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Fan-Demonium: Getting Better

Posted Aug 18, 2014

Game two of the preseason is in the books. The Eagles had another up-and-down showing, but there were plenty of reasons to be happy with Friday night's game. As you can tell by the final score of 42-35, most of the good news was on the offensive side of the ball.

Nick Foles and the starting offense looked much better than they did in the opener. Foles threw a pair of interceptions against the Bears, but didn't throw any this week. He led a short touchdown drive and a longer drive that resulted in a missed field goal. I thought Foles just looked better. He was more comfortable and the offense played with some rhythm. Foles made a couple of terrific throws to Brent Celek. He also hit Zach Ertz for a touchdown.

Mark Sanchez looked good last week and followed that up with an even better performance against the Patriots. He has solidified himself as the backup quarterback. I also think Sanchez has made everyone comfortable with him as the backup. Sanchez threw a pair of touchdowns in the game. He did throw an interception, but that might have been a good thing. We got to see how Sanchez responded to the mistake. He didn't let it get to him. Instead, he led the team on an 80-yard touchdown drive the next time he got the ball back. Things are not always going to go smoothly in a game, especially for the backup quarterback. It was good to see Sanchez respond to the pick by basically ignoring it and remaining confident and aggressive.

It wasn't just quarterbacks who impressed. Ertz had another strong outing. He caught two passes for 26 yards and touchdown. Celek caught two passes as well, both gaining 20-plus yards. Ertz and Celek are going to be a tough matchup for defenses this year. Ertz looks like he is ready to take the next step. Because the Eagles have so many weapons, I don't know that he'll put up gaudy numbers. I do expect Ertz to be a playmaker and key player for the offense this season.

All spring and summer fans have heard about Jordan Matthews. His debut against the Bears did not come close to living up to the hype. That changed on Friday. Matthews caught nine passes for 104 yards and looked like the player that everyone raved about from the practice sessions. He was big, fast and strong. Matthews caught the ball well and was dangerous after the catch. You can now see why the Eagles traded up for him in the draft. Matthews looks like he could be an ideal fit for the offense. As for what happened in the Bears game, I tend to agree with Chip Kelly that Matthews was just too amped up and his emotions got the best of him. He settled down on Friday and just played. The results speak for themselves.

The starting offensive line struggled in the preseason opener, but they bounced back in a big way. That had a lot to do with the improved play of Foles. When he's got time, Foles is going to be significantly better than when he is under pressure. The line still had some issues. Jason Kelce had his hands full with Vince Wilfork. Kelce is about 50 to 60 pounds lighter than Wilfork and lost a couple of battles. Right tackle Allen Barbre gave up a sack on the first third down of the game. He had a good initial block of Rob Ninkovich, but could not sustain it and let the rusher get free around the edge. Still, the line played better and that was important to see.

Once again, I liked what I saw from the backup offensive line. Andrew Gardner has been a very pleasant surprise at left tackle. Left guard Matt Tobin had another good showing. Center David Molk had a key block on a screen pass that turned into a touchdown. Dennis Kelly and Lane Johnson have been more erratic that I would like from guys with starting experience, not to mention Johnson's raw talent.

Several running backs missed the game, which left undrafted rookie Henry Josey with a huge opportunity. And boy did he take advantage of it. Josey ran eight times for 56 yards. He caught one pass, a screen that he turned into a 27-yard touchdown. Josey showed good vision in finding where to go. He was also quick and elusive. Josey still has an uphill battle to push for a roster spot, but he did exactly what you want. It is Josey's job to make the roster decisions as hard as possible for Kelly, the staff and Howie Roseman.

The defense did not have a strong showing. There were missed assignments, missed tackles and coverage issues. I'm not worried right now, but the defense definitely has my attention, and not for the right reasons. It would be easy to look at Friday's performance and hit the panic button, but there are some reasons not to do that.

As Bill Davis has mentioned in a recent press conference, the defense is keeping things very vanilla. The 3-4 is based on deception and confusion. Right now the Eagles are using a lot of base plays rather than exotic blitzes. If the Eagles were scheming more aggressively, the defense would look better. Still, the players need to win more one-on-one battles. You can't always count on the scheme. You must beat the man across from you and get to the ball. That's just not happening enough.

The other factor to consider is that Davis really mixed up his lineup on Friday night. He mixed things up to look at different individuals. Davis wanted to see how the players looked together as well as how they fared against the Patriots starters. Travis Long normally plays against the backup or third-string offense. Friday night he was chasing after Tom Brady. All the mixing and matching that Davis did was good for evaluation purposes, but it didn't help to slow the Patriots down.

Let's talk about some things that did go well. Cary Williams picked off a pass and ran it back 77 yards for a touchdown. DeMeco Ryans made a couple of good plays against the run. I thought Nate Allen had another good showing. He was in on four tackles and had another aggressive outing. He looks better this summer than any time since his rookie season. That's encouraging.

There were plenty of backups who played well. Let's start with the backup defensive linemen. Vinny Curry had another good showing. He wasn't as dominant as the previous week, but that's what happens when you face starters instead of just second and third stringers. Curry was still disruptive and played with great energy. Beau Allen got to face starting competition for the first time in his career and he looked good. Allen was stout against the run. Once again he showed some pass rush ability as well. That's very good to see from a 330-pound nose tackle. I was very impressed with
Brandon Bair. He played both defensive end and defensive tackle. Bair showed the ability to two-gap effectively and also make hustle plays.

Rookie Marcus Smith II played a ton of snaps. He didn't stand out in a big way, but did have some good moments. You can see the raw ability is there, but he needs a lot of work. Travis Long did a good job against the run. He just doesn't show the explosion you want in the pass game. Long will get some pressure due to relentless effort, but he's not athletic enough to consistently beat tackles right now.

Lawlor

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.

Quick Hits

* Ifenayi Momah got to play a lot again due to injuries. He had an up-and-down showing. Momah caught three passes for 28 yards. One of those got stripped away before he could get to the ground. There was another play in the end zone where a pass went off his hands and right to a teammate. Momah needs to make that catch if he's going to convince the Eagles he is truly worth a roster spot.

* The teammate who caught that lucky bounce was Arrelious Benn. That gift was good for a touchdown. That was Benn's only catch of the game. He did get reps with the starting offense, but the ball just wasn't coming his way. Benn did stand out on special teams. He blocked a punt in the second quarter, which set up a short touchdown drive.

* Donnie Jones only had one punt, but it went 57 yards. Nice.

* Alex Henery was up and down. Three of his six kickoffs went for touchbacks, something he's been working hard to improve. Unfortunately Henery missed his only field goal attempt. It was from 47 yards out, but Henery has to make that.

* Curtis Marsh had a rough game. He was beaten for multiple touchdowns. He was called for penalties. Tom Brady found him all over the field. I do give Marsh credit for never backing down. He made a couple of nice plays late in the game. Some players might have given up by then, but Marsh kept battling.

* Matt Barkley had a pretty good game. He threw a touchdown and a pick.

* Brandon Graham had a sack. He was unblocked on the play, but made sure he got the quarterback down.

* Alejandro Villanueva had his first NFL sack. That was cool to see from the former Army Ranger.

* Earl Wolff forced a fumble and batted down a pass when he blitzed off the edge. He is going to push for playing time, if not a starting job.

* Rookie tight end Trey Burton caught one pass for 18 yards.

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