Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh: Report Card Grades for Each Eagles Unit
The Philadelphia Eagles got their preseason on track in a big way, riding strong performances from both the offense and defense en route to a 31-21 win over the interstate rival Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday. Nick Foles led the high-powered attack to a commanding 17-0 halftime lead, and Philly’s first-team defense shut down Ben Roethlisberger and Co.
The Eagles suffered a few minor injuries along the way, but none seem to be too serious. At 1-2, Philadelphia will play the New York Jets in the preseason finale next Thursday. For now, here are game grades for each unit on the Eagles.
Nick Foles showed last year that he’s a player, and he validated that Thursday by running the offense very well. He was asked to throw the ball 29 times in just a half of play, but he completed over 65 percent of his passes for 179 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
He averaged just 6.2 yards per attempt due largely to the high number of bubble screens that were called, but Foles was also playing without LeSean McCoy for much of the half. That yardage total would have been significantly higher had McCoy been in the game.
The big story again was veteran Mark Sanchez, a former New York Jets castoff who now looks like a Pro Bowl player in Chip Kelly’s offense. Sanchez looks like a completely different quarterback. He made big throws, leading a long touchdown drive on each of his possessions. Sanchez finished with 7-of-9 passing for 85 yards.
Matt Barkley completed all four of his passes (and even had a nice touchdown to B.J. Cunningham called back). G.J. Kinne completed his only attempt as well. As a unit, the quarterbacks threw for 300 yards on 31 completions, and this was on a game plan that seemed to operate under the rule not to throw the ball more than 10 yards in the air.
All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy showed off his stellar moves early on, at one point taking a screen pass 22 yards up the right sideline for a touchdown on 3rd-and-10. McCoy left early with a minor thumb injury, but he should be fine for the start of the regular season.
Darren Sproles carried the ball well, totaling 33 rushing yards and a touchdown on six carries. With third-year back Chris Polk nursing a hamstring injury, it was time for the backups to prove their worth. And they did.
Matthew Tucker scored twice, notching 46 yards on 10 carries. He now has four touchdowns this preseason, and that has to garner him serious consideration for a spot as the fourth running back or as the third runner in lieu of Polk.
Newly acquired Kenjon Barner played well in limited action, picking up 32 yards on seven carries. He also took a kick 22 yards. Undrafted rookie Henry Josey turned in a highlight-reel 70-yard touchdown run, although it was wiped out by a holding penalty. Josey still led the team with 48 rushing yards on four carries.
As a unit, the running backs gained 182 yards and three rushing touchdowns on 35 carries, and that’s enough to win any football game.
Scary moment as Jeremy Maclin holds his right knee (the other knee). But he’s up and walking off the field already. Hopefully a good sign.— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) August 22, 2014
Fortunately, it ended up being not serious. Maclin finished with a team-high six catches for 43 yards, although he remarkably didn’t gain more than nine yards on any single play. Cooper had three catches for 25 yards, although he registered a couple of drops, one of which would have been a touchdown.
Rookie Jordan Matthews was relatively quiet, catching two passes for 16 yards. With Josh Huff dealing with a shoulder injury, the backups had a chance to fight for a spot on the depth chart.
Damaris Johnson had two grabs for 29 yards. Jeff Maehl had four for 19 yards. B.J. Cunningham officially had one for 16 yards but also had a nice touchdown grab that a penalty wiped out. It’s surprising that the Eagles managed to score 31 points without a receiver catching an official touchdown pass.
Zach Ertz had a relatively average night, catching a pair of passes for 24 total yards. It was the veteran Brent Celek who stole the show at his position.
For the second straight game, Celek took a brutal hit and lost his helmet but stayed on his feet. In fact, Celek took a pair of devastating hits in this contest, but he didn’t leave the game. Celek caught two passes in all for 41 yards. That’s four catches for 65 yards from the tight end position.
The Philadelphia offensive line gave an absolutely amazing performance. The first team mauled the Pittsburgh Steelers for the first and second quarters, and then the Eagles’ second-team players came in and beat up the Steelers’ first-team defense.
As a unit, the Eagles paved the way for 185 ground yards and three touchdowns from the five running backs. The quarterbacks had time to pass for 300 yards. It didn’t seem to matter who was throwing; he had plenty of time to throw. The Steelers only registered one sack on the evening.
Perhaps the finest aspect of the line is a tribute to Chip Kelly’s unique offense; his offensive linemen have a tremendous ability to get downfield to the second level on runs and screen passes.
It was a quiet but productive day for the defensive line. Billy Davis’ unit held the Pittsburgh Steelers to just 58 rushing yards and no touchdowns on 17 carries. The longest run by either of the running backs was a seven-yard run.
Cedric Thornton played well, chasing down Heath Miller on one play for the tackle. Backup Brandon Bair, who is fighting to make the roster, had a nice pass knockdown on a third-down play. Seventh-round rookie nose tackle Beau Allen continues to be a pleasant surprise, and he was even in for Bennie Logan on some plays. Third-year defensive end Vinny Curry had the lone sack and also finished with a tackle for a loss.
Perhaps the most surprising play was third-year defensive end Fletcher Cox being removed from the game on a key 3rd-and-1 early on. Was this a sign of things to come or just a change of the formation by Davis?
The Philadelphia Eagles didn’t have any standout players from their linebacker corps, but the first-team defense didn’t allow Ben Roethlisberger to score any points in more than two quarters of action.
Mychal Kendricks looks like a blossoming star. He registered four tackles and seemed to be all over the ball. He has terrific closing speed and will be a superstar if he can cover tight ends.
Marcus Smith had his growing pains on the field but did finish with four tackles, with one for a loss. Annual preseason star Brandon Graham had three tackles and a sack. DeMeco Ryans had just a tackle and was called for hitting a defenseless receiver, although it was a good play by Ryans to be there to make the hit.
The Philadelphia Eagles were down two cornerbacks, as both Cary Williams and Brandon Boykin were inactive for the night. That put Nolan Carroll, Bradley Fletcher and Jaylen Watkins in action.
Carroll made a terrific diving interception early on. Fletcher was called for a pass interference penalty, but it seemed like a stretch of a call. Watkins saw time in the nickel role with Boykin hurt, and that could be a good role for him in the regular season if Boykin is used outside (or hurt).
At safety, Malcolm Jenkins had a terrific diving pass breakup to thwart a Pittsburgh drive, although he was called for a 15-yard penalty. Nate Allen started once again, and Earl Wolff appeared to be beaten later on a touchdown pass to Heath Miller.
Oh, Alex Henery. The Philadelphia Eagles’ fourth-year kicker might not want to search his name on Twitter. He missed another field goal—this time an easy 31-yarder that he just hooked wide to the right.
His head coach was (predictably) not pleased with Henery.
Chip Kelly being pretty blunt about Alex Henery and where his confidence is right now. Said he doesn't know what it is. #Eagles— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) August 22, 2014
The Eagles still haven’t allowed Carey “Murderleg” Spear to kick in a preseason game yet, but newly acquired Indianapolis Colts kicker Cody Parkey booted a few kickoffs.
Donnie Jones punted three times, getting two of them inside the 20. In the return game, the Eagles rotated a handful of players. Kenjon Barner had a nice 22-yard kick return. Damaris Johnson ran one back for 28, and Henry Josey had one for 15. That’s three kick returns for an average of 22 apiece.