The Philadelphia Eagles will get set to host the Pittsburgh Steelers in an interstate matchup this Thursday night. Philly is coming off a 42-35 loss to the New England Patriots, one which dropped Chip Kelly to 0-2 in preseason contests in 2014.
Meanwhile, the Steelers are fresh off a narrow 19-16 win over the Buffalo Bills, one which evened Pittsburgh at 1-1. The goal for Philly will have to be to get pressure on the Steelers’ offensive line—the Eagles rated just 20th in the NFL in sacks a year ago, and they’ve mustered just three this preseason. And the Steelers have a much stronger unit in the trenches than they’ve ever had before.
The Steelers are a different team heading into 2014. There’s reason to believe they can be much better, even a sleeper to win the entire AFC.
With starters getting more and more time as it grows closer to the regular season, it becomes closer to a matchup between two very talented teams, and not just a meaningless preseason contest.
Philadelphia Eagles Preseason Week 2 Recap
The Philadelphia Eagles lost their second straight preseason contest last Friday to the New England Patriots, dropping a 42-35 game. It puts Chip Kelly at just 2-4 all time in preseason games, but fortunately for Eagles fans, quarterback Nick Foles played significantly better than he did the previous week.
Foles completed 80 percent of his passes, tossing a touchdown and playing interception-free ball. Mark Sanchez came in and completed 11 of his 12 throws. Even Matt Barkley moved the ball well, meaning the Eagles completed over 80 percent of their attempts as a team.
Rookie second-round receiver Jordan Matthews rebounded from a lackluster Week 1 performance to catch nine passes for 104 yards. The Eagles added a touchdown via defense or special teams for the second straight week, this time with veteran cornerback Cary Williams taking an interception 77 yards for a score, and subsequently backing up his trash talk.
In all though, the secondary couldn’t keep all three New England Patriots quarterbacks off the scoreboard. Tom Brady threw a touchdown, Ryan Mallett threw one and ran one, and then Jimmy Garoppolo threw two of his own.
News and Notes
Can the Eagles’ Defense Finally Make Some Stops?
Again, it was not a good day for the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense on Friday night. Chip Kelly’s offense clicked, as all three quarterbacks played well. But the other side of the ball didn’t fare nearly as well.
Cary Williams’ long pick-six was terrific. But the front seven generated little pressure on the New England Patriots, finishing with just two sacks and three quarterback hits. The secondary was torched, allowing four touchdown passes. And the linebackers let up 250 yards on the ground.
That’s not a recipe for success. To beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia will need to play much better. Ben Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback, and he has himself a slew of playmakers, notably Antonio Brown and Dri Archer.
Getting to Roethlisberger and holding Le’Veon Bell and the ground game to under 100 yards would be a huge step in the right direction for the Eagles.
Will Any of the Wide Receivers Step Up?
The Philadelphia Eagles are decimated with injuries at the wide receiver position, and they will likely be without Jeremy Maclin and Josh Huff. Riley Cooper may play, but he’s hobbled and will probably play limited snaps. The same goes for the veteran Maclin, who is rehabbing from a torn ACL.
Jordan Matthews is a lock to make the 53-man roster, which means players like Brad Smith, Arrelious Benn, Jeff Maehl, Ifeanyi Momah, Damaris Johnson and B.J. Cunningham can gain substantial ground with a good performance.
Last week, it didn’t work out. Maehl lost a fumble. Momah lost a fumble. Benn had just one catch. Johnson was the lone player to see significant action, as the Eagles utilized him in the Darren Sproles role. Johnson carried the ball, caught passes and returned both punts and kicks, and that versatility should increase his odds to make the roster.
Practice Squad Increases to 10 Players
Per Adam Schefter, the NFL will officially increase the size of the practice squad from eight players per team to 10.
Now official: NFL and NFL Players Association have agreed to expand Practice Squads to 10 players 2014 and 2015 seasons.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 19, 2014
This bodes well for Chip Kelly (as well as every other head coach). It’s more opportunities to develop players and keep them for a year. Long-term projects like Michael Bamiro, Alejandro Villanueva and G.J. Kinne may wind up on the practice squad, some for the second year in a row.
Eagles Make First Cut of Training Camp
The Philadelphia Eagles announced they parted ways with inside linebacker Jason Phillips, marking the team’s first official release this training camp.
#Eagles have released LB Jason Phillips.— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) August 19, 2014
In fact, it was the first roster move since defensive end Alejandro Villanueva was signed back in May. Phillips is an undrafted second-year player who was competing with Najee Goode, Casey Matthews, Emmanuel Acho and Jake Knott (currently suspended) for a depth spot at inside linebacker. Phillips tore his ACL in summer 2013 and has never actually appeared in an NFL game.
Here’s the latest injury report from John Gonzalez of CSNPhilly.com.
The wide receiver position is particularly banged up, with three of the top four receivers unsure if they’ll play. Josh Huff’s injury is one that looks more serious than people initially thought.
Josh Huff said his shoulder isn't separated; he has an A/C sprain, unsure of return timetable.— Geoff Mosher (@GeoffMosherCSN) August 19, 2014
The secondary is also thin, with three of the top five cornerbacks dealing with injuries.
That means Curtis Marsh and Roc Carmichael will be thrust into action, which spells bad news for Philadelphia Eagles fans and good news for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks.
McCoy’s injury is one to note, as he’s the most talented player on the roster. It doesn’t seem serious, and Kelly was his usual snarky self when asked about McCoy’s status.
Chip Kelly makes light of concern about LeSean McCoy's toe: "I don't think he'll ever play again." #Eagles— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) August 19, 2014
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Matchups in the preseason aren’t what they are in the regular season. Starters may play a half, and they’ll soon give way to backups and third-stringers. But the following matchups will be fun following for at least the beginning of the game.
LeSean McCoy vs. Ryan Shazier
This is arguably the most dynamic running back in the league against a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate. LeSean McCoy won’t handle the football too many times in preseason, simply because he doesn’t have much to prove. A year ago, McCoy ran the ball eight times for 47 yards and a touchdown in the third week of the preseason, rating by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) as the best running back in the NFL that week.
Look for McCoy to get about 8-10 carries again this year in the third game. And look for Ryan Shazier to be in the middle of about half of those tackles.
Simply put, Shazier is a playmaker. The Pittsburgh Steelers grabbed him with the 15th pick in the 2014 NFL draft, and he looks like a keeper. Shazier picked up nine tackles and an interception on just 37 defensive snaps. That’s a tackle on nearly 25 percent of the defensive plays.
Look for Dick LeBeau to utilize Shazier in a variety of ways, whether he’s covering tight ends, blitzing the quarterback or stopping the run.
Bennie Logan/Beau Allen vs. Maurkice Pouncey
Right now, Bennie Logan is entrenched as the starting nose tackle in the Philadelphia Eagles’ 3-4 defense. Logan is a talented up-and-coming player who performed well enough as a rookie in 2013 for the team to trade away veteran Isaac Sopoaga.
Logan isn’t an ideal 0-technique nose tackle though; he’s slightly undersized and isn’t the best player to handle a two-gap system. But seventh-round rookie Beau Allen is physically bigger and he plays quicker than his size. Allen has impressed the coaching staff in his first two preseason games, and it seems all but a certainty that he beats out Damion Square for the backup spot to Logan.
There’s an outside chance Allen could push for Logan’s snaps at some point. If the Eagles do employ a four-man front, Logan and Allen could play the 1-or-3 technique spots, with Trent Cole and Brandon Graham/Vinny Curry rushing the passer from the edge.
Maurkice Pouncey is one of the finest centers in the game. He’s a three-time Pro Bowler, Super Bowl champion and he’s being paid $44 million, which makes him the highest-paid center in the business. If Logan and Allen can cause trouble for Pouncey, that’s a huge win for the Eagles.
Alex Henery vs. Every Other Kicker Around the League
Guess what? The Philadelphia Eagles aren’t happy with Alex Henery. Undrafted free agent Carey Spear has provided no camp competition, but that doesn’t mean Henery is the long-term answer, either.
Henery is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The team has already had to compensate for his lack of skills. Remember the Week 15 game last season when Chip Kelly ordered Henery to kick it short so Cordarrelle Patterson wouldn’t return it all the way? That was because Henery lacks the leg strength to consistently drive the ball into the end zone.
So it’s no surprise the Eagles are looking elsewhere for kickers.
Last week, Henery missed a 47-yard field goal, one that has to be made.
Possible kickers the Eagles could go after are Dustin Hopkins (Buffalo), John Potter (Miami) and Zach Hocker (Washington). Most teams have at least one other kicker in camp for now, but by virtue of having been drafted, those three present the best competition for Philadelphia.
Update: The Eagles have added another kicker to compete with Henery, as they traded for the backup kicker of the Indianapolis Colts.
#Eagles acquire K Cody Parkey from the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for RB David Fluellen.— Eagles Insider (@EaglesInsider) August 20, 2014
Philadelphia Eagles’ Defense vs. Dri Archer
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a playmaker in third-round pickup Dri Archer, a De’Anthony Thomas clone who can line up as a running back, catch passes out of the backfield and return both kicks and punts.
Last week, Archer caught a little swing pass and took it 40 yards, looking like he was shot out of a cannon (video). He’s turned in a 40-yard play in each of his first two preseason games.
Archer has made a minimal impact in terms of running the football, but he’s averaging 23.5 yards per catch. When he gets the ball in his hands, he’s lethal. That’s scary for Eagles fans that have seen their defense allow over 34 points in both preseason games thus far.
Chip Kelly doesn’t seem to be very good at winning preseason games. Fortunately, that doesn’t matter.
They’re preseason games for a reason. Kelly is 2-4 in August and 10-6 in regular season contests that actually count. Kelly’s lackluster philosophy regarding the importance of the depth charts seems to carry over into the preseason as a whole.
He’s not going to reveal anything. Remember when the Philadelphia Eagles kicked off Week 1 of the 2013 regular season against Washington? None of that hurry-up offense was on display back in the preseason. That crazy play where Jason Peters and Lane Johnson lined up out wide came out of nowhere.
As long as Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy and the rest of the starters stay healthy, that’s what matters. It would also be nice if the defense could register some stops and Alex Henery could make a field goal. But look for a talented Pittsburgh team to win a close, high-scoring battle.
Score: Pittsburgh 31, Philadelphia 24