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Lawlor: Things Are Coming Together


It is amazing how much can change in a couple of weeks. The Eagles struggled to run, throw, catch and block in the preseason opener. They won the game 17-9, but the offensive struggles were concerning. Sure, that was mainly the backups on the field, but some of those players will be on the final roster and some will play this season. The Eagles offense looked worlds different in Saturday night's convincing win over the Colts. 

Quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel combined to go 26 for 32 in the air with three touchdown passes. Runners averaged 5.4 yards per carry. The Eagles scored 33 points, all on offense. In some ways, the real stars of the game were the offensive linemen. They controlled the line of scrimmage all game long. It didn't matter who was at tackle, guard or center. The Eagles big men dominated the Colts and let the skill players go make plays. 

Stefen Wisniewski started at left guard in place of rookie Isaac Seumalo, who injured his pec during the week. Wisniewski played well and has shown the Eagles he can start or offer quality depth. Allen Barbre got his second straight start at right tackle and had another solid showing. He is a physical blocker and especially effective on run plays. Jason Peters had some terrific blocks in the game and seems to be rounding into form. The backup linemen also got the job done. Matt Tobin came in at left tackle late in the first half to get some reps with the starters. The line didn't miss a beat. He has focused on playing left tackle this summer and is playing the best football of his career. Josh Andrews saw time at center and left guard. I thought he played his best game of the preseason. 

Josh Huff was the skill player who really got everyone's attention. The coaches have had high hopes for Huff (trying saying that fast), but he has been underwhelming at times this summer. Something finally clicked and Huff showed his playmaking skills. He caught a short throw over the middle, ran through a tackle and turned that into a 38-yard gain. Huff later got the ball on a jet sweep and ran for a nine-yard touchdown. Those are the kind of impact plays he can deliver and this offense needs. He finished the game with two catches for 60 yards and two runs for 10 yards. Any questions about Huff making the team are done with. He is here to stay. 

Other receivers came alive. Dorian Green-Beckham showed his immense talent. He caught a short pass and fought through a tackle to turn that into an 11-yard gain. He then caught a fade pass for a touchdown. Beyond that, he made it look easy. Bradford put the ball up high and Green-Beckham jumped up and snatched the ball smoothly and easily. Green-Beckham's size and natural ability are a welcome addition to the Eagles offense. 

Bradford and Daniel had clean pockets to throw from. They made good reads and accurate throws. I liked the fact they spread the ball around. There were some down the field throws from both guys. Bradford is healthy and playing at a high level. Last summer he threw at total of 15 passes in the preseason. This year Bradford has thrown 40 preseason passes. He won't be rusty when the regular season starts. Daniel is helping the backup offense to move the ball and look good. He hit David Watford for a 28-yard touchdown for a highlight moment. 

Obviously quarterbacks benefit from a good run game and the Eagles had that working against the Colts. Ryan Mathews ran three times for 31 yards. He looked really good. His most impressive play was a cutback run that went for 16 yards. Kenjon Barner continued his great summer with six carries for 39 yards. His field vision has been outstanding. He seems to find running room on almost every play. Wendell Smallwood got hurt and that meant more time for Byron Marshall. He ran 10 times for 40 yards. For some perspective, remember that Marshall was mainly used as a wide receiver for Oregon last season. He has handled the transition to running back really well, even doing a good job as a blocker.

Beyond just individual performances, I thought the offense played well as a group. Penalties had been a huge problem in the first two games. The Eagles cleaned that up in a big way. The offense played with good tempo and things looked crisp. The coaches called a smart game, mixing in some creative plays like the jet sweep. Things just clicked and that's very encouraging. I do have to mention that the Colts defense was banged up last night. They were missing their top trio of defensive backs and their top pass rusher.

The Eagles defense has been outstanding this summer and that continued last night. The defensive line just dominated the game. Andrew Luck was sacked three times and hit countless others. The Colts didn't play him in the second half. I'm not sure if that was their original plan or they felt they just had to get him off the field to protect him. Seeing backup defensive tackle Beau Allen drive a guard back, shed him and just engulf Luck had to be concerning. 

Indy couldn't run the ball at all. In the first half, they had nine carries for 13 yards. They finished the game with 39 yards on the ground. The run defense was a group effort. The defensive line was outstanding. The linebackers were active and got to the ball. Safety Rodney McLeod had some impressive run stops. Linebacker Jordan Hicks has been outstanding this summer. He sees the field really well and is always around the ball. Nigel Bradham caught my eye last night. He had five solo tackles and also covered well. Mychal Kendricks was a bit rusty in his preseason debut, but he did look good on the move.

Jim Schwartz mixed a lot of different players into the lineup. Rookie corner C.J. Smith came into the game early in the second quarter. That gave him a chance to play with starters and to go against starters. He gave up some short completions, but generally covered well and he tackled the ball when it came his way. He led the team with seven solo tackles. I think Smith is making a push for a roster spot. Jalen Mills and Eric Rowe each had good moments in coverage. 

Special teams coordinator Dave Fipp has to figure out what went wrong on a punt that got blocked. Fipp did see Caleb Sturgis go two for two on field goals, including one from 47-yards out. Barner had a 25-yard punt return and a 35-yard kickoff return.

The third preseason game is the closest thing to regular season football so it was great to see the Eagles play so well. Still, the Colts were such a mess that you have to be careful about getting too excited. The Eagles defense has been lights out in all three games and is legit, while the offense is starting to come together. There are definite reasons to feel good about the Eagles right now.

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