Aug 21, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly high fives quarterback Matt Barkley (2) as he walks off the field during the second half of a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles won 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
It’s easy to understand why. The first game sees the starters play a series or two and reminds us what they all look like after the long offseason. The second game sees them actually playing a little more. The third game is the closest thing to a real game we’ve seen in a while, a real taste of the regular season.
And in the fourth game, the “important” guys rest. There won’t by any starters, and so most of the fans spend their time doing anything other than watching.
But the fourth preseason game can be one of the most intriguing, depending on how a team’s roster is shaping up. For the Philadelphia Eagles, this will be a fascinating one.
Here is a special pre-game Quick Six Observations:
1) Kicker: This is the battle that will be on the forefront. Incumbent kicker Alex Henery didn’t make a great impression with head coach Chip Kelly last season. Still, the Eagles seemed comfortable enough heading into 2014 with Henery that they didn’t do much to bring in a serious training camp challenger.
Then the preseason happened. More short kickoffs. A badly missed 47-yard field goal against the New England Patriots. That was enough for the Eagles to go out and get former Auburn kicker Cody Parkey, and that was before Henery went out last Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers and inexplicably missed a 31-yard try.
Kelly and the Eagles are looking for any reason to cement the decision to send Henery packing. He’ll need to play a perfect game to keep his spot. I expect some strange third-down calls from Kelly when the Eagles are in field goal range to create opportunities for Henery and Parkey kick.
2) Running back: It hasn’t been too hard to read between the lines any time Kelly is talking about running back Chris Polk. The head coach has not been pleased that Polk missed almost the entire preseason.
In his absence, other guys have stepped up in the battle for spots behind LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles. Matthew Tucker has been a force, carrying 18 times for 86 yards and four touchdowns in the preseason. Henry Josey has had fewer chances and has been quite impressive, with 12 carries for 104 yards (not including a long touchdown run called back on a bogus holding penalty against the Steelers).
It’s not like Polk was an entrenched backup to begin with. He was behind Bryce Brown, now of the Buffalo Bills, on the depth chart last season. He carried only 11 times for 98 yards (and three touchdowns). Thursday night against the New York Jets will be huge for him. He has to make up for an entire month in one night while splitting touches with two other guys. Good luck with that.
Sanchez won’t play Thursday night for, in my opinion, three reasons. 1) The Eagles don’t want their backup quarterback exposed to injury; 2) The Eagles don’t want their potential trade-bait exposed to injury; 3) The Eagles don’t want their potential trade-bait exposed, period.
Sanchez has been very, very good, completing 25-of-31 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns. He’s also led a few other scoring drives that ended with Tucker running into the end zone.
Sanchez is valuable, either as a backup or a trade chip. He’s shown what he can do and the Eagles can only lose by playing him.
The bigger question is with Matt Barkley, who will get a majority of the reps on Thursday. Could Barkley prove himself enough that Kelly and the Eagles feel confident to trade Sanchez? Or on the flip side, could Barkley play himself out of a job? The Eagles could always cut him, or send him (or G.J. Kinne) to the practice squad. Such a move would open a roster spot for a player where the Eagles have much deeper (and more valuable) talent (running back, defensive line, linebacker). As Eliot Shorr-Parks noted in a piece Monday, any game in which quarterback Nick Foles and Sanchez would both go down would be a lost cause anyway.
4) Brandon Graham: What do we say about the fifth-year pro out of Michigan? He’s never quite lived up to the hype and seemed ticketed out of town via trade a few months ago. That never materialized.
Instead, he’s gone from a candidate to be cut to a guy the Eagles need to find a way to keep. The Eagles have just five quarterback sacks in three preseason games. Brandon Graham has two of them.
While far from an every down player, Graham has shown he has value if used in certain situations.
I’m not sure how much Graham plays on Thursday, if at all. He’s probably already done enough to win a job.
5) Defensive line: How many defensive linemen do the Eagles need? I’ve seen roster projections showing they keep eight guys or sometimes seven. That difference is huge, as it might be the place that opens a spot for a player like Josey to stay on the roster.
I’m guessing all of them make the squad, but how they’re used on Thursday will be telling.
6) Special teams: While so much of the focus has been on the struggles of Alex Henery, let’s remember that the Eagles’ special teams in general were weak last season. Kickoff coverage was poor. Kick and punt returns were nearly nonexistent.
The way a lot of these fringe guys make the roster is by proving their worth on special teams. This is where people like Casey Matthews find a way to hang on for another year.
I’ll be looking for some significant improvement on these units Thursday night. The guys out there are playing for their NFL lives. There should be nothing but excellence in this facet of the game.
What are you looking for on Thursday night in the preseason finale? Comment below.