other when you begin to compare.

Quarterbacks
The No. 1 and 2 choices in the 2016 NFL draft, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, will be linked — and therefore compared to one another — forever. So far, you’d have to take what's behind Door No. 2. Most of their 2017 stats are comparable, but Wentz has nine more touchdown passes with the same number of interceptions and is a threat to run with the football. Wentz is further along in his development in terms of responsibilities at the line of scrimmage, too. Goff looks legit, and time will tell who is going to be better. Right now, it’s probably Wentz.

Slight advantage: Eagles

Running backs
LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement are great backs. So what does it say that you would trade all of them for Todd Gurley? With 1,502 yards from scrimmage, Gurley ranks second in the NFL behind Pittsburgh's Le’Veon Bell. That’s only 279 yards less than the entire Eagles’ backfield, including Wendell Smallwood and an injured Darren Sproles. There’s a reason Gurley is a rare viable MVP candidate at running back. Who needs three or four backs when one guy can do it all?

Advantage: Rams

Wide receivers and tight ends
The Rams’ leading receiver — Robert Woods with 703 yards — is doubtful to play Sunday with a shoulder injury. Goff still has quality weapons. Sammy Watkins leads the club with six touchdown catches while Cooper Kupp has a team-high 51 receptions playing largely in the slot. Woods has been the most consistent, though. Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor all have at least 40 receptions, 599 yards and seven touchdowns, giving the Eagles one of the most well-rounded receiving corps in the league. The Rams need Woods for there to be any comparison.

Advantage: Eagles

Offensive lines
Halapoulivaati Vaitai has started to struggle a bit at left tackle for the Eagles the past couple weeks, perhaps a sign Jason Peters' replacement is coming back down to earth. But from center Jason Kelce to tackle Lane Johnson, the Eagles still have arguably the best right side in the NFL. Similarly, from tackle Andrew Whitworth to center John Sullivan, the Rams have one of the best left sides after rebuilding in free agency. However, their weak link is right guard Jamon Brown. All things considered, both are strong units.

Even

Defensive linemen and linebackers
Aaron Donald leads all defensive tackles with 8.0 sacks this season, and that’s after missing the first game of the season over a contract dispute. He’s also tied for eighth among all players with 20 quarterback hits. Donald may very well be the most feared pass rusher in the entire NFL, but beyond him, the Rams’ front seven is a little lacking. Look no further than these run defenses. Los Angeles ranks 27th; the Eagles are atop the league. Donald is great, but there is strength in numbers — such as the collective of Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan and Nigel Bradham up the middle.

Mild advantage: Eagles

Cornerbacks and safeties
These are two of the most opportunistic secondaries in the league. The Eagles hold the slightest of edges over the Rams statistically, with 16 interceptions to 14, and a 77.0 opponents’ passer rating against a 77.3. Once again, the difference may come down to injuries, as Rams free safety Lamarcus Joyner is banged up with a shoulder injury. Even if he plays, Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are head and shoulders above John Johnson III and Joyner, while the cornerbacks are comparable.

Slight advantage: Eagles

Special teams
The Rams are the rare opponent who can actually boast better special teams than the Eagles. Greg Zuerlein has been by far the best kicker in the NFL this year, and punter Johnny Hekker has been named to the Pro Bowl in three of the past four seasons. Pharoh Cooper has emerged as one of the league’s top return specialists as well, averaging 12.6 yars on punt returns and 28.7 on kickoff returns with a touchdown. Even their coverage units are superb, limiting opponents to 5.3 yards on punts and 20.9 on kicks.

Advantage: Rams

Coaching
Doug Pederson and Sean McVay are two of the brightest young head coaches in the NFL. It’s not difficult to envision a scenario where these two are meeting in the playoffs for years to come. With such limited résumés, it’s difficult to choose one or the other, so look at their respective staffs. As much credit as Jim Schwartz deserves for turning the Eagles defense around, Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is an all-timer. Phillips has taken a front with only one dominant player in Donald and assembled one of the most disruptive pass rushes in the NFL — almost entirely by his scheme.

Slight advantage: Rams

Overall
One could argue the Eagles might be the better product altogether. Of course, that’s at least partly a result of injuries. The Rams likely won’t have their complete receiving corps or secondary intact Sunday. Otherwise, things might look a little different. Even with the perceived advantages in the Eagles’ favor, the Rams can make up the difference with stellar special teams play and coaching. In other words, the comparison between these two opponents is very, very close, injuries or not. Assuming they can keep their respective teams together, it should make for a fun rivalry for years to come.

Even