I’ll start with the rationalization.
It was just a preseason game, the Eagles consistently look out of sorts in the preseason and yet they’ve made the playoffs 9 of the last 12 years. The Eagles will take what happened and use it as a learning tool for the new and young players. The Eagles will be fine in the long run but that doesn’t mean I have to pretend that I don’t care about what I saw last night. It wasn’t good but like I said, it doesn’t matter.
One major sticking point for this team is their run defense. During the season they do well against the run but the past two games in the playoffs the Eagles have been run all over by the Packers and Cowboys. Last night didn’t do anything to help my confidence in the run defense but I think we need to realize that Antonio Dixon, Mike Patterson and Trevor Laws were all not playing. Those three are the three biggest defensive tackles on the Eagles’ roster. Antonio Dixon played at about 325 pounds last season. There is no way in hell that Mike Patterson is 300 pounds. And reports from last offseason had Trevor Laws pushing 320 pounds. You can bet those guys are going to improve the run defense.
The Eagles weren’t exactly playing with a full arsenal. DeSean Jackson only played 2 series. Jason Avant left early with a bruised knee. Jeremy Maclin and Steve Smith didn’t play. Maybe having all his weapons will give Vick piece of mind and he won’t feel like he has to force the issue to guys like Chad Hall and Riley Cooper? Okay, probably not but they’ll help and Michael Vick isn’t going to be THAT bad again.
The Eagles are always bad in the preseason. Always. Does anyone remember what the Bengals did to us last year? Rueben Frank even used a nifty little stat, in the last 32 preseason road games the Eagles are 6-32. Luckily, that trend does not carry over to the regular season.
And once again, it’s just the preseason. I think that point needs to be driven home a bit more.
Juan Castillo’s Secondary: So I told you to watch and I watched very, very closely and I think I figured it out, it all depends on the offensive alignment. When there is no receiver on a certain corner’s side the corner will drop back to the safety spot while the safety will move up to where the corner was to take on the responsibility of defending the flat, covering the tight end or covering the running back (whichever the offense dictates). This is just Juan putting his best players (his corners) in a position to make plays. Can you imagine the damage Asante Samuel can do when he is playing over the top and able to read the QB’s eyes the entire time? He’s just putting his rangiest athletes over the top so that they can wreak havoc and create turnovers.
The safeties also move up into the box a lot as well. From what I can tell they’ll typically move the safety up into the box on anything shorter than 5 yards left to gain for a first down to have an extra defender against the run. The safeties are really asked to do a lot, they’re moving around a lot. They Eagles safeties line up over the tight end, they’ll line up in the box to defend the run, they’ll swap spots with corners, they’re blitzing, they’re playing over the top coverage. The scheme is really going to rely on the safeties being able to play. Thus far it looks like Kurt Coleman is certainly up for it but Nate Allen didn’t inspire any confidence last night. Jaiquawn Jarrett and Jarrad Page are playing well too, they’re not getting beat and both of them made some nice plays in run support as well.
Also there were a few instances where Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie was brought off the edge. He isn’t a very physical player that will deal with blockers very well but if he gets a free shot he’ll get there, his speed is ridiculous.
Nnamdi also took some snaps as the nickel corner. I may be wrong but it looked like he only did that when Hines Ward was in the slot on the right side of the field. Perhaps that’s going to be a thing with Nnamdi? He’ll cover the hot read slot receiver? That could mean that we would see Nnamdi on Wes Welker and Danny Amendola this year.
Things I Tracked:
Trent Cole: 3 hurries, 1 (massive) QB hit
Jason Babin: 3 QB hits, 1 sack
Cullen Jenkins: 1 hurry, 2 QB hits and 1 sack
Nate Allen: 3 completions allowed, 49 yards allowed, 1 TD allowed
Nnamdi Asomugha: 0 targets
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: 2 targets, 1 catch allowed for 14 yards
Asante Samuel: 2 targets, 1 catch allowed for 29 yards and a TD
Curtis Marsh: 2 targets, 1 catch allowed for 9 yards
Trevard Lindley: 3 targets, 1 pass interference, 2 catches allowed for 24 yards
Things That Were Good:
The Right Side Of The Offensive Line: Can we just admit that King Dunlap is much better than he was? He and Danny Watkins were moving people in the run game and they allowed no pressure from the right side of the line. Very impressive showing for both of them. King Dunlap might be the starter over Harris and Justice. He played the same way last season too, he is the only RT that can run block on the Eagles’ roster and he shut down John Abraham and Anthony Spencer last year.
The Running Game: After a poor showing last week the running game showed up. LeSean McCoy showcased his incredible first step and field vision. Ronnie Brown had some nice runs, including a cut back run that got him 14 yards. Dion Lewis even got in on the action with a 14 yard run that looked like he was shot out of a cannon.
Dion Lewis: I can forgive him for his fumble, ball security is not an issue for him. The little guy runs hard, he doesn’t hesitate, he keeps his legs churning and he fights for extra yards. Is he very effective after contact? Not very because of his size but you have to admire the heart he bring to the table. And in space he was dazzling last night. Dion Lewis looked like a special player, he was dancing around Steelers’ defenders with Brian Westbrook like moves. All in all he had 67 yards on 4 touches, that’s impressive.
Mike Kafka: Kafka was very impressive last night. I still don’t think he is a starting caliber player because of his throwing mechanics and lack of arm strength but he is going to be a top notch back-up. Mike Kafka is going to be that guy who comes in, knows the offense like the back of his hand and doesn’t turn the ball over. We might even be able to get picks for him one day ala Kevin Kolb and AJ Feeley.
Mike Kafka doesn’t have a very strong arm and on throws that require arm strength he really winds up and broadcasts where the throws are going. If he were to play starting caliber players the targets underneath wouldn’t be as wide open. But all things considered you still have to like what you’re seeing from Kafka. His ball placement is great. He’s handling pressure extremely well, he’s stepping up into the pocket, he’s running when he has to run and he does a good job of keeping his eyes downfield. And he is very intelligent, one reporter (can’t recall which one) even said that Kafka knows the West Coast Offense as well as Andy Reid does. That’s impressive.
Brian Rolle: Brian Rolle impressed me once again. He is just a better player than Casey Matthews is at this point. Brian Rolle is significantly rangier and quicker, when Casey Matthews gets knocked down he is out of the play, when Rolle gets knocked down he pops back up and gets back in on the play. Brian Rolle takes on blockers more aggressively. Brian Rolle is a better and more aggressive tackler who doesn’t hesitate in space and can really lay the wood. He is also a far more effective blitzer at this point as well. Right now the only thing Casey Matthews has on Brian Rolle is size. I am highly impressed with Rolle, he is a real player.
The Pass Rush: It wasn’t quite as vicious as it was last week but we still got some nice hits in. Chris Wilson, Daniel Te’o Neshiem and Phillip Hunt all had good games once again.
Kurt Coleman: This guy was all over the field. Very impressive game from him, he did it all.
Things That Weren’t So Good:
Nate Allen: Umm.. Where do you start? He missed assignments and gave up a big gain on a screen play. He missed a tackle in run support. He looked lost in pass coverage. He gave up a TD where he actually should’ve been in good position to make a play on the ball. And on the Asante TD he could’ve broken up the play had he performed decently on his blitz but instead he hesitated and gave Rothlisberger time to get the pass off to Brown.
Casey Matthews: Honestly I put this loss squarely on the shoulders of Casey Matthews. He was that bad. Had he been half way decent against the run the Steelers wouldn’t have ran all over this defense, they wouldn’t have eaten up the clock. Nate Allen and Asante Samuel would’ve never had the opportunity to screw up if Casey Matthews wasn’t blown up every run play and contributed to a defensive stop.
Almost every run play Casey was being put on roller skates by Steelers offensive linemen. He was being blown off the point of attack. He was struggling to get off blocks mightily. And on two screen plays he didn’t make stops. He was in position to make the stops but instead of aggressively attacking the ball carrier he stopped and waited for the ball carrier to come to him. In both instances he missed the tackles because he got caught flat footed waiting for contact and he wasn’t in position to move well laterally to make the stop because he wasn’t on the balls of his feet.
Michael Vick: Yikes. Talk about bad decisions and inaccuracy. He didn’t look off Ryan Clark and it ended in an interception. He overthrew DeSean Jackson. He had a pass that was too high for Riley Cooper. He threw a ball behind Chad Hall that ended in an interception. And he tossed a ball up to Brent Celek that was tipped and intercepted by Troy Polamalu. He really had a rough, rough night.
The Run Defense: The Wide 9 scheme really backfired on the Eagles, it gave the Steelers’ running backs clear running lanes, the defensive tackles were flying upfield and not eating up two blockers which allowed offensive linemen to get onto the linebackers. The linebackers were struggling to get off blocks. The Eagles were getting bullied in the run game. That has to change.