Well…that didn’t go as planned. After a week of joint practices that had reporters absolutely gushing about the Philadelphia Eagles and their potential, they go out and get absolutely eviscerated by the New England Patriots, 35-0, in their second preseason game. Of course, Jalen Hurts (who, if he wasn’t the surefire starting QB before absolutely is now) was a late scratch, which seemed to throw the Eagles into a bit of chaos. Still, the Eagles have played one solid half of football and six really bad quarters. It’s not the most concerning thing, as most of the starters didn’t play, but it’s revealed some real problems.
The Eagles Defense Has No Depth
The Philadelphia Eagles defense has been atrocious these last six quarters. The defensive line, which is a strength, has not seen its starters play much at all. Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and Josh Sweat are all really good, and the backup unit will probably look better as rotational guys. That being said, the backups were pretty bad, with PFF crediting them with a low 18.8 pressure rate.
It’s been two games in a row now that the opposing team has been able to do basically anything they wanted. Just like Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins shredded this unit last week, Mac Jones and Cam Newton did the same. They combined for 249 yards passing with a 75% completion rate. These guys are nowhere near the class of the NFL, and that is concerning. It’s the same story with the running game. The Pittsburgh Steelers ran rampant in the second half with guys that might not even make the team, and the Patriots did as well. J.J. Taylor and Rhamondre Stevenson combined for 156 yards and three touchdowns.
Alex Singleton, who should be a starting linebacker, was pretty much the lone bright spot on defense. The zone coverage scheme the secondary was running got picked apart, and the defensive line got no sacks. Overall, it was another bad performance, and it’s increasingly clear that if any starters miss time on this defense it’s going to be a disaster.
Nick Mullens Needs to Go
Look, I don’t expect the third-string QB to do much, or even be good. Still, there’s a large gap between not bad and completely terrible, and Mullens has fully crossed that gap. Over two games, against other teams’ backups mind you, Mullens has gone for 6/15 for 31 TOTAL yards and three interceptions. He’s also taken four sacks. In this latest preseason game, he passed for 27 yards and lost 22 from sacks, a truly remarkable feat in its terribleness. Again, a third-string QB doesn’t have to be good, but more than half the time Mullens touches the ball something bad happens. That’s untenable, and the Philadelphia Eagles should be looking for a different third QB.
Joe Flacco wasn’t very good either, but he looked competent enough in Week 1 and is a veteran at least. Mullens doesn’t even offer leadership or the veteran presence that Flacco theoretically could, and he’s clearly not going to develop anything here.
Third Down is a Problem
Like I highlighted last week, the Philadelphia Eagles continue to struggle on third down. They converted just 2/10, and they let the Patriots convert 5/9. Honestly, the fact that the Patriots only had nine attempts, considering how much of the ball they had, is a bad look for the defense in and of itself. But the few times they got the Patriots to third down, the Birds didn’t make it very hard for them to convert. On the flip side, 2/10 conversions aren’t going to get anything done on the offensive side either. The average distance for the third down conversions was much longer in this preseason game compared to the last one, with multiple seven yards or more, but that’s also not a good look.
Eagles Offensive Rookies Were Inconsistent
It was DeVonta Smith’s highly-anticipated debut for Philly, and it was fine. On one hand, Smith got clear separation a bunch of times, which is a great sign that his advanced release package will transfer well from college to the NFL. In all honesty, being able to get open and get separation is the number one skill for receivers to have (Antonio Brown is the poster boy for this) and Smith seems to have it.
On the other hand, his hands left a bit to be desired. Smith had just two catches on four (technically five, as one was called back from a penalty) targets, and all five were catchable. Were they easy catches? No, and I would go as far as to say they were pretty terrible passes by Flacco. The best receivers though, the true number ones which is what DeVonta Smith is supposed to be, make some of those catches at least. There’s no reason to be overly concerned (Smith is just a month or so into his career), but it’s there. I’m probably being too harsh, and Smith’s separation looks elite already, which makes Smith’s future incredibly bright.
Secondly, one guy I’ve been banging the drum on is Kenneth Gainwell, and he had another solid performance. He’s really coming into his own as a dual-threat running back, rushing and receiving in equal parts. He converted one of the two third downs the Eagles made all night and had a couple of chunk gains. The Eagles have a million running backs, but Gainwell’s versatility should help him stick. Unfortunately, with Miles Sanders the starter, Boston Scott the normal change of pace guy and Jordan Howard the trusted vet, that probably leaves room for just one guy. Elijah Holyfield got some game time and played well, and Kerryon Johnson played last week (and was released a few days ago) but my money is on Gainwell to win that last spot.
How Worried Should You Be?
The Philadelphia Eagles have now lost both preseason games, and haven’t scored in six straight quarters of game time. The starters, especially Jalen Hurts, haven’t played much, so it’s not like the sky is falling. Some pieces here or there look alright as well. That being said, it’s clear the depth on this team is razor-thin. With the Eagles’ injury history, the majority of the starters making it through the season isn’t a guarantee, and if they go down it will spell disaster. Honestly, that’s not the worst thing in the world, as the Eagles aren’t likely to compete this year anyways. The main goal this year is to see what you have in the young guns and maybe compete in a historically bad division.
There’s no need to push the panic button yet, but it will be nice to see Hurts and the offense take at least a few drives in the third preseason game, which is traditionally the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. So far, the guys that I’ve really wanted to see like Hurts, Smith and Gainwell have played pretty well in the very limited touches they’ve had, and I expected the defense to struggle this year. To me at least, that means I’m not concerned at all. However, the preseason finale might have us all singing a different tune, if things go bad.