It's a good feeling anytime you can open the preseason with a win. There is plenty of good film for the coaches to teach off of, whether they were positive or negative results. There were big plays in all three phases of the game that should help get fans excited for some of the players on this team.
The D-Line Was Dominant
Last year, it was no secret that the strongest position group on the team was the defensive line. That didn't change on Sunday against Indianapolis. Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan all made plays in the two series they spent on the field, but it was Logan who made the biggest impact.
This is a really, really athletic play for a nose tackle in a front that asks the linemen to 2-gap often. Logan has consistently shown that he can anchor down at the point of attack, but his ability to make athletic plays like this are what make him, in my mind, one of the top nose tackles in all of football.
On this zone run, Logan's athleticism and burst are put on display as he's able to chase this down from the back side. You'll notice that on the previous play, Logan was lined up as a 3-technique. On this play, he was lined up as a 1-technique. For a more in-depth look at the different defensive line techniques, check out Football 101. Logan plays from a number of different spots along the line in different fronts for the Eagles' defense. Logan is primed to make a huge jump on a bigger stage in his third NFL season.
It's not just Cox, Thornton and Logan up front though. The Eagles' depth has been well-documented, and it showed up again on Sunday with players like Vinny Curry, Taylor Hart, Beau Allen and Brandon Bair all playing at a high level against the run versus the Colts.
On this shot, Hart, Allen and Bair all 2-gap up front. They stalemate their men at the line of scrimmage and not give up any ground at the point of attack in what results in a 3-yard gain.
Positive Review For Marcus Smith
One of the players who had the attention of every fan, writer and analyst on Sunday was 2014 first-round pick Marcus Smith and I thought he performed well. He dropped in coverage early and often. He was only credited for only one tackle, but he was a factor in the run game as well.
Smith takes on not only the tight end, but the lead fullback as well as he sets the edge and helps corral the running back inside. The ballcarrier is forced to come back and linebacker Jordan Dewalt-Ondijo makes a good play in pursuit, getting the tackle for loss from the back side.
Smith has clearly put in the work on special teams as well. He started on all four core special teams units (by "core" units, I'm referring to the kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return units). It wasn't all peaches and cream for Smith, but this was a positive sign for things pointing in the right direction for the secondyear linebacker.
New Faces In The Secondary
The other spot on defense that everyone had their eyes on was the secondary. With three new starters, that is to be expected. I, for one, was really excited to see cornerback Eric Rowe play at full speed in a game situation and he didn't disappoint. The secondround pick made one of the biggest plays of the day for the Eagles' defense, forcing a fumble at midfield to create the first turnover of the day. Rowe was in zone coverage on the play, but followed the crossing route across the field due to an early throw as a result of pressure and made a fantastic play to get the ball out.
Rowe didn't just make plays on defense though. His impact on special teams was felt as well. Rowe was also a factor in the core units, starting in three of the four groups.
On this kickoff coverage play, Rowe is a contain player. His role is to do just that contain the return and not let it outside him. Rowe let the ballcarrier reach his outside shoulder, but he had the alley to take a clear shot at the return if he chose to. A younger player might have in this situation. Instead, he knew his role, stayed patient and made sure he was in position just in case the returner tried to bounce it. This is an example of a play where the coaches can use this as a teaching point for a young rookie, with something positive and negative mixed into one rep.
With the injury to JaCorey Sheppard early in Training Camp, there is a focus on the battle for the starting job at nickel corner, a competition that continued on Sunday. Rowe saw some quality reps in the slot against the Colts, making a couple plays against the run. Second-year defensive back Jaylen Watkins made a play early in the game from the slot where he pressed the receiver at the line of scrimmage and disrupted the timing of the route, leading to an incompletion in the red zone. Watkins also made a play on the ball later in the game that I found really impressive.
Watkins is lined up in press position at the top of the screen. He doesn't get his hands on the receiver, but he's able to match his release, keep pace with the wideout down the field and. In the most impressive aspect of the play, Watkins stays in his hip pocket (what coaches call "in-phase") and turn to find the football. Watkins goes up and gets the ball on the ground in what was a textbook play for a defensive back. This play wasn't from the slot, but it goes to show why Watkins was considered by many draft analysts as a steal for the Eagles in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
One of the other players competing with Watkins in the slot is veteran E.J. Biggers. Signed as a free agent this offseason, Biggers has plenty of experience in the NFL playing both inside and out. This play did not come from the slot, but it was another example of an impressive play that shouldn't go unnoticed.
The Eagles are playing Cover 1 Robber (a coverage we broke down last week's podcast as well as in our Anatomy Of A Play segment) with a safety coming down to play as a hole player in the middle of the field. Biggers, knowing his has safety help over the top, undercuts the dig route from the receiver and puts himself in great position to make a play on the ball and get it on the ground. A veteran like Biggers knows when to play to his help and how to put himself in the best spot possible to make a play, and he did that on Sunday multiple times. I'm really excited to see this competition for the nickel cornerback job play out over the course of the next few weeks.
Reynolds Wraps Up Two Picks
Another player who turned some heads on Sunday was second-year safety Ed Reynolds. Like Smith, Reynolds didn't have much of an impact as a rookie in 2014, but made some plays against the Colts that put him right in the discussion for one of the top backup spots at safety.
Reynolds is the single-high safety in a Cover 1 hole look, with one defender in the hole underneath and man coverage across the board. Now, this wasn't a terribly difficult play to make. He is lined up on the near hash and the ball lands inside the number closest to him. However, these are plays you want your young safeties to be able to make. He tracks the ball in the air and reels it in for his first of two interceptions in the game.
The next interception was definitely the more impressive of the two. Playing Cover 2 man coverage, with two high safeties and man coverage underneath, Reynolds is responsible for the deep half of the field located at the top of the screen. Look how early he reads the corner route from the Colts' receiver (you can't see him in the Vine, but the quarterback has yet to release the ball) and breaks on the ball, pulling in the interception and flipping the field for the Eagles. That's a great play for a young safety.
Like Rowe, Reynolds backed up his defensive play on special teams. Chip Kelly mentioned it in his post-game press conference, so I wanted to make sure to show you all the play he referred to.
Reynolds is what is referred to as the "safety" on this play for the kickoff coverage team, the last line of defense in case the return team is able to block the play how it's drawn up. Making a one-on-one tackle in the hole on a kick return is not easy. The ballcarrier has a head of steam and the safety has to break down, come to balance and make the stop. Reynolds does just that, making the tackle just short of the 30yard line in a tough spot for any player.
Mathews A Good Fit In This Offense
The Eagles did what the Eagles do schematically on offense. There was a lot of the zone run game, some packaged plays and a lot of the crossing concepts that I've covered in this space before. The execution with some of the new pieces is what is most exciting. I am eagerly anticipating the opportunity to see Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray in this offense.
In this first quarter zone run play, Mark Sanchez reads the backside defensive end. Sanchez, in essence, is responsible for "blocking" that player. With seven offensive players blocking seven defenders, Ryan Mathews is able to break off his longest run of the day on an inside zone read play. Mathews' explosiveness and downhill running style will make him a quick favorite of Eagles fans in this scheme.
Barner Makes A Push With Two Touchdowns
Mathews wasn't the only Eagles ballcarrier who ran hard on Sunday. Kenjon Barner also had a strong outing in the preseason opener.
On this sweep play in the first half, Barner showed off his vision and decisiveness in the hole as he stuck his foot in the ground and went downhill for the touchdown. Barner accounted for six of the Eagles' 32 rushing attempts on Sunday for an average of 4.8 yards per carry. He made a great impact in the return game as well with a 92-yard touchdown where two Colts defenders had him in their sights.
Barner does a great job making the first man miss before getting a block from rookie linebacker Jordan Hicks. Newly signed pass rusher Diaheem Watkins chips in another block (after a great hold-up at the line of scrimmage) and Raheem Mostert helps lead Barner to the end zone.
Barkley Goes Through The Progressions
Mostert didn't get a chance to return any kickoffs in this game, but he got to show off his speed in other ways. He did a great job as a gunner by helping to force a muffed punt that went out of bounds. He was able to reel in the longest reception of the day, a 40-yard reception from quarterback Matt Barkley.
What I love about this play is that Mostert was Barkley's fourth progression on the play. First, he read the highlow combination on the right, followed by the over route by the tight end, then the deep curl route and lastly Mostert in the flat. Great job by Mostert as well making the first man miss and breaking off an explosive play.
I thought Barkley had a good game overall in extended action. He was decisive with the football and he was accurate. There were a number of passes that he fit in beautifully to receivers in the intermediate area of the field. There were some throws he'd like to have back, but this was good to see in the first preseason game with the "live bullets" flying.
More Than Meets The Eye To Agholor's TD
It was also good to see Nelson Agholor score a touchdown on his first unofficial catch as an Eagle. On a hitch route that we've all seen him run a hundred times at practice, he snares a pass out of the air and takes it to the house. Was there more to that play than meets the eye?
With the offensive line and running back executing an inside zone play, the safeties' eyes are held for just a split second. That fraction of time helps give Agholor the angle he needs to race to the end zone untouched. This "packaged play" concept combines a run play and a pass play into one. It's up to the quarterback to make the decision at the line of scrimmage as to where the ball is ultimately going to go. With the corner playing off coverage, Sanchez saw the hitch route as the best option and he delivered the ball. Lots of teams across both the college and NFL levels run similar concepts to this play, and the Eagles are one of the best at it.
A Savvy Move By Austin
Eagles receivers made some great plays on the ball throughout the afternoon on Sunday. Kelly referenced Miles Austin's catch on a go route, and the veteran receiver's ability to use his body to wall off defenders.
This is exactly why we've seen such an influx of bigbodied receivers on the roster over the last few offseasons. Whether it's on shallow crossing routes, deep over routes or vertical routes down the field, a player's ability to separate at the catch point and play "low-post basketball" against defenders is a big part of this scheme. Austin showed it on this play.
The Rookie Goes Sky-High
Austin wasn't the only one to accomplish a play like this, as rookie Rasheed Bailey pulled off a similar play in the fourth quarter on this pass from Tim Tebow. Bailey, a strong-handed possession receiver, has been singled out for his route running throughout the summer. He made one of the plays of the day with this onehanded grab where he was able to again box out the defender after a nice toss from Tebow.
One of my favorite moments came on Sunday when Tebow was able to finish a drive with a 7-yard touchdown run. Operating with a short field, this drive is exactly what the Eagles' coaches like to call "keeping the team on schedule."
The plan is simple enough. Operate at high speed, consistently pick up positive yardage in chunks and limit your negative plays. Do this and you're going to move the ball up and down the field, resulting in more points. You don't need to take vertical shot after vertical shot with a cannon arm, or belt off dazzling 75-yard runs to make it in this offense. Just "stay on schedule" by consistently picking up chunks of yardage, even if it means just a few yards at a time. This puts yourself in better position to succeed.
Tebow started the drive at the 20-yard line, let's see how it unfolded.
● Play 1 first-and-10 Inside Zone Read run by Kevin Monangai gain of 6 yards
● Play 2 second-and-4 Inside Zone Read run by Kevin Monangai gain of 8 yards
● Play 3 first-and-6 Inside Zone Read run by Kevin Monangai loss of 1 yard
● Play 4 second-and-7 ...
The offensive line has the inside zone blocked up well, with three blockers on three defenders to the left (No. 1), two-on-two in the middle (No. 2) and one-on-one to the right (No. 3). Tebow reads the backside linebacker, which he does well as he sprints to the pylon for six.
Overall, there was a lot of good and some bad in the game. I'm excited to see the week of practice against the Ravens followed by the game on Saturday to see how some of these players respond.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.