How do you really know how good a team will be in today’s NFL? You don’t, not until the regular season is two or three weeks old and the shock factor is worn off and there really are no surprises. Then you find out what kind of team you have.
What that means is we’re at least a month away from having an accurate sense of the 2019 Philadelphia Eagles. There’s plenty of hype about the Eagles and the depth of talent they have, especially on the offensive side of the football, but given the way teams approach the preseason these days, how can you have a true feel? The NFL has flipped the script on summer football. Now, the practices are used to develop the starting lineups and the preseason games are used to evaluate the remainder of the roster as teams whittle from 90 players to 53 in a matter of the next three weeks.
As you settle into your lounge chair and watch Thursday night’s preseason game in Jacksonville, keep that in mind. The Eagles aren’t going to show you the starting lineup. They’re giving you the backup package, and then after that the “bubble” roster and then in the dwindling minutes they are going to have players on the field whose football careers will end in a matter of weeks.
Welcome to preseason football, 2019 style.
“Preseason is helpful, but I don’t think it’s a necessity,” quarterback Carson Wentz said prior to the team’s preseason opener against Tennessee. “No matter how much I’m out there, I’ll be confident in Week 1. I think a little bit is helpful. But it’s definitely never needed.”
It could be, then, that a player like Wentz, who played in 11 games last season and who missed the final three of the regular season and two in the postseason, could line up against the Washington Redskins having taken nary a live-game snap since last December. If you think that’s scary, imagine how Eagles head coach Doug Pederson felt late in the first half of Thursday’s preseason opener when No. 2 quarterback Nate Sudfeld ran off the field screaming in pain, holding his broken left wrist. The danger of injury is greater for many than the reward of playing snaps that ultimately don’t count in the preseason.
Instead of Wentz and Sudfeld, then, expect to see a lot of Cody Kessler and Clayton Thorson. At offensive tackle, Jason Peters is not likely to play much, if at all, in the preseason, and Lane Johnson has already been ruled out until the regular season, so the Eagles will use No. 1 draft pick Andre Dillard and second-year man Jordan Mailata in Jacksonville. You get the idea. Preseason football ain’t what it used to be.
All of that is fine if the Eagles come out of the gates smoking against Washington. If it goes the other way, there are going to be hard questions. Pederson is the one making the call here and doesn’t appear likely to take a lot of chances. He trusts that his practices replicate as closely as possible the tempo of a real game. And if he’s OK with who plays, then who are we to argue?
It’s just something to keep in mind these next three weeks. The Eagles want to evaluate the roster the best they can, not win the NFL Preseason Football Title. It all begins on Sept. 8, and the Eagles want to reach that point as healthy as possible. ••