Eagle Eye: Ronald Darby Continues Outstanding Summer

It was not a great night overall for the Philadelphia Eagles against New England. For the second week in a row, there were too many penalties, unnecessary turnovers, protection breakdowns, and missed tackles. These are things that pop up in the preseason, and they certainly can be corrected, but they have to be worked out over the next two contests before the regular-season opener against Atlanta.

After watching the film, I thought there were a few bright spots to walk away with against the Patriots. Nate Sudfeld looked very good against New England, who wasn’t bashful about throwing a variety of pressure looks at the young passer with both the first- and second-team units on the field. Sudfeld made some great throws in this game, most notably the ones down the field.

ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS HAVE SOUND

I’ve always been a fan of Sudfeld’s touch, and he showed that trait on those three passes, two of which were complete for explosive plays. Shelton Gibson and Rashard Davis both did a great job of "holding the red line" on those completions.

Sudfeld did an outstanding job of reading blitz and throwing hot to his tight end on the touchdown throw to Richard Rodgers. With New England sending a Cover 0 pressure, the defense had more rushers than the offense could block. That means that the quarterback is responsible for "beating" the extra man. Sudfeld does that by getting the ball out quickly and to the back corner of the end zone for six.

Was Sudfeld perfect? No. There were times where his feet were a bit antsy and he left the pocket prematurely. He got stuck a bit too long on a couple of his reads. He missed a couple of throws, particularly when he was outside of structure. However, this was a good performance for the third-year quarterback.

One of Sudfeld’s favorite targets so far this summer has been Gibson, who looks like a new man compared to the green rookie we saw a year ago. Gibson seems more comfortable at the catch point, but he appears way more confident as a route runner. Gibson already has speed to burn, and as he continues to build on his skill set he will be able to bring value to this football team. The fact that he’s been a starter on all four special teams units through the first two games also bodes very well for his longevity on the roster.

Gibson needed that "redshirt" year to get used to the speed of the NFL game, but that may not necessarily be the case for rookie Dallas Goedert. The second-round pick came out like gangbusters in his debut against the Steelers, catching four passes and a touchdown while also serving as an effective run blocker. He built on that performance this week with another strong outing through the air and some more impressive plays as a blocker at the point of attack.

When Goedert and Zach Ertz were on the field together, Ertz was often the one flexed out wide or in the slot with Goedert positioned on the line of scrimmage. That is good news for the coaches, who have seen the young tight end prove his willingness as a blocker while also reaffirm his talents as a pass catcher. With two tight ends who can excel both in the run and pass games, Doug Pederson will have the ability to toy with opposing defenses and create favorable matchups on a weekly basis this fall.

With all of the injuries in the receiving corps (Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, and Markus Wheaton all missed Thursday’s game while Treggs left with an injury), the players at the bottom of the depth chart received extra reps. They’ve all had their moments, but one guy who has consistently flashed is young veteran receiver DeAndre Carter. Thursday was just an extension of what we’ve seen on the practice field.

Carter is 25 years old. The Eagles are his fifth team in four summers, so he’s been around the block. He’s got some juice downfield, is quick in and out of breaks, has a defined plan as a route runner, and knows how to create separation on his own. He’s not tall (5-8) he’s got a filled-out frame to handle the rigors of contact in an NFL secondary. He’s an interesting name to watch down the stretch of the final two preseason games.

Defensively, the secondary was the main focus for me. There were some big plays (and more notably missed tackles) that will be corrected, but I liked what I saw from the top players in this young group.

Ronald Darby has looked like an absolute stud all summer. Blessed with 4.3 speed, elite quickness, and length to play the ball up and down the field, Darby has had a full offseason to feel more comfortable in Jim Schwartz’s scheme, and it shows up on film. He was in receivers' hip pockets all night long and showed the ability to disrupt at the catch point on more than one occasion against the Patriots. If he can start converting some of those pass breakups into interceptions, we could see a Pro Bowl berth from Darby … well, we may just see one anyway.

Sidney Jones got the start in the slot in the defense’s nickel package. He had a couple of missed tackles that he’d like to have back, but I thought he had a nice night. The second-year corner was competitive from snap to whistle on every play, saw reps both inside and outside, and made some impressive plays on the ball.

Rookie Avonte Maddox rotated in the slot, and the fourth-round pick did get some reps on Thursday with the first-team nickel package. Maddox showed off his tenacity in the run and the pass games, and even got one ball on the ground in the second half. After a quiet start to the summer, Maddox has come on of late, particularly this past week when the coaches bumped him up on the depth chart.

Another young corner, Rasul Douglas, had a strong bounce-back game in my opinion. The second-year player from West Virginia got the start with Jalen Mills out of the lineup, and he did a fine job against the Patriots. Douglas was physical as a tackler and was able to mirror New England's receivers on the perimeter in coverage. More importantly, it was good to see Douglas have a strong week of practice after giving up two touchdowns against the Steelers last Thursday.

This loss to New England isn’t the end of the world, but you know the players and coaches would much rather come out on top in these matchups. Playing clean, efficient football was a hallmark of the Super Bowl Champions a year ago, and they just haven’t hit their stride in that area up to this point halfway through the preseason.

Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated “Eagles Game Plan” show which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on Apple Podcasts.

Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices, and opponents.

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