There were more than a few bumps in the road in the preseason opener as the Eagles fell to the Bears, 34-28. The final score is somewhat meaningless. Preseason games are more about individual performances and how specific units function rather than the whole team. With that in mind, there were plenty of bright spots. The real key in the preseason opener is to come out healthy and have the young players play well or showcase NFL ability. The Eagles didn't have any major injuries and plenty of young players did impress.
Let's begin with some quick thoughts on the starters. Nick Foles threw a couple of interceptions and looked shaky at times. Re-watch the game and you'll see that poor protection from his offensive line had a lot to do with that. Jason Kelce got driven right back into Foles on one play. Evan Mathis had a couple of holding calls. One negated a pass play, the other a run. Jason Peters was called for holding. Allen Barbre was inconsistent with his pass protection. Foles didn't handle pressure well, but his line must do a better job. Jeremiah Ratliff (Jay Ratliff when he played in Dallas) was particularly disruptive and gave the line problems. The offensive line was very good last year. I look at this as an anomaly, but it was frustrating to watch.
The offense also had a lot of penalties to deal with. Jeremy Maclin was called for a facemask penalty on a play where it didn't look like he grabbed anything. That one moment killed a drive. Chip Kelly and his coaching staff will not be happy with the sloppy play, especially all of the penalties and the turnovers. They will focus on getting this stuff cleaned up before next Friday.
The starting defense only gave up one long drive. Unfortunately, they gave up passing yards and struggled on third downs on that drive. The Bears converted two third-and-long situations, then scored their touchdown on a third-and-7. Ugh. Those were major issues last year. There isn't one person or position to blame. The pass rush wasn't good enough. The coverage could have been tighter. Tackling was also sloppy. Sometimes you see this in the preseason opener. There is hitting in Training Camp, but nothing is like playing in a live game.
I was impressed by Mychal Kendricks, Malcolm Jenkins and Nate Allen. Kendricks has big-time talent and looked good against the Bears. Kendricks played under control, which was encouraging to see. Jenkins was a physical presence for the defense. He also looked like a good leader out there. Allen had an interception and played more aggressively than in the past couple of years.
Kelly didn't play the starters too much. They were just trying to get their feet wet in this game and shake off some rust. The opener is a huge game for the backups. Those players are fighting for playing time and roster spots. The Eagles had some young guys really shine. Head coach Chip Kelly praised nose tackle Beau Allen for his play. He pushed the center back into the quarterback on a pass play. Allen was stout against the run. He showed a good motor on a screen pass when he chased it down from behind and got in on the tackle. I also thought Allen showed good quickness off the ball. Really good start for him.
Brandon Bair was the backup right defensive end and caught my eye. Who? Bair has flown under the radar all summer, but looked good last night. He was quick off the ball. He played the run well. He got very good push on the blocked field goal. I thought he played with a lot of energy, but it wasn't like Bair was just a kid running around. He was disruptive, but did it within the framework of the defense. Young linemen Taylor Hart and Joe Kruger each had some good moments.
Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry each had some good moments. Graham hit the quarterback on the pass that Nate Allen picked off. Graham had lined up as an end and then looped hard to the inside and blew by the left guard. The quarterback couldn't step into the throw and Allen had a gift interception. Curry had the team's only sack of the game. He is always disruptive when allowed to attack from the nickel or dime defense.
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.
Rookie Marcus Smith II had a good showing in his NFL debut. You could see why the Eagles like him as a 3-4 linebacker. Smith is a capable pass rusher, but can also cover and play in space. He made a good tackle of a wide receiver in space. He knocked down a pass over the middle of the field. I thought for a minute he might make an amazing interception, but had to settle for a batted pass. Smith showed great burst off the edge on one pass play. The tackle was able to ride him wide. This is where Smith needs to learn counter moves and also how to mix in power with his speed.
Safeties Chris Maragos and Ed Reynolds impressed me. Maragos looked good on defense and special teams. He can really hit. He plays with the confidence of a veteran leader. Reynolds broke up a pass in the end zone by having his hand at the right spot at the right time. His back was to the ball, but he saw the receiver going for the ball. Smart play by the rookie.
Let's jump back to the offense. Mark Sanchez made his Eagles debut and looked good. He was 7 of 10 passing and led a pair of touchdown drives. Sanchez made a terrific throw to Zach Ertz down the seam for a gain of 34 yards. Sanchez looked comfortable in the up-tempo attack, which can be tough on players who aren't used to it. Matt Barkley made some good throws during his time in the game. He connected with tight end James Casey for a gain of 24 yards on a nice play to the left side. Barkley made another good throw when he tried to hit Jordan Matthews on the right side, but a defender broke that up. Barkley did lead a touchdown drive. The score came on a short pass to running back David Fluellen.
The backup offensive line was a huge question mark coming into the game, but I thought they played well. The number two line played in the second and third quarters. They were on the field for all three touchdown drives. The short scoring pass to Fluellen was a screen and center David Molk and left guard Matt Tobin had key blocks on that play. Left tackle Andrew Gardner was a pleasant surprise. He moved his feet well in pass protection and also did a good job with his hands. He looked comfortable and natural out there. Gardner had one run play where he just buried a defensive end. He got under the end's pads and planted him on the ground. Tobin had a good combo block on Matthew Tucker's first touchdown run. The backup right tackle was Lane Johnson and he looked good as well. He is much better than backup competition so you can't make too much of what he did.
Jordan Matthews has been the talk of camp, but game action was tough on him. He caught four passes, but had some drops as well. The catches only netted him 14 yards so they didn't amount to much. He did have some good blocks. I expect Matthews will adjust well and look significantly better in the next game. Fellow rookie Josh Huff only caught one pass for 4 yards, but he made an impression with his 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Huff showed good speed and strength on that play. He has a chance to be the regular kick returner this season if he can continue to impress.
Ifeanyi Momah struggled mightily last summer, but looks completely different this year. He actually started in the game and had two catches. Momah looked pretty good out there. He's come a long way in a year and the young man deserves a ton of credit for how hard he's worked. Kudos to him. Speaking of working hard, it was good to see Maclin back on the field. He only caught one pass for 15 yards, but it was good to see him running around and looking comfortable. There were no signs that he's coming off an ACL injury.
The most impressive pass catcher on the field was Ertz. He finished with four catches for 60 yards. Ertz is going to be a key weapon for the Eagles this year. I thought his blocking looked better last night than what we saw last season. Tight ends must be good blockers in a run-heavy offense.
LeSean McCoy had one uneventful carry. Darren Sproles got three. His best play was a 9-yard run. The backups did get a lot of work. Matthew Tucker ran for 40 yards and two touchdowns. What should have been a good game for him was hurt by the fact he had a bad fumble. Tucker slipped and the ball was knocked from his hand when it hit the foot of a blocker. Every now and then a defender is going to make a great play to cause a fumble. You can deal with those. Having the ball knocked out by a blocker's foot is not good. Undrafted rookie David Fluellen impressed me. He ran for 25 yards and looked faster than I anticipated.
Friday night wasn't the kind of performance that Kelly wanted from his team, but the backups and young players did some positive things. The coaches are happy to have some game tape to show the players so that they can teach them. Players can really learn when they see themselves on tape against another team. And there is still plenty of learning to do.