Eagles-Jaguars: Thorson to the Rescue
(973espn.com) — Maybe the best way to learn how to swim is to be thrown into the deep end of the pool.
Clayton Thorson had an awful NFL debut last week against the Tennessee Titans and he was thrust into action far earlier than expected Thursday in Jacksonville when Cody Kessler was hammered on a blindside hit by Datone Jones less than three minutes into the game.
Rookie left tackle Andre Dillard slid inside on the play, which seemed to be the protection call but Kessler didn't default to the hot route and paid the price. He tried to stay in the game but the independent spotter called down to have Kessler removed and the Southern Cal product was ultimately put into the concussion protocol.
"You'd like the quarterback to see that and get to the quick throw," coach Doug Pederson said after the game.
With Nate Sudfeld suffering a broken left wrist against the Titans last week and Carson Wentz not in pads, Thorson was not only up, he was also tasked with finishing the entire game.
If that sounded like a recipe for disaster, Thorson wasn't about to be one of the ingredients and did yeoman work, tossing a 38-yard touchdown pass to Greg Ward in a 24-10 win.
The former Northwestern star, who was a fifth-round pick back in April, finished 16-of-26 for 175 yards with an interception on a drop by DeAndre Thompkins and the TD for a 78.2 passer rating, not exactly earth-shattering but a massive improvement over the 0.0 last week.
"He just really calmed himself," Pederson said of Thorson. "Learned from last week which is nice to see."
Miles Sanders got the start at running back and performed well, carrying it five times for 31 yards and also picking up the blitz well on the Thorson TD toss. Jordan Howard was effective in limited action as well and Josh Adams had a 1-yard TD run after Doug Pederson successfully challenged an uncalled defensive pass interference call on Carlton Agudosi in the end zone.
Jake Elliott blasted a 52-yard field goal and Boston Scott punctuated things on an all-running drive in the fourth quarter with a 1-yard run to account for the other scoring.
For the second consecutive week, the defensive star was rangy DE Daeshon Hall, who recorded two sacks, including a strip-sack, and also stunted a Gardner Minshew QB sneak attempt in the third quarter.
EAGLES PRESEASON STOCK MARKET:
Daeshon Hall - We've probably spent far too much time on 97.3 ESPN discussing whether or not preseason games are important but if Hall doesn't make the final 53, you can declare the format dead and buried. The rangy former Carolina third-round pick has been the Khalil Mack of August this year, snaring two more sacks and a forced fumble against the Jaguars.
Clayton Thorson - A week after putting up a Blutasky in his NFL preseason debut (0.0) Thorson was forced into action after a Cody Kessler concussion and was much more confident in his throws. He was far from great but the improvement between Week 1 and Week 2 was significant.
Pederson said after the game the next man up at QB would have been Ward, who was unsuccessful on one gimmick play tonight but was once a star QB at the University of Houston.
"We had Greg Ward on standby," Pederson said. "He was coached up and ready to go."
Malcolm Jenkins and Brandon Graham - While most of the presumed starters sat again, Jenkins and Graham played because they wanted to. They also practice every day because they want to and hustle to every drill first because they are trying to teach the younger players how to be professional. Jenkins was also brilliant early in the game while playing a hybrid safety/LB role.
Miles Sanders and the rushing attack- The explosive runs were significant but they were also well-blocked. The most impressive job by Sanders was picking up the blitz on the 38-yard touchdown from Thorson to Ward. If he does that consistently he will be on the field early and often in the regular season. Howard and Adams made plays and, e, on the drive that sealed it in the fourth quarter, it was a heavy dose of Boston Scott and Donnel Pumphrey were great.
The Undrafted O-Linemen - Guys like Nate Herbig and Sua Opeta were dominant against the Jags' reserves as the Eagles sealed it in an unconventional way for Pederson, running the football down the throat of the defense.
Aziz Shittu - Shittu was brought back on Tuesday and was on the field two days later being a disruptor. Granted it was against guys who will probably be in the XFL next year but playing at that level with such little preparation time is pretty impressive.
Stefen Wisniewski - Herbig had never played center in his life until the first Jason Kelce maintenance day this summer and has somehow masted the shotgun snap to the point where he is more consistent with it than Wiz, who has started over 60 NFL games at center.
Sidney Jones - Jones has had a good camp and got the nod at left corner over Avonte Maddox but he was beaten a couple of times in coverage, one of which would have been a big play if not for a penalty.
Orlando Scandrick - The veteran slot corner took a step back on the First Coast of Florida and a position that looked deep on paper coming into training camp is looking far less so right now.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen