The Philadelphia Eagles jumped out to a 31-7 lead and held on to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-21 on Thursday for their first win of the preseason.
Philadelphia was dominant on the ground, totaling 182 rushing yards, with LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles excelling for the first team and every backup running back also having success.
Both starting quarterbacks ended up with decent numbers, although neither was particularly impressive in the extended start. Nick Foles totaled 179 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 19-of-29 passing. The one score came on an impressive catch-and-run by McCoy for 22 yards.
Ben Roethlisberger looked out of sync with his receivers in the first half, leading ESPN's Skip Bayless to make this observation:
Foles off early, found some short-pass rhythm. Ben mostly off. But still trust Ben will have better season. No way Foles repeats 2013.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) August 22, 2014
The quarterback finished 15-of-24 for 157 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. The touchdown did come on an impressive throw in the third quarter to Heath Miller, as described by Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly:
I think Wolff was the culprit there, Maragos had to come from far away, but heckuva throw by Big Ben. Darn near sacked.— Geoff Mosher (@GeoffMosherCSN) August 22, 2014
While this came mostly against a second unit from Philadelphia, Roethlisberger was able to end his day strongly. Miller, for his part, finished with five catches for 53 yards.
Despite the Pittsburgh TD, the Eagles were clearly the better team.
Performance aside, there were a few scary moments for the home team in this game. McCoy saw his day come to an early end after scoring his touchdown thanks to a thumb injury. Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer provided the latest details:
LeSean McCoy has a sprained thumb, source said. No fractures or torn ligaments but out for the rest of the game. #Eagles— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) August 22, 2014
He finished with 50 total yards on six touches, proving he is still one of the best in the NFL when healthy.
Jeremy Maclin had a solid effort with six catches for 43 yards, but he appeared to reinjure his knee in the first half after missing all last season with a torn ACL. Fortunately, Jeff Darlington of NFL.com noted the receiver returned to action shortly after:
Jeremy Maclin is back on the field. So… there’s your injury update on that scary situation.— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) August 22, 2014
Neither of these issues appear to be serious, but they are both worth keeping an eye on over the next few days and weeks.
One of the top stories for the Steelers was what would happen with the running back situation between LeGarrette Blount and Le'Veon Bell. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com summed up the issue from a legal perspective:
Charges are officially filed against #Steelers RBs LeGarrette Blount (possession of marijuana) & Le'Veon Bell (possession of marijuana, DUI)— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 21, 2014
Both Bell and Blount played in the game and saw different levels of success. Blount accumulated 32 yards on seven carries while Bell could only manage 23 rushing yards on nine attempts.
It remains to be seen what type of punishment is coming for the running backs, but it seems like Pittsburgh is planning on utilizing this duo going forward.
When the second units came onto the field, the Eagles continued to dominate. Reserve running back Matthew Tucker had one of the best performances, finishing with 46 yards on 10 carries and two one-yard touchdowns. Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com notes Tucker has seen the end zone quite a bit so far:
That was Matthew Tucker's 4th TD run in 2 preseason games. Leads the NFL.— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) August 22, 2014
As he battles for a roster spot against guys like Chris Polk and Kenjon Barner, this type of goal-line effort will certainly help.
Mark Sanchez also did a good job of moving the ball down the field, completing seven of his nine attempts for 85 yards. Second-year player Matt Barkley went 4-of-4 for 37 yards.
The Steelers were able to get some veterans onto the field late in the game. Bruce Gradkowski had a solid showing with two touchdowns, including a 33-yard throw to Darrius Heyward-Bey. Both of these players appear likely to make the roster in backup roles.
On the other hand, the defense was relatively embarrassing throughout the day, with the only highlight coming from Troy Polamalu with an interception early.
Bleacher Report's Cian Fahey could not come up with any positives:
Steelers fans who say I'm too harsh, tell me what is good about this defense please?— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) August 22, 2014
Head coach Chip Kelly downplayed the importance of the score coming in while hoping this would be a good chance to evaluate his players, via Ed Benkin of CBS Philly:
I just want to see guys play. I don’t think we have any preconceived notions that it has to be this, this, this or this. It’s just to go out and play and get valuable reps. You’d like to get in situations, but sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t.
With that said, he is likely satisfied with his team's performance in earning its first win of the preseason.
With the next game mostly used to decide the final few spots on the roster, this was likely the last we will see of most starters before Week 1 of the regular season.
The Steelers had some bright spots, but they clearly have a lot to work on in practice before taking on the rest of the league. Meanwhile, the Eagles have to make sure not to get overconfident from this success in a preseason game.
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