Thursday night wasn’t a football clinic, that’s for sure. Then again, no one expected the Eagles first preseason game, a 13-6 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, to be very pretty.
Preseason games are usually pretty sloppy, and with the teams having a truncated camp and less time than normal to prepare, it’s hard to blame them for not showing much. But it was football, and after the hell of the lockout it was great seeing the guys in action.
The Eagles starters, originally scheduled to play the first quarter, came out early. On offense, quarterback Mike Vick threw a few crisp passes — including a 3-yard touchdown to Brent Celek, LeSean McCoy made only a token appearance, and Riley Cooper nearly destroyed his leg with a great catch on a deep Vick pass. The fact that Cooper avoided a real injury, and that the rest of his teammates escasped relatively unscathed as well, was the best news of the night.
After Vick’s 10 minutes or so of game time, backup Vince Young came in and mostly handed the ball off but didn’t look too terrible overall. He also looked good running a bit — no surprise. After Young’s appearance the majority of the quarterback play was handled by Mike Kafka, who looked decent at times but threw an ugly pick. He still needs work. Undrafted rookie Jerrod Johnson is tall.
At running back, while McCoy may have seen little action newly signed backup Ronnie Brown came in and Andy Reid started running the offense like the forward pass was never invented. Of course, that’s likely because Young, who entered the game with Brown, had no idea what the plays were. Young hasn’t exactly had a lot of time to absorb the offense so it shouldn’t be seen as a lack of commitment or proof that he’s dumber than the turf Brown was tearing up.
Brown had nine carries, but it seemed like more just because it was so strange to see the Eagles running so much. They don’t even pound the ball like that if they’re up 20 in the 4th quarter. He only gained 22 yards but he ran hard, and with some more consistent blocking up front the numbers would look better. Throw in a couple catches and Brown was hit more than that unbreakable pinata from those insurance commercials. He may not have done anything special but Brown is an absolutely fantastic addition to this team.
Later on, Dion Lewis showed a nice burst and while he’s extremely small he showed NFL-level skills. He’ll likely never be more than a backup but every team needs multiple backs and Lewis looks like a solid pick up. Speaking of pick up, Lewis even handled a blitzer at one point. Good to see from a rookie, especially someone at his size.
Speaking of small players, Chad Hall looked quick and sure-handed as an outlet valve. He actually finished the night with five catches for 82 yards. It’s hard to imagine there being room on the roster for him and he’ll never stop looking out of place but it was nice to see Hall excel. And with the NFL’s ridiculous new policy on kickoffs basically eliminating the return game, it’s possible Hall sticks as an extra RB/WR/jack-of-all-trades while return man Johnnie Lee Higgins sees his career ended by the NFL’s reactionary fear of concussion lawsuits. It’s terrible, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the policy reversed before the preseason ends. Then again, after the lockout the NFL has seen enough courtrooms for the time being so it’s likely we’re stuck with this awful new rule.
On the line, Jamaal Jackson looked OK if a bit ponderous, showing no obvious signs from his injuries. He and rookie fifth-round pick Jason Kelce, who only looked OK in his first NFL game action, will continue to battle. Rookie first-round pick Danny Watkins also failed to really distinguish himself, but he wasn’t terrible either. It’s tough to evaluate guard play anyway, and Watkins has spent almost as much time as an extra EMT as he has practicing so he gets a pass.
Defensively, there wasn’t much to see early on but overall it was a nice showing for Juan Castillo’s group. Cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel were gone quicker than the crab puffs at a wedding reception, and the reserves didn’t really stand out as doing anything overly great or horrible. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie did alternate with Joselio Hanson in the nickel, but again there wasn’t much to see in the limited time they were on the field. It’s safe to say that all the veteran corners will be fine come Week 1.
Maybe the two biggest standouts on the night were reserves on the defensive line. Defensive end Darryl Tapp had two sacks and was running all over the field. He even blew up a run play. Newly signed defensive tackle Derek Landri was spin-moving all over the field and collapsing the pocket on multiple occasions. He’s obviously playing against other backups but it’s nice to see a high motor guy out there getting after it. With Mike Patterson possibly out for the season and Trevor Laws battling an injury and general ineffectiveness, Landri may make the team.
Rookie safety Jaiquawn Jarrett had a nice pick. He needs to start laying some wood though. Jarrett will be worth watching to see if his big-hitting rep stays with him as he becomes acclimated to the speed of NFL game. Veteran free agent pick up Jarrad Page added an interception himself, and with so much overall youth at the position Page has a chance to stick around.
One of the only real area of concerns on the team, outside of Patterson’s condition and Jeremy Maclin’s illness, is the play of the starting linebackers. Unfortunately, they didn’t show anything — good or bad — last night because they didn’t see the field much. Starting middle linebacker Casey Matthews, a major question mark, didn’t see much action. He and starting weak side backer Jamar Chaney played maybe two series between them. The linebacker play will be something to watch closely as the preseason rolls on.
The best news for that area is that the Eagles look to be moving towards a defense with a heavy nickel look (and with the three corners they have, why not?), so having all three linebackers on the field seems like it will be a rare occurrence.
Rookie kicker Alex Henery looked fine kicking two fields goals, from 35 and 24 yards out respectively. Not surprisingly, his kickoffs went for touchbacks thanks both to his strong leg and the NFL’s horrible new rule that has the ball spotted at the 30 yard line. Rookie punter Chas Henry averaged a solid 43 yards on four punts, which includes a pretty ugly 28 yard shank. He did boom a couple 50+ yarders, and it’s not surprising to some inconsistency there from a rookie in his first game. Overall, both guys look like keepers. So far.
Lastly, the least surprising part of the night was Andy Reid challenging a play that obviously wouldn’t be overturned — Jason Avant’s awesome but clearly out of bounds catch in the first quarter. It cost the Eagles an early timeout. So while the team seems to be experiencing a lot of turnover and hype, it’s strangely comforting to know some things will never change.
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