It's only been a week and one quarter of one preseason game, but it's very fair to be excited about the possibilities with cornerback Ronald Darby added to this defense. His athleticism was on display in Thursday night's preseason 20-16 win over Buffalo when Darby had an interception and another pass defensed and made everyone aware of just what he can mean to the Eagles.
Darby's performance was a highlight in an otherwise ragged game that featured 24 accepted penalties between the teams. And his play, just six days after the Eagles acquired him in a trade with, ironically, Buffalo, shows just how much impact Darby can make here.
Combined with a ferocious pass rush and another terrific game from linebacker Mychal Kendricks – more on him later – the defense shut down the Buffalo offense until late in the first half. Darby's first play wasn't particularly memorable as he missed a tackle on a darting 13-yard run from Buffalo running back LeSean McCoy, but then Darby took over. He broke up a Tyrod Taylor pass intended for Anquan Boldin on the sidelines, nearly picking it off, and then made a leaping grab in the middle of the field and returned it 48 yards to set up an Eagles field goal attempt (Caleb Sturgis missed a 45-yard field goal wide left).
So far, so very good with Darby. He started along with Jalen Mills at cornerback, as Patrick Robinson played the nickel. The Eagles were all over Taylor when he dropped back to pass and they dominated the line of scrimmage against the pass and the run. Buffalo's wide receivers are nothing special, although rookie Zay Jones showed some real promise, so the true tests will come in the regular season.
For a first game, and with only a few days of introduction into the Eagles' scheme, Darby dominated. It was the best news of all in a second consecutive uneven performance from the Eagles. Some observations …
- Not much once again from the running game in the first half. LeGarrette Blount had no room running to the edge as the offensive line, missing left tackle Jason Peters, created no push. Corey Clement took second-team reps, ahead of Donnel Pumphrey, and he ripped off a 24-yard gain. All of a sudden, there is a roster battle at running back and it's real.
* Alshon Jeffery had a couple of catches from quarterback Carson Wentz, and there is really no reason to see much more from Jeffrey this preseason. "We're good, we're tight, and together," Jeffery said. "I just can't wait for the regular season to start. I can't wait."
* Kendricks had his second interception of the preseason, catching a Taylor pass that was deflected as safety Rodney McLeod timed a blitz perfectly and got his right hand on the throw. The pass deflected high into the air and Kendricks made the interception. He also sniffed out a screen and showed a strong pass rush with a quarterback sack. Kendricks plays his best football when he's playing downhill. No doubt there are questions about how many snaps he will get in the defense, but Kendricks has had two very good preseason games.
* Oh, and defensive end Derek Barnett had his third sack of the preseason. He looks so outstanding with his quickness and his relentless nature. Talk about being off to a great start. Is it too early to say he is the real deal?
at the helm. The Eagles were 0 for 9 to that point. Then Evans did it again with a 29-yard completion to wide receiver Greg Ward. The offense has a ways to go before it finds its rhythm.
The slot report: Nelson Agholor did everything right, including two catches for 28 yards. He's playing fast and with a lot of confidence.
Good forced fumble in the third quarter by linebacker Don Cherry, who is trying to make the team as a reserve on the strong side.
Wentz highlights? Not a whole lot, other than connecting twice with Jeffery. The Eagles went to a no-huddle offense in the first quarter to get into a rhythm and promptly moved down the field until Blount lost the football. Yeah, it was that kind of night. Welcome to preseason football.
No injuries to report from the game, which is the best news of all. The Eagles sat a bunch of players, including running backs Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood, right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Peters, who was excused for personal reasons.
Evans had a good performance, leading the Eagles on a fourth-quarter touchdown drive. He threw the ball with zip and moved well in and out of the pocket. Evans isn't going to make the 53-man roster, but is a practice squad spot possible?
Byron Marshall has been quiet in this preseason, but he stepped up on Thursday night with 21 rushing yards, including a tough, game-winning touchdown run up the gut. Nice job.
Steven Means dominated at defensive end, as you would expect from a veteran working late in a preseason game. Means is the fifth defensive end here, and he's maybe the best fifth defensive end you will find anywhere.
A big "thank you" to the crowd at Lincoln Financial Field, particularly late in the game. The crowd wasn't huge by that point, but it was mighty vocal urging the defense to hold off Buffalo's final drive. It worked, as cornerback Mitchell White clinched the win with an interception of quarterback T.J. Yates in the end zone. And the game ended at 10:33 p.m. Philadelphia time, 24 combined accepted penalties later.
Next up: Miami comes to the NovaCare Complex for a couple of days of practice on Monday and Tuesday. Should be fun.