Oh, it was ugly. The Eagles trailed by three touchdowns heading into the locker room after two quarters. Michael Vick compiled a passer rating of 13.5, completing 5 of 12 for 47 yards and 3 interceptions in the first half. His performance was only part of the really, really bad first half that the coaches will no doubt delight in correcting prior to the next preseason game, Thursday against the visiting Cleveland Browns.
In the big picture, of course, the score doesn't mean a thing. The Eagles escaped Heinz Field intact, without a significant injury. Nobody is going to care about the score of this game in a couple of days.
Still, the Steelers provided a blueprint of how teams will try to beat the Eagles: Run the ball effectively, use the screen game to throw the football, go after the linebackers and test the safeties in coverage. Pittsburgh played it perfectly.
The Eagles, obviously, did not.
Here are some of the things I saw from the comfy press box on a frustrating night from an Eagles perspective ...
- A touchback by Alex Henery to open the game kicked off a strong special teams performance. Chas Henry hit a wobbly, but effective, 53-yard punt that was downed at the 4-yard line. Asante Samuel blocked a punt. Sinorice Moss had a fine 31-yard kickoff return to open the second half and then added a 28-yarder in the fourth quarter. Is Johnnie Lee Higgins making this team? Too bad the onsides kick at the end didn't work.
- Higgins had a very nice game as a receiver with 7 catches for 54 yards. He needed some action.
- Nate Allen didn't have a great night at safety. On Pittsburgh's first scoring drive, Allen was beaten on a third and 1 pass to tight end Heath Miller when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger bootlegged away from touble and found Miller. Then Allen was in coverage in the back of the end zone on a touchdown pass to Hines Ward on a third-and-18 play. Not good.
- Not much worked, but Juan Castillo experimented with his personnel quite a bit. On Pittsburgh's first series, the Eagles used four cornerbacks with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Joselio Hanson in the slot. Nnamdi Asomugah played in the slot, out wide and at safety.
- Here is a nickel look that is going to be effective: Trent Cole at right end, Cullen Jenkins at right tackle, Darryl Tapp at left tackle and Jason Babin at left end. Jenkins had some dominating moments, although his facemask penalty against Roethlisberger kept the Steelers' first drive alive and they scored a touchdown.
- Pittsburgh's early drives: 14 plays, 80 yards, 7 minutes, 36 seconds off the clock. Then 14 plays, 96 yards, 8:15 off the clock.
- Castillo has to do something, and he will, against the screen game. Pittsburgh executed it beautifully on Thursday night.
- Not a great night at all for middle linebacker Casey Matthews or any of the linebackers, for that matter. Moise Fokou had a pass breakup early and Keenan Clayton sniffed out a screen in the second half, but that was about it. Will the Eagles do something here?
- Clay Harbor had a nice kickout block on a third-and-1 handoff to LeSean McCoy for 8-yard gain early, but Brent Celek missed a block against Lamarr Woodley on a second and 6 run to the right edge.
- McCoy looked great with 4 carries for 25 yards and one reception for 12 yards.
- The offense opened with a play-action fake, roll left and deep throw to DeSean Jackson. The Steelers were ready for that one. The Eagles opened a few games with a similar play last year. Makes you wonder if they are going to continue to test that play on the first snap of the game.
- King Dunlap appeared to play pretty darn well in the first half at right tackle. The offensive line was decent in pass protection, but not very effective in short-yardage runs.
- The quarterback play was just not very good at all for the Eagles. Vince Young played the third quarter and completed 5 of 8 passes, but he ended a drive with a bad interception in Steelers territory in the third quarter.
- Trying to do too much, Dion Lewis turned the ball over with a fumble early in the fourth quarter. Just go down, young man. Lewis had just had a nice 5-yard gain. He needs to protect the football there.
- Ridiculous stat of the night: The Eagles gained 71 yards of total offense in the first half, while the Steelers had 262 yards of offense. Pittsburgh gained 16 first downs to Philadelphia's 5. Momma said there would be nights like this ...
- Cedric Thornton had a lot of reps at defensive tackle, but that is going to be difficult to maintain with Trevor Laws, Antonio Dixon and Mike Patterson on the mend and perhaps on the field in the coming days.
- This will look a whole lot different when Jeremy Maclin and Steve Smith are on the field with Jackson and Jason Avant.
- So what was wrong with Vick? He just didn't have it. Not at all. He was wild. He didn't look comfortable in the pocket. No rhythm. That kind of first half will be good for Vick and the entire team. Maybe that day off at the end of training camp was taken the wrong way by the players. They have to know that if they don't work hard and focus, they are not going to win games.
- Kurt Coleman had 11 tackles in the first half. That is a number you just don't want to have. Pittsburgh had its way down the field.
- Troubles in the red zone defensively, so Castillo has to get some work done there.
- Jamaal Jackson played the entire first half at center. I thought Jason Kelce might get some reps, but he did not given the limited time the offense was on the field. Jackson played well from this vantage point.
- Mike Kafka saw action in the fourth quarter. He had Higgins open on a "go" route but the pass went over Higgins' outside shoulder when Higgins was looking for the ball inside. Kafka had a nice, high-stepping scramble out of trouble for a gain of 17 yards in that quarter.
- I love Lewis. I think this kid can play. What a run he had after catching a screen pass, zigging and zagging for 40 yards down the sideline to give the Eagles a first and goal at the 7-yard line. Of course, a holding call on Kelce promptly moved the Eagles back 10 yards.
- Lewis makes people miss in the open field. He has a clear advantage for the third halfback job.
- Super, super catch and run by Gerald Jones for a touchdown. Nice diving effort for the score. And then Henery booted the PAT to get the Eagles some good feeling at the end of a long night.
- The only injuries of note: Knee tendinitis suffered by wide receiver Jason Avant, a sore elbow suffered by defensive end Trent Cole and a hamstring injury suffered by defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. In the end, isn't that the most important part of a preseason game? You can correct mistakes. You can't make players with broken bones and torn ligaments better for the season.