After a pair of joint practices down in Philadelphia, the New England Patriots are set to square off against the Eagles for the club’s second preseason matchup Thursday. Before the two teams’ kickoff at 7:30pm EST, we sat down with our friend Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation to preview the matchup.
Q: How long will the Eagles’ starters last in Thursday’s matchup?
A: Last week, the Eagles’ offensive starters got two drives while the defense only saw one series. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a similarly conservative approach this week. Especially after the starters already faced off a good deal doing joint training camp practices.
Q: What players have stood out so far throughout training camp and preseason?
A: Quez Watkins has been one of the biggest stars of camp. The 2020 sixth-round pick really caught everyone’s attention last week with a 79-yard touchdown. He actually logged the fastest speed (per NFL Next Gen Stats) in the league from last week’s games on that play. Watkins feasibly could’ve had a 98-yard touchdown if a Jalen Hurts deep throw wasn’t off target. Even beyond those two plays, Watkins has been great in practice. He’s won in a variety of ways: route-routing, contested catches, downfield speed. So, don’t be surprised if No. 16 gives the Pats some issues on Thursday night.
On defense, watch out for Josh Sweat. With Derek Barnett out, No. 94 might play a little more than he was originally going to. And he could very well show up with a sack in those limited snaps. Sweat has been a constant terror throughout camp. Just living in the backfield.
Q: Does Jalen Hurts look to be the short and long-term answer at quarterback for the Eagles?
A: Hurts is locked in as the Eagles’ short-term answer. The team hasn’t officially handed him that label but it’s clear he’s the guy when he’s taking the entirety of first team reps. Joe Flacco isn’t playing over him. And even if the Eagles suddenly swung a trade for Deshaun Watson, which isn’t looking likely in the near future, he’s subject to suspension anyway. So, yeah, Hurts is the guy for right now.
It very much remains to be seen if Hurts is the long-term answer. Hurts flashed some potential down the stretch in 2020 but the bad outweighed the good. Hurts has mostly been up-and-down in training camp, though he’s currently experiencing his best stretch of the summer. Can he build on that and carry over his success to the regular season?
I wouldn’t rule it out. He’s certainly a mobile threat. And while there have been issues with his repetitive accuracy and arm strength, he is quite capable of throwing with nice touch. He’s been especially good on deep throws.
But Hurts has a relatively high bar to clear for the Eagles not to replace him. The feeling here is that if he leaves ANY doubt he’s the franchise quarterback, the Eagles will look to use their three potential first-round picks to trade for a star quarterback (Watson? Russell Wilson? Aaron Rodgers!? Someone else?) Or trade up for their new guy in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Ideally, Hurts will look either really good (preferable!) or really bad this year. That’ll give the team a clear cut decision to keep him or move on. The most likely outcome, though, is probably somewhere in-between. And naturally there will be a big debate about what the Eagles should do with Hurts next offseason.
Q: Has there been any noticeable schematic differences throughout training camp and preseason under new head coach Nick Sirianni?
A: Can’t say I’ve specifically noticed a bunch of new offensive wrinkles. We’re still seeing a good deal of 12 personnel with Zach Ertz still not yet traded (to Bill Belichick’s chagrin). For what it’s worth, Sirianni has talked about not wanting to give too much away since he feels like he has a competitive advantage with people not knowing what he has planed.
Defensively, though? That’s a different story. The Eagles are using a lot of different looks on that side of the ball. Jonathan Gannon has talked about wanting to be multiple and those haven’t been empty words. Whereas the Eagles ran a traditional 4-3 under Jim Schwartz, Gannon has the Eagles running some odd numbered fronts.
Q: Will the Eagles be better or worse than last season? How will they fair in the NFC and within their division?
A: It’s hard to get too much worse than 4-11-1. It’s possible, for sure. But I don’t think it’s the likely scenario for this group. The vibes seem to be good right now. Young players are showing potential. The coaching staff could very well prove to be an upgrade.
I still don’t think the Eagles are Super Bowl contenders by any means. I originally went with 8-9 as my record prediction for them when the 2021 NFL schedule came out. But that felt optimistic to me. Now I feel like it’s more attainable than I previously thought.
Finishing below .500 obviously won’t be good enough for them to make the playoffs. That is, unless the division is as downright dreadful as it was last year, which I don’t think it will be. I see the Football Team and the Cowboys finishing in the first two spots. I’ll say the Eagles finish third, right above the New York Football Giants.
Q: Thursday score prediction?
A: If last week was any indication, the Eagles’ third string defense is reaallllllly bad. The Patriots might have their way with that unit. Also, the Eagles’ kicker is injured, so I’m not even sure if he’ll be playing. Let’s just say the Eagles get out to an early lead but the backups cough it up again for a New England win, 23 to 14.