Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly has stated that roster cuts remain his least favorite part of the job. With the deadline to get the roster down to 53 just three days away, the Eagles’ Thursday night game against the New York Jets ironically becomes the most important preseason game with many starters watching from the sidelines. The three areas that draw the most interest for me come from all three facets of the game:
The running back position will be a tough area to fill from four options. Chris Polk may be cut despite an impressive 98 yards on 11 attempts last season. A hamstring injury has kept him out of the preseason games. Matthew Tucker and Henry Josey have put up strong numbers with four touchdowns and 8.7 yards per attempt respectively. Kenjon Barner had a decent game against Pittsburgh and may have a larger sample size in the eyes of Kelly than just that game as he played at Oregon. My vote is for Matthew Tucker who weighs in at 227 pounds, making him a potentially more dominating third down back than the others.
The defense seems to be improving, but the inside linebacker position still has questions for the final spot. Casey Matthews, Josh Kaddu, Travis Long, and Emmanuel Acho have to prove themselves on Thursday to solidify a place on the team. Acho currently leads the group with 11 combined tackles, but Matthews doubles as a valuable special teams piece that will make cutting him a difficult decision. As the Eagles have such a high-powered and fast offense, the average time of possession leaves the defense on the field for a majority of the game (33:36 in 2013) making this particular selection an important one.
The area of largest concern for the Eagles is the kicking game. Offseason talks about how to change the extra point system makes me think about the continual push for the role of kicking to be greatly reduced. I’m sure the Eagles would be first in line to vote for removal of PATs rather than pushing them back.
Kickoffs are an area of worry as many of Alex Henery’s kicks are being returned. Of the Eagles’ 88 kickoffs last season, just 37 were for touchbacks, while their opponent’s starting position averaged 23.6 yards, worst in the NFC East.
This preseason has not favored Henery, as the Eagles now wait to see how newly acquired kicker Cody Parkey performs in Thursday’s game.
Henery has missed two field goals this preseason—one from 47 yards and one from just 31. The two misses may be simple blemishes easily fixed, but his career statistics do him no favors in convincing Kelly to keep him. In the three years Henery has been with the Eagles, his field goal percentage has dropped each season from 88.9% in 2011 to 87.1% in 2012 to just 82.1% in 2013. Kicks beyond the 39-yard range were a problem for Henery in 2013, connecting on just 8 of 12.
The hope is that Parkey can get valuable game experience Thursday night. However, a good performance out of Parkey could make the decisions before Saturday’s cut deadline that much more difficult.