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.
Eagles offense vs. Nitro
Yes, the Packers defense has a nickname. No, it won’t make them any better.
Nitro is ostensibly a nickel defense with the middle linebacker replaced by an extra safety. So whether it’s Wentz or McGloin or rookie Dane Evans, the fourth QB on the preseason roster, they’ll have to try to pick apart a defense built more for speed than strength.
Will the Eagles’ new offensive weapon play? Tune in to find out! Or, read what the Eagles website has to say about it.
Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is “healthy enough to play in the game,” according to Pederson. Jeffery suffered a shoulder injury earlier in Training Camp and has been limited in practice. The head coach’s main goal is getting Jeffery ready for the regular-season opener on September 10 in Washington, so the Pro Bowl wideout may not be in action versus Green Bay. Pederson is not concerned about the chemistry between Jeffery and Wentz, saying that the two started working on it back in March after the wide receiver signed and have built a strong rapport since then.
That reads a lot like a guy who will be in pads on the sideline the entire game but won’t play a down. Prepare for a lot of cuts to show him on TV, not playing.
Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews
This has become one of the most interesting training camp battles in the entire NFL. As we discussed earlier this week, Nelson Agholor (pictured above) is working his way up to being a starter in the slot this season. But Jordan Matthews was the slot guy last year, and has been the Eagles’ most productive wide receiver since his rookie campaign. Is he expendable? Is Agholor actually trustworthy when the lights are on?
This game is just a preseason game, but it’s in primetime at Lambeau Field. Seeing how Agholor plays when it counts — even if it doesn’t really count yet — will be the thing to watch.
With Jeffery hampered by injuries his entire career (and already this preseason) it’s impossible to think the Eagles would even consider dealing Matthews during camp. But if Agholor plays well, you can sure bet that’s the big topic on sports talk radio tomorrow.
My favorite line to write is: The Eagles secondary is a primary concern. It’s funny because it’s true. Which I guess doesn’t make it very funny at all. It’s a problem, so much that the team has tried to find help anywhere they can.
The Eagles have eight cornerbacks currently in camp to go along with seven safeties. That number doesn’t include first-round pick Sidney Jones. According to the team’s first depth chart, the safeties are Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, with cornerbacks Jalen Mills (pictured above) and Patrick Robinson. Backups at corner are Rasul Douglas, who is still raw, and Ron Brooks, who is just coming back from injury. “Ron is looking really good in practices,” Pederson said. “I’m excited to watch him play in the next couple of games.”
If he can defend, coach, so are we.
C.J. Smith had some nice buzz going this week in camp, so he might get some significant time at corner as well. Corey Graham and Terrence Brooks are listed as the primary backups at safety, ahead of Jaylen Watkins and Tre Sullivan.
Malcolm Jenkins national anthem watch
Jenkins will likely get more attention for what he does during the anthem than whatever he does on the field. As of earlier this week, he was still unsure if he’d do the same ‘fist up’ protest he did last year.
“I woke up this morning like, ‘Man, I think I gotta think about it,'” Jenkins said on Tuesday. All eyes will be on him either way, so if he chooses not to protest, he’ll still get his point across.
Which beat writer will crack first?
It’s a long year, but this is the early-season favorite, whether he was joking or not.
Where can you watch and/or listen to this preseason football fest?
Eagles vs. Packers starts at 8 p.m. ET and will be televised on NBC10. Former Phillies announcer and NFL Films voice Scott Graham and NFL Network’s Mike Mayock will be on the call, with Eagles in-house announcer Dave Spadaro on the sidelines. Merrill Reese and Mike Quick will be on the radio broadcast on 94 WIP.
I’ll be on Twitter, so feel free to follow along there. That is, until about halftime when all the third-stringers go in and I totally shut the game off to get some sleep. Don’t judge, it’s only the first preseason game. Not everyone can be in regular season form yet.