Philadelphia vs NY Jets: Eagles Preseason Week 4 Game Preview

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Philadelphia vs NY Jets: Eagles Preseason Week 4 Game Preview
Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

For the second straight week, the Philadelphia Eagles play a Thursday night game, this time hosting the New York Jets. This marks the return of Michael Vick to Philadelphia, and with Geno Smith expected to be the team’s starter for 2014, Vick will be starting this game as the second quarterback on the depth chart.

The Eagles will mostly be using this as a final opportunity to see which players on the bubble deserve roster spots.

Head coach Chip Kelly has already said he won’t be playing any of the starters (or Mark Sanchez). As of now, there are 75 players on the Eagles’ roster; Kelly has until Saturday to cut 22 of them to get to the minimum 53 players.

Quarterback won’t likely change, as it seems highly likely the Eagles go into the season with the same top three that started the summer—Nick Foles, Sanchez and Matt Barkley. But a handful of positional battles will see the end result decided by Thursday’s game.

Which running backs emerge? Will the Eagles actually cut kicker Alex Henery? And how many Oregon Ducks players end up on the roster? This Thursday’s game will reveal the answers to those questions.

Here’s a look at what we can expect, starting with how the team fared last week.

 

Philadelphia Eagles Third Preseason Game Recap

The Philadelphia Eagles turned in by far their finest preseason performance a week ago against the Pittsburgh Steelers, capitalizing on an early barrage of points en route to a 31-21 win.

Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez ran the offense to near-perfection, and Kelly appears blessed with a logjam of running backs from which to choose.  The Eagles’ first-team defense didn’t allow Ben Roethlisberger and company to score any points.  The defense was especially potent in stopping the Steelers running game, and Pittsburgh didn’t score until late in the third quarter.

The only real problem was the kicking game, as Alex Henery once again missed an easy field goal. Still, the Eagles at one time led by 24 points and still rolled to a double-digit victory.

 

News and Notes

Don’t expect to see much of anything in this final preseason game. Kelly won’t be playing the starters, and in fact, the No. 2 quarterback, Sanchez, won’t even suit up. That means the start goes to second-year player Matt Barkley.

The biggest story surrounding the game will be which players steal the final roster spots, although the topics listed below are newsworthy as well.

 

Is this Alex Henery’s final game in an Eagles uniform?

He had a disappointing 2013 campaign, and Alex Henery hasn’t played much better in preseason. He missed a 47-yard field goal against the New England Patriots, and then blew a chip-shot 31-yard attempt against the Steelers.

He doesn’t have particularly impressive leg strength on kickoffs, and Kelly's frustration with Henery's struggles was evident after the Pittsburgh game:

Newly acquired kicker Cody Parkey handled several kickoffs last game, and he may see an increase in his playing time this week. The Eagles’ options for the 2014 season appear to be Henery, Parkey or an unsigned veteran like Dustin Hopkins or Jay Feely.

How will Eagles fans react to seeing Michael Vick?

Will Philadelphia Eagles fans boo Michael Vick or will they give him a polite applause? Look for the latter; in fact, it should be a standing applause. Vick was a class act in Philadelphia, and he played well enough early in his Eagles tenure to lead the 2010 team to the playoffs.

He wore out his welcome as a player because of his inability to stay healthy, but Eagles fans won’t boo him. They cheered Donovan McNabb in 2010, and they cheered Andy Reid in 2013.

Trust me, they’ll give Vick a classy ovation.

 

Could the Eagles really trade Mark Sanchez?

The impressive play of Mark Sanchez this preseason has spurred trade rumors, the latest being that the St. Louis Rams could be interested in the sixth-year signal-caller now that Sam Bradford is lost for the season.

The Eagles signed Sanchez to just a one-year, $2.25 million deal, and realistically, the one NFL team most in immediate need of Sanchez's service is the Rams. But Sanchez’s fine play this preseason is likely more the result of Kelly’s offense, and the Rams seem prepared to move on with Shaun Hill as their 2014 starter.

That means Sanchez will stay with the Eagles, and that’s good news for the club. He’s a fine backup and more than capable of winning football games should Nick Foles get hurt again.

 

Which running backs emerge from the Current Logjam?

LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles will make the Philadelphia Eagles’ 53-man roster. Outside of those two, it could conceivably be anyone.

Third-year back Chris Polk is a former undrafted player who filled in well in small doses in 2013, averaging 8.9 yards per rush on his 11 carries. All camp he seemed to have the No. 3 running back job locked up, but now he’s dealing with a Grade 2 hamstring tear, and his roster spot is in no way guaranteed.

The final three running backs—Matthew Tucker, Kenjon Barner and Henry Josey—are likely competing for one spot.

Tucker was on the Eagles’ 53-man roster for a handful of games last year, although he didn’t actually carry the football. Barner was recently acquired in a trade with the Carolina Panthers, although the Eagles only give up a seventh-round pick if he appears in four games.

Josey is an undrafted rookie who has impressed when called upon, but it seems unlikely he will beat out three players, all of whom have been in the NFL for a year already.

 

Eagles have five days to Cut 22 More Players

Which players on the bubble will make the roster and which ones won’t? The aforementioned running back logjam should be interesting to follow, but there also are a handful of wide receivers fighting for a few spots. Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff have the first four spots locked up.

Unless Huff goes to short-term injured reserve, that leaves open one or two open to be battled over by Brad Smith, Jeff Maehl, Arrelious Benn, Damaris Johnson and Ifeanyi Momah. Smith and Maehl were on the roster last year, as was Johnson, but there’s not room for all three. Benn spent 2013 on IR, and he hasn’t stood out in camp.

It’s likely only one of those five receivers winds up on the team.

Other players who may miss the 53-man roster include four-year veteran (and former Oregon graduate) Casey Matthews, 2010 first-round pick Brandon Graham, last year’s backup nose tackle Damion Square and Ed Reynolds, a former Stanford safety taken in the fifth round of this year's draft.

 

Injury Report

Only the backups are listed here, since starters like LeSean McCoy and Connor Barwin won’t play, thus giving McCoy time to heal his thumb/toe, and Barwin time to heal his knee.

Latest injury report is courtesy of Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com.


Player

Position

Injury

Arrelious Benn

WR

Concussion

Josh Huff

WR

Shoulder (Out)

Chris Polk

RB

Hamstring

Bryan Braman

LB

Back

Nolan Carroll

CB

Groin

Jaylen Watkins

CB

Hamstring

Josh Huff’s injury could cause him to miss some serious time, so he is definitely out for a meaningless preseason game. Arrelious Benn needs a boost to make the club, so if he’s medically cleared, expect him to suit up.

Chris Polk’s Grade 2 hamstring tear could keep him out, but like Benn, he’s no lock to make the roster. Carroll and Watkins both have been practicing and should be able to play.

 

X-Factors and Matchups to Watch

A preseason game in which the starters aren’t playing certainly doesn’t have the flare of a regular-season contest. For Philadelphia, there’s no Nick Foles or LeSean McCoy, and there’s no Geno Smith or Chris Johnson for New York.

But there are a handful of players and matchups worth following, specifically because they will directly impact the final players to make the Eagles’ roster.

 

Matt Barkley vs. New York Jets’ Defense

What a fall from glory Matt Barkley has seen in the last two years; he went from being a shoo-in first-round pick had he declared for the 2012 NFL draft to a fourth-rounder a year ago and now on the verge of being released by Philadelphia.

Barkley will start the game and probably play two to three quarters against the New York Jets’ second-teamers. It’s doubtful he plays poorly enough that Coach Kelly cuts him in favor of G.J. Kinne, but should Kinne outperform Barkley, that may be the case when the 53-man roster is finalized.

 

Chris Polk/Kenjon Barner/Matthew Tucker/Henry Josey vs. Jets Front Seven

Chris Polk likely won’t play. That means Kenjon Barner and Matthew Tucker should share the boatload of carries. Barner is a former Oregon Duck who spent 2013 buried on the Carolina Panthers depth chart. The Philadelphia Eagles took a chance on Barner’s skill set, but he may get just this one game to prove that he’s worth a roster spot that went to Tucker last year.

Tucker has played extremely well: He’s scored four times this preseason. Last preseason, he led the Eagles in carries (26) at the running back position. Tucker has the added benefit of having been on the Eagles for a previous season, and he’s a good special teams player.

Chip Kelly says that any running back outside of LeSean/Darren "have to contribute on ST".....that is good news for Matthew Tucker #Eagles

— Eliot Shorr-Parks (@EliotShorrParks) August 26, 2014

Henry Josey is the long shot whose best bet is to wind up on the expanded practice squad.

 

Alex Henery vs. Cody Parkey vs. Other Free-Agent Kickers

The Philadelphia Eagles can’t possibly go into another season with Alex Henery as their kicker, can they? He consistently underwhelms on kickoff distance, and he followed up a 47-yard missed field goal against the New England Patriots with a 31-yard miss against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Chip Kelly on Alex Henery missing 31 yard FG."I dont know what he's battling" right now, but he has to make that kick http://t.co/c5hpKDjLPe

—John Clark CSN (@JClarkCSN) August 22, 2014

Newly acquired Cody Parkey will probably split reps with Henery. Parkey may not have to do much to beat out Henery; he may win it already by virtue of not being Henery.

Then again, the Eagles could go with a veteran like Rob Bironas, David Akers or Dustin Hopkins.

Unlike some other kickers released, Dustin Hopkins didn’t lose out in BUF because he was bad. Veteran K Dan Carpenter was just really good.

— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) August 25, 2014

 

Prediction

The fourth and final preseason game doesn’t matter other than for the players competing for reserve spots on the 53-man roster. Kelly won’t give anything away, and he will be happy to just come away with his players healthy.

On the other side, the 34-year-old Vick is returning to Philly and will want to prove he still has something left. The outcome of the game will come down to the performance of the second and third-team players, and it’s a toss-up as to who comes away victorious.

 

Final Score: Jets 24, Eagles 20

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