Can you believe it, football season is officially here. Players in helmets and pads smashing into other players in helmets and pads with a different logo for the first time this year. The Eagles should be markedly better than last season — with a few glaring concerns we’ll get to — so while there was cautious optimism in Doug Pederson’s first year at the helm, this year could lead to big things.
Or it could be an unmitigated disaster. We have no idea. That’s what the four preseason games are for!
So with that, let’s ask some questions about tonight’s preseason opener. Like, for starters, why are you watching? Or, should we say, why should you be watching? (We’ll skip the ’bad preseason football is better than no football at all,’ but know that it’s a valid argument to anyone who asks why you’re watching a preseason NFL game tonight.)
Carson Wentz and the QBs
Tell me if this is an overstatement. Seriously, let me know, because I’m not trying to sound hyperbolic, but there isn’t a quarterback in the NFL this season with more pressure to perform than Carson Wentz.
Name one, and I’ll give you five reasons why Wentz should feel more pressure. So far in his career, with the lofty expectations that come from being the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft, Wentz has handled the pressure remarkably well. But as his rookie campaign moved along last year, he struggled to perform when games were on the line. So, too, did his offensive line and skill position players. And sometimes even when Wentz did get the job done in the clutch, the defense let him down. This season, with an offensive line that’s regarded as one of the best in football and an upgrade at receiver and running back, the Eagles have put the success of the offense, and thus, the entire team, squarely on his shoulders.
Tonight, he has his first chance to show he’s improved his footwork, his field vision and his decision making. Wentz has a chance, albeit in limited time, to show he’s reworked his mechanics that left balls sailing last year. And Wentz has a chance to show he can avoid getting hit, something he’ll need to do if he expects to stay healthy all season.
Wentz took some bad hits toward the end of last season, one so bad we wrote at the time the Eagles were best served sitting him for the rest of the year. To expect him to stay on the field every snap of every game this year is foolish, and it’s part of the reason why the franchise re-signed Nick Foles as his backup. Only, Foles is hurt too, and Pederson said this week he’s more focused on getting Foles ready for the season than playing in otherwise meaningless preseason games. Which means Eagles fans are gearing up for a heaping serving of McGloin.
Matt McGloin should see a ton of reps tonight. How he fares may not mean much given Foles is already the second-stringer. But this is still important for McGloin, if for nothing else to create a little trade value if another quarterback gets hurt. Or, to be ready if and when Wentz goes down.
Doug Pederson Year 2
If Wentz has a lot to prove this season, Pederson may be the one guy with more. His first season was meh, as the team finished 7-9 after winning in Week 17 to avoid a double-digit loss season. But that win came against a Dallas team that was resting all its stars. Of the nine losses, seven were by one score, and the team’s lack of success in the red zone, a big part of those losses, has been well documented.
Pederson would be the first to admit he made some mistakes in his first year, and tonight is the first opportunity to see what he’s learned from an offseason of self criticism and reflection. He sounds more confident this season. He seems to have a better handle on his roster than at this time last year (remember, Sam Bradford was the starting quarterback until the week leading into Game 1). But if the Eagles struggle on offense this season, people will start to wonder if Pederson should be calling the plays. If the entire team struggles, people will start to wonder how long he’s got.
For tonight, though, the stakes are much lower. What fans should look for tonight is simple: How much play-action will the Eagles run, and how many times will the team line up in four receiver sets? Both questions could tell a lot about future personnel groupings.