Last year I made the mistake of brushing the preseason off. I said it was “just the pre-season” and we would pull it together in time for the regular season. I was wrong, darn near everyone was wrong. Maybe I’m just being rounded into a more typical Philly fan as I get older but I’m finding that I’m not quite as optimistic and I’m not willing to brush this off as “just the pre-season” anymore. It doesn’t mean a whole lot but it doesn’t mean nothing either and last night raised some legitimate concerns for the Eagles.
Right off the bat you have to be concerned about the offense on some level. It was a horrid showing for the first and second stringers last night. The Steelers nearly doubled the Eagles time of possession and first downs in the first half. The Eagles went into the locker room down 13-0 and it probably would’ve been worse had Big Ben and company stayed in the game as they were marching down the field and eating up the clock in each of their two drives. This, is a problem. So what happened exactly?
Well for one, Michael Vick had 6 reps and they weren’t very good. He looked skittish in the pocket and it led to two three and outs and a bruised thumb. It’s not time to hit the alarm button. Heck, your hand shouldn’t even be on the alarm at this point but I wouldn’t blame you if you inched closer to it after last night. And he only pushed the ball downfield once and on that play he hit his thumb on Jason Kelce’s helmet on the follow through and it sailed on him.
And if you didn’t appreciate Jason Peters, prepare to appreciate because if last night was any indication, DeMetress Bell is going to have a rough season. I realize Howard Mudd is really, really good but turning DeMetress Bell into anything close to Jason Peters would be nothing short of a miracle. According to ProFootballFocus, Bell has been the 13th worst pass blocker at OT in the NFL over the past 3 years and I find it hard to disagree when Chris Carter, one year removed from being drafted out of Fresno State in the fifth round, is making him look silly. Really rough start for Bell. But on the bright side, it appears he can only get better. And he didn’t do a good job of getting upfield to the second level on LeSean McCoy’s stretch play either.
Well, Big Ben proved once again why he is one of the best quarterbacks in the game. His escapability proved to be a real challenge for the Eagles defense as he would step up into the pocket and the defensive linemen would charge right past him. Then, when the linebackers and defensive backs acknowledged the possibility of Big Ben running and loosened up on their coverage assignments, he would deliver a strike. Big Ben ended up completing 75% of his passes at rate of 11.625 yards per attempt. Nnamdi was soundly beaten by Antonio Brown on one first down pass where Brown appeared to just sidestep Nnamdi’s jam. On another completion to Brown, Nnamdi fell off of Antonio Brown because Big Ben was rolling left and Aso had to respect Big Ben’s scrambling ability. Overall, it was a tough, tough night for Nnamdi as plays like that regularly occurred and communication issues with Jaiquawn Jarrett occurred with even more regularity. Thankfully, Nnamdi is typically a good performer and I don’t expect performances like this to happen with any sort of regularity, especially when Nate Allen returns.
And speaking of Nate Allen, you all better hope he doesn’t get hurt this year because his replacements are highly questionable. Jaiquawn Jarrett had about the roughest game I’ve ever seen out of a safety. It was UGLY. Missed assignments in coverage and miscommunications? Yup. Missed tackles? Yup. Horrible angles? Yup. Running into Vinny Curry? Yep, that happened and it was his best hit of the night. And despite his reputation as a physical player, I saw him being manhandled by a run blocking Steelers receiver in the red-zone. Jaiquawn Jarrett is still playing at MAC speed and it is painfully obvious. I’ve been trying to convince myself that Jaiquawn Jarrett might need time to become a good player but he might need more time than I ever anticipated.
And tackling was bad once again. I swear, it must be something in the water because everyone turns into a bad tackler once they get to Philadelphia. Jaiquawn Jarrett, one of the most physical safeties and best tackles in his draft, suddenly turned soft after becoming an Eagle. Mychal Kendricks, another good hitter in college, slid off his first two tackles of the night. And DeMeco Ryans, who has been one of the most prolific tacklers in the league over the past couple years completely whiffed on a tackle attempt on Chris Rainey. It’s incredibly disappointing to watch the Eagles consistently struggle with one of the most elementary aspects of playing football.
There was some good and bad for the first string defense. The good is that they limited the Steelers first string offense to 3.4 yards per play on the first drive. The bad is that they couldn’t come up with stops on third down and they gave up nearly 7 yards per play against the Steelers second string offense.
But over the course of the whole game, the Eagles’ defense had a fantastic showing as they held the Steelers to 230 yards and 3.5 yards per play. And the best part is that the Eagles turned the performance in with some sketchy tackling. I imagine things will get even better as the Eagles inevitably tackle better.
Mychal Kendricks: He really showed off his athleticism in this game and he had absolutely no trouble going sideline to sideline. And despite sliding off his first two tackles, he got better as the game went on and his best tackle was against a Steelers RB in space. He did a good job of not getting caught up in the trash and he didn’t appear to be hesitating or taking bad angles like Casey Matthews was last year. He looks like an obvious upgrade over Moise Fokou and Jamar Chaney from last year.
Nick Foles: He blew my expectations away. He did a good job of getting the ball out of his hand and he navigated the pocket well, buying time when he needed to. And he certainly did a good job of showing off his arm and deep ball accuracy. But what I liked most is that he wasn’t afraid to throw the ball up and give his players a chance to make a play. Very rarely do (did) Michael Vick, Kevin Kolb and Donovan McNabb make those sort of throws because they’re the sort of QBs who tend to throw to wait for a guy to uncover himself. But elite guys like Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers put faith in their receivers and put the ball out there for them to make plays. That throw to Mardy Gilyard was fantastic simply because he had the guts to make it.
The Return Game: Brandon Boykin and Damaris Johnson had good showings and both look like upgrades at the KR and PR spots.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: He didn’t allow any big catches in coverage and I despite being flagged for the hit on Byron Lefwich, I like the fact that DRC is going out there and attacking ball carriers. Last year he was called out for seemingly walking around at times instead of pursuing the ball carrier so seeing him brutally hit someone represents quite the change for him and I like it. Maybe next time he’ll stay on his feet.
Kurt Coleman: The guy plays hard, hits hard and plays mean. I appreciate that.
The Defensive Line: 7 sacks, 7 QB hits and MUCH more pressure. The Eagles defensive line had a stellar night and that was without Trent Cole, Jason Babin and Mike Patterson. The defensive line is without a doubt the strong point of this team.
Not So Bright Spots:
Brian Rolle: He left his feet on the fourth down play and opened up a cut back lane for Isaac Redman that he took advantage of. He bit on a few of Big Ben’s play extensions and misses some assignments. If he plays like this we better hope Jamar Chaney steps up and earns the WLB job.
Missed Tackles: Already mentioned it. I really hope it gets better.
Jaiquawn Jarrett: I mentioned it already but if he keeps up this horrible play for the rest of the pre-season, I won’t be upset if he’s cut.
The First String Offense: Michael Vick needs to play better in the pocket than he did last night and DeMetress Bell needs to play better too. When your QB and LT aren’t playing well that’s not exactly a recipe for success. For now I’ll chalk this up to first game rust/jitters but I’ll be expecting more out of them next week. They need to play better.