It is a night when jobs and careers are made. The fourth preseason game is an annual test of roster depth as players on the roster bubble fight for jobs around the league. Kurt Coleman, for instance, won himself a spot on the roster three seasons ago as a seventh-round rookie with a standout fourth preseason game that included two fumble returns for touchdowns. Or how about Danny Woodhead, who once ran for 158 yards for the Jets against the Eagles in the fourth preseason game and leveraged that into a roster spot with the New England Patriots. The NFL is littered with stories of players who rolled an impressive fourth preseason game into a roster spot either with their current team or elsewhere in one stop on their football journey.
So you will see very few Eagles starters Thursday night – a few first-team members of the Eagles secondary will see time, according to head coach Chip Kelly – but you will see players fighting for their very football lives. Will Greg Salas or Russell Shepard cement themselves a roster spot? Will Julian Vandervelde or Dallas Reynolds prove worthy of the backup center job? Who will emerge as a top backup linebacker? Can Vinny Curry continue an impressive preseason? There are plenty of storylines heading into Thursday night's showdown as Saturday's 4 PM deadline for roster cuts looms. Here's what you need to know …
Last Time They Met:
August 30, 2012 – Jets 10, Eagles 28
The matchup between these two teams in the preseason finale has become tradition of late thanks mostly to the ease of travel between the two teams. The Eagles took the victory in last year's matchup as quarterback Trent Edwards was the night's biggest victor. Edwards went 22-of-32 on the night for 197 yards and two touchdowns and finished off a surprise run to earn the team's third quarterback job.
When The Eagles Have The Ball:
Typically, NFL starters do not play at all in the fourth preseason game, and that will be the case for the Eagles starting offense Thursday night against the New York Jets. It is a time for backups and other players deep down the depth chart to get extended playing time and invaluable experience, as they attempt to prove to coaches that they belong on a 53-man roster.
An Eagles offense that ranks second in the NFL this preseason with 435.0 yards per game and 25.7 first downs per game will start Nick Foles at quarterback. Matt Barkley will get the bulk of the work after not playing at all in the third game against the Jacksonville Jaguars while Dennis Dixon and G.J. Kinne may play late in the game. Bryce Brown, who leads the team in rushing with 16 carries for 114 yards (7.1 average) and two touchdowns, Chris Polk and Matthew Tucker will share the load at running back. Zach Ertz, James Casey and Emil Igwenagu will be the rotation at tight end, while Clay Harbor said he will play one half at tight end and one half at wide receiver. Jason Avant, who leads the team in receptions with 10 (for 120 yards), could pair with Damaris Johnson as the starting wide receiver tandem, though Avant could also be given the night off. Regardless, the likes of Greg Salas, Russell Shepard, Ifeanyi Momah, Will Murphy and Jeff Maehl figure to see the majority of playing time.
The entire offensive line of Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans and Lane Johnson will have the night off. If form holds from recent games, the second-team offensive line unit would be Matt Tobin, Allen Barbre, Julian Vandervelde, Danny Watkins and Michael Bamiro. Matt Tennant, Dallas Reynolds and Matt Kopa will rotate in as well.
For the New York Jets, the defense has consistently been a strength under head coach Rex Ryan. It ranks 12th in yards allowed (310.0) and 15th in points allowed (20.0) for the preseason. Established starters up front such as rising star Muhammad Wilkerson, Kenrick Ellis and rookie Sheldon Richardson figure to play very little, if at all. A player to remember is second-year nose tackle Damon Harrison, 6-foot-4, 350 pounds, who had seven solo tackles against the New York Giants on Saturday and drew rave reviews from Rex Ryan. Tevita Finau, Antonio Garay, Lanier Coleman, Leger Douzable and Junior Aumauve are the other backups along the defensive line. Starting linebackers Calvin Pace, David Harris, Demario Davis and Garrett McIntyre will give way to former Eagles Antwan Barnes and Ricky Sapp, as well as Josh Mauga, Nick Bellore, Jacquies Smith, Danny Lansanah (who has the Jets' only interception of the preseason), JoJo Dickson and Troy Davis.
The secondary also features a former Eagle in safety Jaiquawn Jarrett, who is batting with Antonio Allen for a starting spot. Free agent signing Dawan Landry, the Jets' leading tackler in the preseason (13), likely won't play and will instead give way to Josh Bush, who is second on the team in tackles (12), and Rontez Miles. It is not known if rookie first-round pick Dee Milliner, the Jets' starting cornerback opposite veteran Antonio Cromartie, will play, but Kyle Wilson and third-year pro Darrin Walls, who leads the team with three passes defended, should see a lot of playing time. Rounding out the cornerbacks are Isaiah Trufant (another former Eagle), Ellis Lankster, Mike Edwards and Royce Adams.
When The Jets Have The Ball:
The Eagles and Jets both found themselves in a similar position at the quarterback position entering this season. Both teams had open competitions for the starting job consisting of one experienced signal-caller and another, younger option. While Chip Kelly has ended the Eagles starting battle, the Jets' competition remains ongoing. Unfortunately, incumbent Mark Sanchez injured his throwing shoulder in the fourth quarter of the Jets' 24-21 overtime victory over the Giants on Saturday night and will not play against the Eagles. Meanwhile, it has been reported that rookie Geno Smith, who made his first start of the preseason against the Jets' cross-town rivals, will also sit out of Thursday night's game. Greg McElroy has been sidelined with an ankle injury, so he will also be unavailable.
The Jets appear to be down to two options at the position. Matt Sims has been named the starter against the Eagles by head coach Rex Ryan. Orginally signed by the Jets as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Tennessee, Sims saw time against the Eagles in last year's preseason finale, going 3-6 for nine yards. The Jets have also signed former Green Bay quarterback Graham Harrell, who was released by the Packers on Sunday. It is uncertain whether or not Harrell will play, having just been signed on Tuesday.
Despite the question at the quarterback position, the Jets offense has averaged 385.7 yards of total offense in their three preseason games (ranks seventh in the NFL). With former Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg now holding the same position in New York, the Jets have passed the ball on 58.5 percent of their offensive plays. Meanwhile, the Jets running game hasn't been anything to write home about, as the team is averaging just 3.0 yards per carry. If this trend continues for New York, the game should be a good test for the Eagles' entire defensive unit as far as pass coverage goes. Assuming that the starters don't play for very long, fans can see how pass-rushers like Travis Long, Vinny Curry, and others benefit from extended playing time. In the secondary, the Eagles' young players will be tested. With Curtis Marsh and Brandon Hughes both down with injuries, players like Jordan Poyer and Trevard Lindley will see the majority of the action. Both players are fighting for roster spots, so a good game at the Meadowlands could go a long way.
The Eagles and Jets have both struggled in the turnover battle through their first three games. The Eagles have a turnover ratio of negative six, and the Jets haven't fared much better with a mark of negative four. The Eagles defense created their first turnover of the preseason when Connor Barwin intercepted Chad Henne during the Jacksonville game. Dealing with a group of inexperienced quarterbacks, the Eagles will be looking to build on that first takeaway. Keep an eye on the Eagles secondary. Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Poyer and Lindley are the only healthy cornerbacks currently on the Eagles roster. The first three are virtual locks to make the roster, but they may be forced into action Thursday night based purely on dwindling numbers at the position.
Jets OT Oday Aboushi vs. Eagles DE Vinny Curry
Curry has been one of the bright spots for the Eagles this preseason as the 2012 second-round pick transitions from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 defensive end. Curry has created consistent pressure in each of the first three preseason games and, having bulked up this offseason, appears to be fitting in well. He figures to get plenty of reps on Thursday night and should line up most often against Aboushi, a fifth-round rookie out of Virginia who was once considered a top prospect.
Jets wide receivers vs. Trevard Lindley and Jordan Poyer
It's a good thing that Poyer and Lindley have been tested by the strenuous nature of Chip Kelly's practices over the past month because their fitness will be tested on Thursday night. The tandem figures to play close to the whole game for the Eagles as the team has suffered multiple injuries at the quarterback position. Both players are competing for roster spots and sit squarely on the roster bubble. Good performances will go a long way in determining their fate in the 48 hours following the game.
Players To Watch
Nate Allen and Earl Wolff
While their secondary mates Poyer and Lindley compete for roster spots, Allen and Wolff find themselves competing for a starting spot at safety opposite Patrick Chung, who will be held out of Thursday night's contest according to Kelly. Allen and Wolff rotated per series in the third preseason game, with neither offering a decisive victory. Wolff was disappointed following the game after taking a bad angle on Jordan Todman's 63-yard touchdown run and will be anxious to make up for that mistake. Allen, meanwhile, is the experienced of the two competitors and is likely the favorite for the job. Both will see action Thursday night.
After watching the third preseason game from the sidelines, Barkley figures to see significant action against the Jets in what could be his final game action of the 2013 season if everything goes according to plan. The fourth-round pick is slated to be the team's third quarterback after eight consecutive years of being his team's head honcho through high school and college. Still, Barkley will tell you that he approaches the game the same way he would as a starter and he'll have an opportunity to show what he can do against the Jets. Keep an eye on his downfield accuracy and how well he runs the offense. Barkley has shown an advanced offensive knowledge for a player his age.
Bohanon may be the only Jets starter to play on Thursday night as he's the lone remaining fullback on the roster. The seventh-round rookie was in a head-to-head competition with veteran Lex Hilliard before the latter suffered a season-ending injury, though Bohanon was reportedly ahead in the competition. A standout at the Senior Bowl, Bohanon complements his blocking ability with good hands and athleticism as a receiver out of the backfield. Plus, 20 or so years down the road when his football career has come to an end, Bohanon will have a world-class Wake Forest education on which to fall back.