Head coach Andy Reid was pleased with what he saw in the second half from his defense Thursday night against Pittsburgh. The first-half defense? Not as much.
The Steelers took the opening kickoff and went on a 16-play drive that lasted 9:48 before coming away with a field goal. The Steelers converted two third downs and a fourth down on the drive.
After a three-and-out by the Eagles offense, the defense was back out on the field. Even without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers marched 70 yards in 10 plays before Emmanuel Sanders scored on a 2-yard touchdown reception from Byron Leftwich. On that drive, it took a Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie unnecessary roughness penalty to convert a third-and-16. The Steelers converted two more third downs, one of which was the scoring play.
"We missed some tackles. There were some gaps that we were supposed to close and we didn't close. This game comes back down to that. It's blocking and tackling. How do you get off the block from a defensive standpoint, and then how do you make that tackle," Reid said. "You've got to make sure you put yourself in the right position, take the right angles. Those are things that we can correct. The talent's there, we've just got to make sure that we're getting the fundamental work down. We've got a nice long stretch here before we play the Patriots, and it's important that we really focus in on that."
The Eagles were without three of its four starters along the defensive line as well as strong safety Nate Allen. That's not an excuse. It should be an opportunity for the next guy in line to step up. Defensive end Phillip Hunt responded with two sacks and a forced fumble. Fellow defensive end Brandon Graham had a sack and two tackles for loss. Last year's second-round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett, however, struggled starting in Allen's place. He was involved on Sanders' touchdown reception. On a 33-yard run by running back Jonathan Dwyer, Jarrett made a hit but it was on defensive end Vinny curry not the ballcarrier.
"He can work on his angles and he can work on the tackling part, and those are things that he did very well in college," Reid said. "I think it's just a matter of more snaps. Just continue to play, and you know the problem, go ahead and fix it. I think he'll do that."
One new starter who flashed was linebacker Mychal Kendricks. After not getting through traffic to stop a third-down pass for the Steelers on the first drive, the second-round pick out of California showed his speed and range on back-to-back tackles for loss. Kendricks played in both the base 4-3 and nickel packages with the first-team defense and finished with five total tackles.
"With the exception of that first third down, the third-and-4 that we had where they hit the fullback/tight end into the flat, I thought he did some good things," Reid said. "He got better as time went on with it, but again, like any rookie, there are small things that he's got to continue to work on. He had the right attitude. When you talk about blocking, and getting off blocks, and tackling, that's not attitude, that's taking the angle, so the guys played their tails off. They played aggressive football. "
The Eagles don't play again until August 20 in New England. The reassuring part for Reid is that there is plenty of time to correct the mistakes that were made.
"There were too many mistakes, penalties, mistakes. They're all correctable things," Reid said. "So we'll go back and we corrected the mistakes off the film this morning during the walk thru, and then we'll continue to work and get better as we prepare to play New England in a few days here."
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