The fourth game of the preseason is a strange dichotomy. For half of the players, it is completely meaningless and any snaps come with the overarching risk of injury. For the other half, the fourth game can determine your employment status for the next six months. Here are the players that made an impact:
Philadelphia – Three Performances of Note
No Challenge for Vick
Michael Vick can breath a sigh of relief after Thursday. Nick Foles (-1.8) and Matt Barkley (-1.3) were both given ample opportunity to put some pressure the Eagles’ starter and both took a step backwards. Foles played the entire first half and failed to lead a scoring drive. The second-year quarterback coughed up a fumble early in the game and his accuracy was brutal on the day. He went four of nine on passes within 10 yards and 6 of 17 overall. His highlight of the day was a perfect execution of the triple option at the end of the first quarter. That about sums up how well he threw the ball.
Barkley took over the second half and had similar struggles. On throws of 10 or more yards, the former USC quarterback went 4 of 12. On top of that, he threw a pick-six on horrific play. Barkley blindly fired an out route to Jeff Maehl after seeing that the first read was covered. The problem was that cornerback Antonio Allen was sitting on the out the whole time and easily stepped in front of the pass. Those kind of mistakes are inexcusable, especially against a third-string defense.
Deep in Pass Rushers
Even though the Eagles gave Connor Barwin starter money to come to Philadelphia, he may not be a starter for long. If Brandon Graham continues playing like he has, it will be impossible to keep him off the field. After leading all pass rushers in Pass Rush Productivity last season, Graham put together the highest-graded preseason of any outside linebacker at +6.3. Thursday night was no different for the Michigan man. He collected a sack for a safety and two hurries on 10 pass rushing snaps and looks to be in prime form heading into the season.
The other standout rusher from Thursday could be lining up in a different uniform this season. Everette Brown was once a highly touted prospect coming out of Florida State. He was drafted in the early second round by the Panthers in 2009. He would be waived after two seasons and never showed the pass rushing prowess he displayed in college. That is, until this preseason. Brown led all 3-4 outside linebackers with a pass rushing grade of +6.3 while he picked up 10 pressures on 35 pass rushes. In the end, the Eagles’ depth at the position was too much to overcome and Brown was released before the deadline. With a preseason like his, it’s hard to imagine Brown not catching on somewhere else.
There was nothing flashy about Jeff Maehl’s (-0.2) play Thursday night. I’m sure Chip Kelly doesn’t mind though. Maehl just did what he was asked and caught all eight catchable balls thrown his way for 61 yards. The former Oregon wideout didn’t break a tackle yet still created enough separation on his routes to gain 37 yards after the catch. For the game, he ran 36 routes, all from the slot, and a majority of them were underneath routes. Maehl’s nine targets had an average depth of just over three yards. In the end, it was enough to give him the nod over Greg Salas and Russell Shepard for the fifth wide receiver spot on the roster.
New York – Three Performances of Note
Most Impressive Jets QB
Quarterback has been a hot-button issue for the Jets ever since they traded for Brett Favre in 2008. With all the hoopla around Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith, the most productive quarterback for the Jets this preseason was, without a doubt, Matt Simms. Simms didn’t even start for Tennessee last season, yet came to the Jets and graded positively in all three games he played in and earned a spot on the 53-man roster.
Early Thursday night, however, that spot on the roster looked like it was in serious jeopardy. Simms (+1.3) looked like a deer in headlights. His first pass of the day hit Eagles linebacker Chris McCoy right between the 9 and the 4 on his jersey a good five feet from his intended receiver. Luckily, McCoy couldn’t hang on to the horrific pass. Three plays later, Simms would scramble backwards into his own end zone and take a safety at the hands of Brandon Graham.
The nerves soon wore off though, and Simms would go on to complete 33 of 44 passes and finish with an Accuracy Percentage of 88.4 (due to five drops and a hit as the ball was thrown). It was a solid performance on the whole, but one can’t help but see the glaring mistakes that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Along with the two previously mentioned, Simms telegraphed a hitch route late in the game that Kurt Coleman dropped on a diving attempt. Both those dropped interceptions could have just as easily gone back for touchdowns and peoples’ opinion of Simms’ play would have drastically changed.
The left side of the Jets’ line against Thursday night consisted of a former top-three pick and a rookie third-round selection. Neither looked the part against the Eagles. Jason Smith carved out a nice niche for himself last season after being swapped for Wayne Hunter during the preseason. Smith was used as a sixth lineman in overload formations last season and graded well in his role. When the Jets brought him back though after a brief training camp stint with the Saints, it was clear that Smith would not be a viable option as a backup tackle. He was beaten over and over again by Everette Brown with a speed rush. On one play, he failed to kickslide fast enough to even touch Brown as he ran by. Unsurprisingly, Smith was released before the deadline on Saturday.
Brian Winters (-2.9) is one of nine offensive lineman on the final 53, but if he was a journeyman like Smith, he may not have been so lucky. The 72nd overall pick played 83 out of a possible 89 snaps at left guard and graded negatively in every facet of the game on Thursday. In his two games, Winters was the third-lowest-graded guard at -6.6 overall. One has to hope that his failures this preseason are due to the distinct step up from his competition at Kent State and that he’ll make the necessary adjustments as his career progresses.
Made His Case
One player, above all others, made the biggest push to make the 53-man roster on Thursday. That man was outside linebacker Ricky Sapp (+5.5). Sapp was ferocious rushing the passer and showed great burst off the line all day. He beat the Eagles’ tackles with his speed rush while he schooled their backs and tight ends with his power. For the day he recorded seven pressures, a forced fumble, and a batted pass. As if that wasn’t enough, he also led the Jets’ defense with four stops in a game where he wasn’t downgraded once. Sapp’s efforts, unlike many others, paid off as it was announced on Saturday that he made the final 53.
– Jake Knott and Casey Matthews combined to give up seven catches on seven targets for a coverage grade of -4.6.
– Zach Ertz dropped two of his three targets and gave up a pressure on one of his two pass blocking snaps.
– Matt Simms went five of five for 74 yards on passes targeted between 10-20 yards.
PFF Game Ball
It’s hard to pass up what Matt Simms did for the offense, but he made a few too many mistakes. Ricky Sapp, on the other hand, played flawlessly. Sapp made the team with his performance Thursday and even more importantly gets PFF’s game ball.
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