One week can make a huge difference, and the Eagles proved that with the jump they made from the preseason opener to the win over the Panthers. There is still a lot of work to be done, but seeing progress is important. The coaches want to know the players are improving. The players will be more confident because of the improved play. Fans just wanted to have fun watching the team.
The defense was worlds better. The players looked more comfortable in the scheme. They played more aggressively. Missed tackles were down. Missed assignments were down. The opener was rough because players were rusty and adjusting to the 3-4. This week the rust was gone and players had a better idea of what to do.
Players learn when they can study tape. They need to see themselves in action. Coaches can then explain to them what they're doing right and wrong. Sometimes players need help with positional skills, while other times they need help in regard to the scheme. Having the coach draw X's and O's on the chalkboard is one thing, but watching yourself on tape is a much better way to learn. That first game tape was a huge tool for the coaches and players and you could see that in the Panthers game.
The player up front who jumped out the most was Cedric Thornton. He played the run well and got pressure on the quarterback. I think he can surprise some people this year with how well he plays. Fletcher Cox is still up and down, but he showed his special athletic ability on a couple of plays where he chased Cam Newton. Cox runs better than any 310-pound defensive end in the NFL.
Bennie Logan is up and down. He got blown off the ball on his first play, but then pressured the passer on the next play. Logan later batted down a pass. He had a solid game overall and was going against starters for some of those snaps. I still can't figure Damion Square out. He's not that big. He's not that athletic. Square still finds a way to get the job done. Vinny Curry didn't jump out as much as he did in the opener, but his play was just as impressive. He spent more time playing at end in the base defense. Curry still was disruptive at times, but also showed he can be a tough, physical player when he's not allowed to fire into the backfield. Curry is using his hands really well right now. His rip move is a thing of beauty. Curry might only be 280 pounds or so, but he is able to drive back blockers better than some of the bigger guys he plays with. Violent hands are a big part of that. Blockers have a tough time getting control of Curry.
I was happy to see Trent Cole show progress at outside linebacker. He really got better in the second quarter and started to be a disruptive player. Cole ran over a couple of blockers on his way to the backfield. He's still learning, but it was good to see him knock the crap out of some people. That's the Trent Cole we know and love. Brandon Graham is the team's best pass rusher, but is still figuring out how to play in the 3-4. I thought he looked more comfortable as a linebacker in the Panthers game. Graham made one spectacular play that really stood out. Carolina tried to run up the middle. Graham exploded into the tight end trying to block him and drove the player back. Graham then shed him and got the runner for a short loss. That play showed strength, explosion and it came within the framework of the defense.
Mychal Kendricks was fun to watch. He could have a big year. The 3-4 defense is built around blitzing linebackers. Kendricks didn't get much of a chance to do that last year, but should in 2013. Bill Davis will turn him loose on a regular basis. Kendricks showed against the Panthers that he has the speed and skills to make plays in the backfield. I continue to be impressed by Emmanuel Acho. He is a smart, instinctive linebacker. Rookie Jake Knott had another solid showing. He must improve at taking on blockers. When he's kept clean, Knott can be a playmaker. He just can't count on the guys up front keeping blockers off him on every play. Inside linebackers must be able to take on blockers and defeat them. DeMeco Ryans is good at this and an ideal player for Knott to learn from.
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.
The team's best safety is Patrick Chung. I don't think he'll be a star, but he can be a good player. Chung is able to come down into the box and make plays. There was an inside run where Ryans and Chung were the guys making the stop. Chung is able to tackle out in space. He can cover in the slot. The Eagles have Chung cover downfield at times, but that's not his strength. He lacks the speed to run with wide receivers 30 and 40 yards down the field. Nate Allen quietly had a solid game. He didn't make plays, but was sound in his assignments. He was in the right place at the right time. Allen covered tight ends man-to-man a few times and was excellent. This could be a good role for him.
Bradley Fletcher had another good game. I think he is the top corner right now. He's given up some catches, but often has tight coverage. There were a pair of throws in the Carolina game where he was draped on the receiver and the ball still got through. Fletcher is tackling well. Cary Williams wasn't at 100 percent so it was hard to get an accurate read on him. He did have one beautiful pass break-up on a throw over the middle. Williams reached over the back of the receiver and hit the ball, but he didn't make contact. Clean play. Brandon Boykin is lights out in the slot and he's also playing well on the outside when he goes there with the second unit. Eddie Whitley had a good game. He mostly played late, but covered very well. Keep your eyes on him as someone who could steal a roster spot.
LeSean McCoy was the star of the night. Words don't do some of his runs justice. He was as electric as I've ever seen him. McCoy made dynamic cuts and looked great. His 21-yard run had players falling to the ground and the jaws of fans and the media doing the same thing. Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly might have nightmares about McCoy for a couple of weeks. McCoy blocked well when protecting the quarterback. He also had a good night as a receiver. Great player.
Chris Polk had a good showing, for the most part. He looked quicker and faster than in the opener. Polk did have one huge error. He fumbled in the second quarter and killed a promising drive. Rookie Matthew Tucker had some good runs late in the game. He's a big back that runs hard and attacks downhill.
Michael Vick and Nick Foles continued their battle for the starting quarterback spot. Foles got the start. He marched the team right down the field and then made a huge mistake. The Eagles were in the red zone and Foles bobbled the snap, then threw an interception in the end zone. You simply can't do that. The good news is that he responded the right way. Foles didn't panic. He marched the team right back down the field, with a lot of help from McCoy, and then Foles ran for a short touchdown. Foles is proving to his critics that while he may not be anything special as a runner, he can make occasional plays. The defense has to account for him or risk giving up some yards. Foles isn't Vick, but he's also not a statue.
Vick was terrific. The Panthers tried blitzing him a few times and Vick sat right in the pocket and ran the offense. He had great pocket presence, which is something you couldn't always say about him. Vick threw the ball very well. His throws were accurate and had good velocity. Vick dumped the ball to McCoy a couple of times. He got intermediate passes to Riley Cooper and Emil Igwenagu. Vick hit DeSean Jackson a couple of times on a drive late in the half. His best throw was a third down pass to Jason Avant. Vick also ran the ball a couple of times and showed that he can still make plays with his feet. His performance against the Panthers, coupled with his overall play throughout Training Camp, earned him the starting quarterback job on Tuesday.
Both quarterbacks played well this summer, but Vick took his game to another level. He was always more physically gifted than Foles. The question with Vick was his ability to do the little things. Kelly's coaching or Kelly's offense or something in the smoothies got to him. Or maybe having to fight for the job is what did it. Reasons aside, this is a different Vick than we've seen in recent years, if not ever. His ability to be a good quarterback and not just a playmaker is what jumps out at you. He's still capable of dynamic runs and passes, but right now Vick is a new man. He sits in the pocket, makes his reads and then gets the ball out in a timely fashion. Kelly said he wants his quarterback to play like a point guard. Distribute the ball. Vick is doing just that.
Foles now goes from the competition to be the starting quarterback to a new competition. How high does he rank among the backup quarterbacks in the NFL? I'd sure put him pretty high on that list. Battling Vick all spring and summer brought out the best in Foles. Kelly has to love how this situation played out.
Rookie Matt Barkley continues to look like a rookie. He'll make one terrific throw and then follow that up with a play he'd like to have back. This isn't an insult. Barkley has shown good potential. He is accurate. He is smarter than most rookies. He shows excellent on-field leadership skills. You see Barkley out there getting players lined up and talking to his teammates. There was one play where Barkley was trying to get veteran running back Felix Jones lined up in the right spot. He might be a rookie, but he's running the show. That's the attitude you want a young quarterback to have.
The wide receiver situation feels better than it did a few weeks back. DeSean Jackson is playing like a star. Riley Cooper had a couple of catches and blocked well against the Panthers. Jason Avant had four catches and made impressive grabs on passes from Foles and Vick. Avant even had a nice gain on a wide receiver screen. It was interesting to see that play go to him. Damaris Johnson caught some short passes and took some big hits. He might be small, but Johnson is a tough dude. He can take a beating. Greg Salas caught a pair of passes and continued his push for a roster spot.
Zach Ertz made big strides from the opener. The rookie from Stanford struggled with his blocking against the Patriots. He was much better against the Panthers. Ertz was good out in space as a blocker on run and pass plays. Kelly's offense requires that perimeter players block well so that short, safe plays can get yards. Ertz caught a pair of passes and looked good there. He had to go up for the ball on a pass from Barkley. Ertz was able to secure the ball and get his feet in bounds for a gain of 21. James Casey and Brent Celek both had good games as blockers. Derek Carrier made a terrific play late in the game. He made a twisting catch up high, hit the ground, spun and then took off upfield for a gain of 36 yards. A penalty wiped out the play, but the coaches had to be ecstatic to see Carrier finally show off his athleticism in a game. He has very good potential.
Left tackle Allen Barbre continues to be one of the major bright spots of the summer. He had another highly impressive performance. Barbre will play a lot the next two weeks, and it will be interesting to see if he can continue to play outstanding football. The Eagles appear to have struck gold with Barbre, who will be a backup at tackle and guard in the regular season.
Jason Kelce looked good in his second game back. He played more and showed off his mobility, making some key blocks on the second level. Rookie Lane Johnson had a couple of mistakes. He gave up his first sack as well. Overall, he played very well. I love his run blocking. Johnson can handle big guys at the line of scrimmage, but also get out in space and take on smaller defenders. Johnson took out blitzers on a few plays. That shows good awareness (seeing them) and understanding of the offense (knowing that it was his job to block them).
Julian Vandervelde played better than in the opener. He anchored better in pass protection. Matt Tobin had another solid game, but did get beat a couple of times. I think he's out of place at left tackle, but Tobin battles on every snap and wins most of the battles. Rookie Michael Bamiro did some impressive things. He showed great strength a couple of times as he put defenders on the ground. Bamiro is a big guy. He'll make Kelly happy if he beats up on smaller guys.
Special teams play was outstanding once again. Boykin and Johnson had good returns. Rookie Russell Shepard did well covering punts and kickoffs. Rookie Brad Wing had a good game, putting two punts down inside the 20.
If the Eagles can get even better in this week's game, that will be a great sign for the upcoming season. I don't know how good this Eagles team will be, but it sure seems like they'll be a lot of fun to watch.