Eagles

Eagles

BOX SCORE

Some impressive stuff, mainly from the defense. Some disappointing stuff, mainly from the offense. And the impressive Eagles debut of Ronald Darby.
 
In a game marred by 29 flags (13 on the Bills, nine on the Eagles, two off-setting, five declined), the Eagles beat the Bills, 20-16, Thursday night at the Linc in their second preseason game (see Instant Replay).
 
Here are my 10 observations off an ugly game in which its greatest attribute is that it got us one day closer to opening day.
 
1. The most encouraging thing I saw Thursday night was Darby. He looked good the last few days in practice, but he was all over the place against his former team. First, he lunged to knock away a Tyrod Taylor pass intended for Anquan Boldin on a 2nd-and-10 deep in Bills territory on Buffalo's first drive. And then, late in the first quarter, he picked off Taylor, once again trying to connect with Boldin. The INT itself was impressive but his 48-yard return showed tremendous speed and even a few cutbacks. This is precisely what the Eagles need from their newest young cornerback, and it was great to see after just three practices in an Eagles uniform he was comfortable enough to make those sort of plays. I'm sure it doesn't hurt that he knows Taylor and Boldin — they were all teammates a week ago — but that's OK. These were big plays, and the Eagles desperately need big plays from the cornerback spot. This is why he's here.
 
2. I'm starting to get just a little bit concerned with LeGarrette Blount. Just looks a little slow to the hole to me. Now, Blount is a veteran and has played a ton of football and could be one of those guys who really knows how to turn it on once the regular season begins. But he's looked a step slow to the hole at practice, he was an unproductive 4 for 9 in Green Bay last week, and he ran five times for eight yards Thursday. I'm not crazy about the way he was used Thursday night — all those stretch runs don't seem to play to his strength, and he's never been real comfortable in the passing game, and we saw that when he fumbled after a short reception. Sum total for Blount after two preseason games is 9 for 17 rushing and 2 for 15 receiving with a fumble. Not panic time, but you'd sure like to see some positive stuff from Blount next week when the first offense will play into the third quarter against the Dolphins.
 
3. Blount's lack of production really puts the spotlight on just how unsettled this running back situation is. Wendell Smallwood has been hurt and has yet to play in the preseason, Donnel Pumphrey has yet to show any signs of the player he was in college (but is a roster lock), Darren Sproles is still explosive but is 34 now and is going to be on a pitch count, and that leaves Corey Clement, the undrafted rookie, who has looked pretty good so far. Clement, who grew up across the river in Glassboro, New Jersey, had a 24-yard run and then a tough six-yard TD run through traffic in the second quarter but still needs to be more consistent running, blocking and catching the ball. I wouldn't be surprised if the Eagles add a back at some point, although I'm not sure an upgrade would be available. Right now, Clement is ahead of Smallwood, but those undrafted rookies have to do more than draft picks to stick around. I know one thing. It's not easy to watch the Eagles' scuffling in the running game and then see No. 25 on the other sideline. LeSean McCoy ran four times for 21 yards Thursday night against his former team and had an 11-yard catch. Chip Kelly did a lot of destructive things during his brief term as general manager, but I don't think any of us will ever understand that one.
 
4. Granted, Jason Peters did not play Thursday night, and neither did Halapoulivaati Vaitai. So the Eagles were down to Matt Tobin as their starting right tackle. But this is two straight weeks in which the offensive line has gotten pushed around, and that's concerning. In Green Bay, the first offense scored on its only possession, but that was really thanks to great individual efforts by Carson Wentz and Mack Hollins. The nine other plays it ran generated 19 yards. This time, the offense opened the game with three straight three-and-outs netting five yards, then had a decent drive that ate up 65 yards but ended with a Blount fumble. Wentz finally got into a rhythm on that last drive, hitting four straight passes to Alshon Jeffery for seven yards, Nelson Agholor for nine yards, Jeffery for 14 and Blount for 17, and that was good to see. But overall, the first offense has been sluggish (see story). Doug Pederson said during the week the ones would play only one or two series, but they were so bad he sent them out there for four. I don't worry about Wentz. I do worry about this offensive line. I need to see them push people around instead of getting pushed around.
 
5. How about Mychal Kendricks coming to life? Kendricks had an interception last week in Green Bay and contributed a sack, interception, pass deflection and two tackles Thursday night. Kendricks didn't play much last year, but once upon a time, this was the playmaking linebacker the Eagles had in mind when they made him a second-round pick. Kendricks averaged only 18 snaps last year and hasn't really been a force for a few years, but he looks good right now. Maybe the Eagles will finally find a team willing to trade for Kendricks based on the way he's been playing. Or who knows. Maybe he can actually contribute this year. If he does, it'll be a real bonus for a defense that looks stacked right now.
 
6. Let's talk defense. There's a lot to like about the product we're seeing from this first group right now (see Grading the Win). They're playing physical, they're making plays, they're creating turnovers and they're getting pressure. Now, the Bills don't really have a high-powered offense, and Aaron Rodgers didn't play last week, but I like what I've seen so far from this group. With corner upgraded, there's no apparent weakness in this unit. They're loaded up front, solid at linebacker with a stud in the middle, loaded at safety and improving at corner. I'll be shocked if this isn't a top-10 defense this year. Can't wait to see it play when it's actually game-planning for the other team.
 
7. With Bryce Treggs out with leg soreness, Thursday night was a tremendous opportunity for Marcus Johnson to state his case for the No. 5 wide receiver spot behind Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Agholor and Hollins. Johnson has been consistent catching the football at practice but didn't catch a ball in Green Bay. Thursday night, he showed up with two catches, including a 38-yarder from Matt McGloin in the second quarter. Treggs had a big game last week but I like Johnson. Treggs has tremendous speed and has improved over last year, but I just think Johnson has a superior all-around game. Interesting that if the Eagles keep Jeffery, Smith, Agholor, Hollins and Johnson, Agholor will be the only receiver on the team who was on last year's opening day roster.
 
8. Not sure what else I can say about McGloin. He's awful. He's just bringing nothing to the table. This is a guy who has started games in the NFL now out there facing second- and third-stringers and he still can't put anything together. I've seen enough. Pederson always talks about keeping a developmental quarterback around, and Dane Evans has shown enough to warrant at least a spot on the practice squad. Evans did throw an interception Thursday night, but it was a ball that David Watford should have caught. He also drove the Eagles down the field for the winning touchdown with three minutes left. He's got some juice about him. Nick Foles didn't play Thursday night but said earlier this week he's healthy and will play against the Dolphins. You don't need Foles and McGloin. So cut McGloin, save a roster spot and keep Evans on the practice squad. I don't want to see McGloin ever throw another pass.
 
9. Two games in and Smith doesn't have a catch. I'm not sure that's cause for alarm, but with Jordan Matthews gone, the Eagles are certainly relying heavily on Smith to be a big part of the offense. Smith has looked fine at practice, but you'd like to see him and Wentz build up some sort of chemistry. Smith's numbers have gone down every year since 2013 — 65 catches to 49 to 33 to 20 — and some of that has to be the situations he was in, especially in San Francisco. But honestly, I don't know what kind of player Smith is at this point in his career. He's looked good in practice, but that's practice. He's made zero impact in the first two preseason games, and I'd like to see him with the ball in his hands a little bit next week against the Dolphins.
 
10. Greg Ward is such an intriguing guy. He's the former Houston quarterback — he even beat Florida State in a bowl game — who is now converting to wide receiver. And for a guy who played QB last year, he sure looks smooth and comfortable out there. Tremendous athlete, and we got a glimpse of it on a 29-yard catch and run from Evans in the fourth quarter. Last year, Ward would have been one of the Eagles' better wide receivers. This year, with the upgrades they've made, he's probably earmarked for the practice squad. But he's a guy to keep an eye on. Give him another year to really learn the position, and I can see Ward playing on Sundays.