Steelers vs. Eagles: Philadelphia's Biggest Winners and Losers
It was a rough start for the Philadelphia Eagles. Their first-team offense had back-to-back three-and-outs, while the first-team defense struggled to get the Steelers offense off the field. To top it all off, Michael Vick left the game after hitting the thumb of his throwing hand on teammate Jason Kelce's helmet. X-rays were negative, but Vick isn't out of the woods yet.
Despite all of that, the Eagles still won the game 24-23 thanks to a game-winning 51-yard field goal by kicker Alex Henery with 12 seconds left. The pass rush was dominant all throughout the game, but it was the third-string offense, lead by quarterback Nick Foles, that brought the Eagles back in this game after falling behind 13-0 at halftime.
Like any preseason game, there was a lot of good and a lot of bad things to take away from this game. Ten players stood out to me as either "winners" or "losers." Here is a breakdown of those 10 players and why they played like a "winner" or a "loser."
Winner: Phillip Hunt/Brandon Graham
The pass-rushing combination of Phillip Hunt and Brandon Graham made you forget that both Trent Cole and Jason Babin didn't even play in the opening preseason game for the Eagles. Hunt and Graham were dominant in the pass rush, finishing with three combined sacks and one forced fumble in the first half.
Graham is finally healthy and is playing with that same burst and energy he showed in his rookie season in 2010. The bust label is slowly being shaken. He has been getting consistent pressure on Michael Vick during training camp, and he got consistent pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich in the first half. It's only the first week of preseason, but Graham looks like the player the Eagles traded up for in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Hunt was a really raw played last season in his first year removed from the CFL. He looked like a five-year veteran against the Steelers offensive line. He recorded his first sack while being held the entire way to the quarterback. He looked visibly stronger and faster at training camp, and he played visibly stronger in faster against the Steelers.
Right now, it looks like these will be the two defensive ends that will be rotating in and out with Trent Cole and Jason Babin in the regular season.
Loser: Jaiquawn Jarrett
Jaiquawn Jarrett had himself an awful night. He missed two tackles in the open field in the first quarter and missed his coverage assignment on the Steelers first touchdown drive. He even blocked his own man, Vinny Curry, during an open-field tackle attempt.
Jarrett started at safety in place of Nate Allen. Some fans might be curious to know why O.J. Atogwe wasn't starting instead, but the Eagles already know what they have with Atogwe—he is a veteran safety on the decline. Jarret is more of a mystery. We don't know what type of player he will become just yet.
Jarrett will still have three more preseason games and plenty of practice reps to redeem himself, but nobody on this Eagles roster got off to a worse start than Jarrett did.
Winner: Derek Landri
The defensive ends got all the attention, but it was Derek Landri's penetration ability that created the pass rush against the Steelers. If you don't know how good Landri is in the wide-nine scheme, I encourage you to watch No. 94 in the next Eagles preseason game.
Landri was lining up between the left guard and the center as the Eagles nose tackle in the wide-nine scheme. He isn't your typical nose tackle at just over 300 pounds; he isn't an athletic freak either. What makes Landri great is his initial quickness off the line and how technically sounds he is.
The quicker Landri gets off the line, the more help the interior linemen need to give on him. That is what opens up everything else on the defensive line. He allows the defensive ends and the other defensive tackle to get favorable one-on-one matchups while he is also breaking down the pocket.
It would appear the Eagles are in great shape until Mike Patterson is cleared to resume all football activities again.
Loser: Demetress Bell
It's important for Demetress Bell to get off to a good start as the Eagles starting left tackle in preseason. His backup, King Dunlap, has multiple starts at tackle for the Eagles. If Bell struggles, he will have a confident veteran breathing down his neck.
Ideally, Dunlap would be the backup. He can play four different positions on the line and has started at three different spots (left tackle, right tackle and left guard) for the Eagles. That type of versatility is rare for a backup, and it allows the Eagles to carry one less reserve offensive linemen.
I watched Bell exclusively during the Eagles' first three plays on offense. Bell was beaten badly on the pass rush on first down, didn't make a single block on a running play off his side on second down and was beaten again on the pass rush on third down.
Bell looked really slow off the line and a little soft in the running game. We know he isn't Jason Peters, but if he continues to play at this level, he will not be starting come Week 1.
Winner: Mychal Kendricks
Mychal Kendricks showed why the Eagles took him with their second pick of the 2012 NFL Draft. He showed the speed to chase down any ball carrier from sideline to sideline. He didn't get tested much in pass coverage, but he was solid in run support.
There were a couple plays early in the first quarter where he didn't wrap up the ball carrier and another defender near him had to finish off the ball. As the game went on, he tackled much better. He isn't a great tackler, but that is okay; he isn't an awful one either.
Kendricks is clearly an upgrade at the strong-side linebacker position and will continue to get better. He is far from a finished product and should get better each week as the season goes on.
Loser: Michael Vick
Michael Vick did not have the start he wanted in the opening preseason game, but at least he will live for another week. Vick had just six passing yards on four attempts before injuring the thumb on his throwing hand. The X-rays were negative, however, and he should be able to practice as early as this weekend.
Vick didn't get a lot of help from his defense, the offensive line or the running game. He played in just six plays on two series. The important thing is that his hand is okay. He has 11 days to work with his first-team offense to improve upon things before they take on the New England Patriots.
Winner: Damaris Johnson
Damaris Johnson got plenty of opportunities to impress Thursday night and took full advantage of it. He was impressive in both the return game and as a receiver.
Johnson had three punt returns for 18 yards, including a 25-yard return that was called back. He also had 85 receiving yards on five catches, including a 70-yard touchdown after his man fell down.
Johnson was able to show off his speed and quickness along with his ability to make his man miss. He made a strong case to be the Eagles fifth or sixth wide receiver and the No. 1 punt returner.
Loser: The Run Defense
DeMeco Ryans is going to help the Eagles run defense a lot, but it's still an 11-man job. The Eagles run defense is going to be a work in progress. They finished 16th in the NFL last season, but they did show signs of progress late in the year.
The run defense didn't get gashed all night, but they struggled to get the Steelers offense off the field on critical third downs. That was their problem last season, and it's still a problem after one preseason game.
Ryans and Mychal Kendricks will help in run support a lot, but it will take some time before last year's 16th-ranked run defense becomes a top-10 unit. They gave up 131 rushing yards on 39 attempts.
Loser: Mike Kafka
Mike Kafka is still the Eagles backup quarterback, but he didn't help himself with his performance Thursday night. Kafka completed five out of nine passes for 31 yards and one interception with zero touchdowns.
Kafka threw the interception on a screen pass as he felt the pressure and threw the ball where he thought the running back was. It just so happened that Al Woods was in that area and picked off the pass. Kafka never really turned around; he just felt the pressure and got rid of the football. You can't have mental mistakes of that magnitude being made by your backup quarterback.
Kafka didn't lose his backup role, but he may have opened up a competition.
Winner: Nick Foles and Trent Edwards
After Mike Kafka struggled to move the football against the Steelers second-string defense, Nick Foles and Trent Edwards made a case for their own backup role.
Foles threw back-to-back touchdown bombs to give the Eagles a 14-13 lead, while Edwards orchestrated one final drive that ended with a game-winning 51-yard field goal from Alex Henery with 12 seconds left.
Foles is a developmental project that looks very much ahead of schedule. He threw two beautiful deep balls and played with great poise during the third quarter. He still has a long way to go on his footwork, but it's very encouraging to see him play this well in his first preseason action as a rookie.
Trent Edwards had an awful week during the Eagles OTAs. He looked washed up and worn down. That Trent Edwards didn't show up on Thursday night. Edwards completed 12 out of 20 passes and threw one touchdown. He also drove the Eagles down the field in the final two minutes of the game for the game-winning field goal.
Neither player has a leg up on Kafka for the backup quarterback spot, but they might start to make things a little more interesting.