The Eagles finished off their 2018 preseason in spectacular fashion last night, defeating the New York Jets, 10-9, in an absolute thriller of a game.
Despite the uninspiring performance the team put forth for much of the preseason, the Eagles are still entering the regular season ready to defend their Super Bowl title with one of the most talented rosters in the NFL and a savvy head coach to boot. With just 7 days until their first game of the season, here are my final thoughts on what amounted to an uneven preseason:
Super Bowl Hangover
The Eagles took down their Super Bowl banners today as a motivational tool to help avoid complacency, which seems to have plagued some of the younger players on the roster. Guys like Rasul Douglas and Halapoulivaati Vaitai have taken a step back this year after being solid contributors in 2017.
The veteran half of the roster will also be feeling the effects of playing a 19-game schedule last year. Not only do they have Brandon Graham, Darren Sproles, Jason Peters, Alshon Jeffery and Carson Wentz all coming back from major injuries, but it seems like the team really mailed it in during the preseason, content to work out the kinks on the practice field or during the early part of the regular season.
After playing the Falcons next week, the Eagles’ schedule gets a bit easier with games against the Buccaneers and Colts, so it’s still possible to win these early games despite not being in midseason form.
It seems like the Eagles strategy heading into 2018 is to have the team intact when the playoffs roll around, early-season results be damned. Instead of killing themselves to rush out to a quick start like last season, the team could stumble early, but they’re fine trading home-field advantage for a healthy roster.
Mailata: Australian for left tackle
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the offseason has been the emergence of Jordan Mailata, who has gone from never playing football to holding his own against NFL competition over the course of just a few short months. Mailata seemed like a longshot to even stick in the NFL when the Eagles used a seventh-round pick on him in April, but the Australian has proved to be a quick study and it seems like he’ll make the 53-man roster tomorrow.
However, despite all his success and seemingly limitless potential, Mailata has a long way to go until the Eagles will feel comfortable letting him protect Wentz’s blindside. There’s a big difference between playing in the second half of preseason games against guys who will be substitute teachers and personal trainers in the next couple week and lining up against Khalil Mack and other Pro Bowlers on a weekly basis.
Mailata may very well be the Eagles left tackle of the future and he seems to be on track to be so much more. But let’s pump the brakes a little bit and push back his Hall of Fame induction.
Depth Chart Musings
Arguably the deepest position on the offensive side of the Eagles depth chart is running back. In addition to returning Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement; Darren Sproles has worked his way back from injury and the trio of Wendell Smallwood, Josh Adams and Donnell Pumphrey are vying for one lone spot at the bottom of the roster.
Ajayi was very effective in his limited role last season and with his injury history, having talented back behind him will be crucial to keeping him fresh through December and into the postseason. Going into the regular season, I would still expect Ajayi to grow into the role LaGarrette Blount filled for the early part of last season. Ajayi will be called upon to get tough yards, while Sproles and Clement get most of the playing time on passing downs.
On the flip side, the Eagles seem to be lacking depth at tight end and defensive tackle, two positions of strength a year ago. Starting with defensive tackle, the Birds lost two of their top-three DTs this offseason; Beau Allen went to Tampa Bay in free agency and Tim Jernigan will miss most, if not all, of 2018 with a back injury he suffered in May.
Fletcher Cox has looked like a man possessed in the limited action he’s seen in the preseason, but he’ll be lining up next to some combination of Destiny Vaeao and Haloti Ngata on most downs, which will allow most teams to focus the majority of their interior blocking on the perennial Pro Bowler. However, with Michael Bennett now in the fold, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Eagles go to their pass-rushing package more often and flex a defensive end like Bennett or Brandon Graham inside to free up Cox.
As for tight end, the Eagles lost both Brent Celek and Trey Burton this offseason and acquired Dallas Goeddert in the second round of the draft. While the pairing of Goeddert and Zach Ertz is tantalizing, the former is a rookie from a 1-AA school and the latter hasn’t played a full 16 games since 2014.
To put it bluntly, the Eagles are one snap away from Richard Rodgers or Billy Brown getting significant snaps. That’s not an ideal scenario for a team with a potential question mark at quarterback.