The Eagles have steamrolled over their first 3 preseason opponents by outscoring them a total of 115 – 53. There have been big plays from the offense, defense and special teams. They look like a team with years of cohesion rather than one that projects 9 new starting players and several different backups and role players.
How can you not be excited after watching this team play so far this preseason? Well, you’ve probably heard these 3 words countless times over the past week or two…
“It’s just preseason.”
I’ve used those words myself as a way to keep things in perspective so as to not get too excited only to be punched in the face once the games start counting.
So, how excited should we be about this Eagles team? The answer to that, of course, will vary from person to person. However, based on how they’ve looked to this point — and yes, it’s only preseason — they officially have me at the “cautiously optimistic” level of excitement.
Sam Bradford has looked outstanding and was especially razor sharp against Green Bay. He’s taken some hits and gotten back up. He’s shown great accuracy, touch and zip on his passes. He’s led the team to touchdowns on all four series he’s played in the preseason.
As much as I was dumbfounded back in March when Chip Kelly traded for Bradford, if he performs this season at the level he’s shown so far in this offense the Eagles will have gotten an absolute steal in that trade.
The one-two punch of DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews looks like a deadly combination that will keep the chains moving all season. Sprinkle in some Darren Sproles and there is no question that the Eagles have the best running back trio in the league.
Jordan Matthews looks spectacular and appears poised to elevate himself into the elite tier of WRs this year. Nelson Agholor has shown promise and big play ability with the ball in his hands.
With Brent Celek still capable, Trey Burton showing he deserves some meaningful playing time this year and upon Zach Ertz’s return, the TE group will provide no shortage of playmakers.
The starting OL has been solid thus far as well. Allen Barbre appears to at least be on Evan Mathis’ level and Andrew Gardner has solidified himself at RG. The depth is still questionable so let’s hope it doesn’t need to be tested this year.
In general, the offense looks like a machine. With Bradford running the show, this offense could put up historic numbers this season.
On the defensive side, the line once again looks stout. They ended last season ranked 15th against the rush and I look for them to improve upon that. The pass rush hasn’t quite been there yet after finishing 2014 with the second-most sack in the league (49), but I suspect that will get going once a few players settle in (Curry, Alonso, Kendricks).
The most disappointing thing about this preseason has been that the starting ILBs haven’t gotten much playing time. Alonso hasn’t played at all and Ryans and Kendricks finally played a little against the Packers.
After trading for Alonso, I’ve been long awaiting to see him play. I’m excited about him, but slightly nervous as well since he hasn’t been able to get on the field for one reason or another this preseason.
The biggest question mark of the defense — the Secondary — has been up and down so far. In a sense, they’ve played like last year’s group in that they’ll make some big plays (INTs, pick-6, forced fumbles, etc) but they’ll also give up some plays.
Green Bay’s rookie QB Brett Hundley actually looked impressive against the Eagles’ starters. Not sure if that’s a compliment to Hundley or an indictment of the Eagles’ defense (Secondary in particular).
The Special Teams have picked up where they left off last year. Chip Kelly has made this area of the team a priority since he’s been here and it has paid off handsomely.
All of this is why I’m mostly optimistic. But, here’s why I’m cautious…
It’s just preseason!
And what that means is that teams do not game plan. Everything is vanilla for the most part. Defenses aren’t devising ways to stop Bradford and Co. and offenses aren’t devising ways to exploit weaknesses in the defense.
Bradford has only played four series against vanilla defenses. He still has to prove he can stay healthy not only for a full game, but for a full season. He also has to prove he can be effective once defenses start game planning for him and dial-up the pressure.
The last part there applies to the offensive line as well. The Eagles are set at LT, C and RT but the Guard spots still have question marks until they prove otherwise. I’m sure we will see defensive coordinators test them early in the season by designing ways to confuse and/or flood them with stunts and blitzers.
Remember the hit Bradford took against Baltimore? Not the Suggs cheap shot…the one where he was caught standing like a statue and took a big hit that caused him to get up a little slow while obviously wincing?
If he takes too many of those, he won’t last.
The depth at OLB also has me a little concerned. Marcus Smith had some folks excited because he actually made a play or 2 in the first preseason game, but once again got injured and has been sidelined since.
There are some beat writers actually questioning whether or not he’ll even make the roster. I don’t think they’ll cut ties with last year’s first round pick already, but Smith is a guy that must take a step forward this year.
Vinny Curry is making the transition to OLB this year as well. He played his first season with the Eages as a 4-3 DE. When Chip took over, they decided to convert him to a 3-4 DE and now he’s converting to OLB.
That’s a lot of change for him because each of those positions have different responsibilities. However, he is a good pass rusher so he won’t be asked to drop much in coverage and instead focus on setting the edge and rushing the passer.
He has shown some promise so far, but much remains to be seen from this. After him, things get much more bleak at this position (if it wasn’t bleak already).
Bryan Braman seems much better suited as the designated crazy special teamer, Diaheem Watkins is a raw UDFA and while Brad Jones has experience at this position, he’s better suited as a backup ILB.
The Secondary still has an unanswered question at the slot CB position. They’ve been mixing and matching different players there so far without much noticeable luck. The Eagles traded away the guy who would have had this position locked down and then the apparent replacement (JaCorey Shepherd) suffered a season-ending injury.
Big question at this spot that could lead to break downs in coverage.
Also, I’m still not 100% sold on Nolan Carroll as being much of an improvement over Bradley Fletcher. Remember, Bill Davis kept starting a struggling Fletcher over Carroll all of last season until the final game.
Sure, Carroll received all kinds of accolades from coaches and teammates about how he prepared himself for this season, but that doesn’t mean it will translate to the field. The jury is out on him for now.
If there’s a ray of hope for the Secondary, it’s the new coach, Cory Undlin. He has proven capable of getting the most out of players and making average ones look good. Let’s hope he works his magic this year.
Ultimately, this team is not perfect. But, they’ve looked good so far. Do they look like Super Bowl contenders? Based on the starters’ play through 3 preseason games that answer would be a simple yes.
But remember, it’s just preseason.
There’s reason to be optimistic, but also reason to temper that optimism until the games start counting.