The Philadelphia Eagles played their third preseason game of 2013, first on the road, against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday night. Despite an uneven performance from the first-team offense, which produced 16 points through three full quarters and turned the ball over twice, the Eagles were able to escape with a 31-24 victory thanks to a 99-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
For the first time this preseason, the offensive line had its ups and downs from both a pass-protection and run-blocking standpoint. Right tackle Lane Johnson had a bit of trouble with former Eagle Jason Babin early on, and the line miscommunicated on assignments that allowed pressure to get through. Left tackle Jason Peters played in his first game in nearly 20 months. He had to shake the rust off early and get re-acclimated to game speed, but he adjusted and progressed with each drive, as did the entire line.
"It was good to get him back out there, but he'll probably be the first to tell you he was a little rusty at times," head coach Chip Kelly said. "Things happen a little bit faster in a game. You try to simulate it as much as you can in practice, but the game work is good and it was crucial to get him back out there."
Michael Vick had moments of brilliance, but did not look as sharp as he did in the first two games. He finished with 15 completions on 23 attempts for 184 yards, one touchdown (to wide receiver Riley Cooper) and one interception, complemented by seven runs for 53 yards. When Vick had time and a clean pocket, he was able to go through his progressions and find open receivers, but more often than not he had defenders bearing down on him. His one big mistake came on a drive in the second quarter, when he made an ill-advised throw under pressure that was intercepted by Jaguars rookie cornerback Dwayne Gratz at the Jacksonville 28-yard line. In his post-game press conference, Kelly addressed that interception and Vick's overall play, including the aspects that really encouraged him.
"The one (Vick) threw the pick on, he was trying to throw it away," Kelly said."We just have to make sure he understands what to do. We talked about it. But we have to put him in those situations. That's what this preseason is, hopefully we can get that stuff out of there. I thought he did a real good job keeping plays alive at times, but there are some other times where you have to cut your losses and get us back to the line of scrimmage and get the next snap.
"The one thing I don't think (Vick) did, besides the one he tried to throw away, he didn't force the football," Kelly said. "I think he did a good job of making (the Jaguars defense) honest and picked up some real good yardage running after. They did a good job early in coverage. If you do that, then the quarterback can hurt you with his feet. … That's an encouraging thing when you have a guy back there that, when they do have coverage, he can then beat them with his feet, and that's what he did."
On the ground, running back Bryce Brown showed the burst, speed and power that make him such an enticing talent. There are few running backs who can touch Brown's combination of skills, and he frequently flashes special ability. He is especially effective on outside zone runs, and once he turns the corner and gets a full head of steam going forward, he is pretty much unstoppable. Despite 11 carries for 92 yards, the problem, as it was last year, is the dangerous way in which Brown carries the football out away from his body, which leaves him susceptible to fumbling. It happened against the Jaguars, too.
On the fateful play, he exploded through a lane on the outside and raced down the sideline for 23 yards. Just as Brown was getting ready to dive into the end zone, Jaguars safety Dwight Lowery met him at the 3-yard line. Lowery got low and put his helmet on the football, which popped out of Brown's grasp, went straight up into the air, and then bounced through the end zone for a touchback. Instead of the seven points it seemed were assured as Brown was galloping towards the end zone, the Eagles generated zero points and the Jaguars got the ball at the 20-yard line.
"He hasn't done that earlier in the other games," Kelly said of the way Brown carried the football. "It was swinging there on the one he fumbled. We talked about that."
Brown's fumble was one of three turnovers on the game for the Eagles (including a Damaris Johnson fumble on a punt return), bringing their preseason total up to seven. There were also some penalties that negated big plays, and six total on the night. The Eagles have now committed 19 penalties for 130 yards through three preseason games. Kelly was perturbed by the self-inflicted mistakes and lamented them afterwards.
"We were, again, our own worst enemy on the offensive side of the ball," Kelly said.
Kelly was, however, very pleased with quarterback Nick Foles, who piloted the offense admirably in the fourth quarter en route to 15 points. His most impressive display came on the 14-play, 99-yard drive that culminated in a Chris Polk touchdown run. Foles went 6-for-6 for 61 yards on that drive to finish 10-of-11 for 112 yards.
"That's what I expect out of Nick," Kelly said. "I think he's an outstanding quarterback. I said that when we made the decision with Mike, and I feel like we have two quarterbacks who are NFL-quality quarterbacks. We expected him to do that, that's the type of player he is."
While Kelly was sure to highlight the positives, he knows the Eagles are still a work in progress. As the game against Jacksonville showed, there is still a lot to be improved upon.
"There's no place where we can say 'Hey, we're good to go,'" Kelly said. "It's always a constant. We need to improve in every aspect of this football team."
The Eagles will get one last chance to make improvements in the preseason, against the New York Jets on Thursday before opening the regular season against the Washington Redskins on September 9.
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