Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Observations on the New-Look Eagles
The NFL is back.
After one of the most memorable offseasons in Philadelphia Eagles history, fans had their first chance to check out the new-look Eagles during the team's first NFL preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Which new acquisitions impressed? Where does the team need to improve? Which young players made a strong case to stay on the 53-man roster? Read on to find out.
As always, comments are welcome and appreciated.
Observation No. 1: The Defensive Line Was Impressive
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Philadelphia fans, meet Jim Washburn. His influence on the team's defensive line has already started to pay dividends, with the unit generating consistent pressure for much of the evening. Jason Babin and Trent Cole applied significant pressure from the outside on Ravens' QB Joe Flacco during the first quarter. Philip Hunt and Daryl Tapp both were impressive later in the game and would have had two to three additional sacks on just about any QB not named Tyrod Taylor.
Recently-acquired Derek Landri was also impressive, recording a pair of solo tackles (one for a loss), a sack and a hit on the QB in limited minutes. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim showed some flashes of brilliance, but wasn't a consistent factor. He must improve if he hopes to make the final roster.
Overall, this was a very impressive performance by the Eagles' defensive line. On the whole, the group generated considerable pressure and was able to consistently break down the Ravens' blocking schemes. The group was decent against the run, but will need to do a better job staying in their lanes and preventing blockers from getting to the second level.
This was as good of a performance as Eagles' fans could reasonably have hoped for after the long layoff and massive schematic changes. Look for the group to improve in Week 2 of the preseason and players like Te'o-Nesheim and Trevor Laws to make a statement.
Observation No. 2: The Linebackers Must Improve
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I understand that the Eagles' group of linebackers is young and inexperienced. But that is not an excuse for being invisible in a preseason game and ignoring or botching their defensive assignments.
When the first-team defense was on the field in the first quarter, the only time I really noticed Casey Matthews and Jamar Chaney was when Ray Rice was running past them because of a blown screen coverage or a lack of discipline. The defensive line, for the most part, was excellent. The coverage, by and large, was stellar. But the linebackers were mediocre at best. If Casey Matthews hopes to be the Eagles' starter come Week 1 of the regular season, he's going to need to learn the system, show off his football instincts and make a few positive plays for the Eagles defense. He doesn't have to be Brian Urlacher, but he does have to be better than he was against the Ravens.
Of the second-team defenders, the most impressive players were undersized Brian Rolle and 2010 fourth-round draft pick Keenan Clayton. Rolle was all over the field for much of the game, seemed comfortable leading the reserves and was a solid tackler all-around. Clayton's performance didn't stand out in the way Rolle's did, but he was solid all-around. He looked comfortable in the Eagles' system and familiar with the playbook.
Again, this group is young and talented. They haven't had the benefit of OTAs or offseason workouts with coaching staff. They are behind on the learning curve. But for the Eagles to make good on their preseason hype, this group needs to elevate their level of play in a big way. Casey Matthews needs to step his game up. Ditto for Jamar Chaney. They don't have to be All-Pros, but they must be (at worst) consistently good players for this defense.
Observation No. 3: Riley Cooper and Chad Hall Are Ready to Make a Statement
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The Eagles' 2010 season ended with the play pictured here. The player who the ball was intended for but never got it is Riley Cooper.
After watching the first preseason game and attending part of Eagles training camp, it's clear to me that Riley Cooper is motivated to put the past behind him and become a very good wideout for the Eagles. During his time on the field with the first-team offense, Cooper made a big play down the field, catching a 42-yard Mike Vick pass to give the offense a first-and-goal inside the Ravens' five-yard-line.
But beyond the box score, Cooper was impressive. He blocked incredibly well on the outside. He ran crisp routes. He hustled up and down the field. He played the game to make a statement.
The same is true of Chad Hall. He was, by far, the Eagles' most consistent threat at WR, making five catches for 82 yards. Despite his small size, he was consistently able to find the soft-spot in the Ravens' defense and make himself a target for Vince Young and Mike Kafka. If he continues to play at such a high level, the Eagles will have a hard time not keeping him on the roster.
Observation No. 4: The Eagles Need a RT to Step Up
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Despite the Eagles' offseason moves to shore up the offensive line, it still seems that RT is a position of need for the team. Starter Ryan Harris looked decent, but was still beat on a pair of plays in the first quarter. If the team is going to be successful in 2011-12, Mike Vick needs to remain healthy and productive. And a big part of keeping Vick healthy is ensuring that he isn't taking blind-side hits from rushing defensive ends or blitzing linebackers. Harris needs to step up his game and protect Vick's blindside much better than he is currently.
Backup Austin Howard was absolutely dreadful. If Winston Justice was Highway 74, Howard is Interstate 68. On almost every play, he was beaten by second-string members of the Ravens' defensive front. A lineman that hopes to be a starter in the NFL at any position needs to be able to block second-string players. A blind-side tackle needs to dominate them.
Eagles fans should hope Winston Justice is pretty far along the road to recovery or that Ryan Harris suddenly re-discovers his game. Otherwise, it is going to be a long (and painful) season for Mike Vick. Again, this is only Week 1 of the preseason. But its still not reassuring to see that neither player currently charged with protecting the offense's most valuable player seems up to the task.
Observation No. 5: Jaiquawn Jarrett and Dion Lewis Are Ready for the NFL
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Two Eagle picks from the 2011 NFL draft showed they are ready to compete for significant playing time in 2011-12: second-round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett and fifth-round pick Dion Lewis.
When the Eagles selected Jarrett, it was assumed he would compete with second-year pro Kurt Coleman for the starting FS (SS in the Eagles' old scheme) job. However, very few fans (myself included) realized just how vicious of a safety Jarrett has the potential to become. He made a pair of very hard, very solid tackles and had a nice interception of Ravens' backup QB Tyrod Taylor in limited first-half minutes. If he can continue to develop his all-around game and improve his football IQ, he could end up as the starting FS for the team come Week 1.
Dion Lewis, the former backup to current Eagles' starting RB LeSean McCoy, was equally as impressive, rushing for 26 yards on 10 carries and picking up another 16 yards on a well-executed screen pass from QB Mike Kafka. Beyond those numbers, Lewis was incredibly solid in pass protection for a rookie, providing a number of excellent blocks on much bigger Ravens lineman and linebackers. His all-around game—speed, agility, effort, and vision—were impressive to say the least. This game has likely given him a leg up for the third RB spot over Buckley and Cooper.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
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1. Rookie Kicker Alex Henery was very solid, going two-for-two in FGs and nailing his one PAT attempt. His first two kickoffs ended up touchbacks. Excellent performance for the kicker expected to fill David Akers' rather large shoes.
2. Rookie Punter Chas Henry was also solid, with two very good punts in the first half (one that should have been downed inside the Ravens' five yard line). His next two were less impressive, but on the whole it was a good performance.
3. Vince Young, despite his lackluster performance at training camp thus far, was exceptionally good in limited first-half minutes, throwing a pair of nice passes and managing a Vick-esque escape in the second quarter.
4. Colt Anderson made a strong case for the Eagles keeping four safeties with his excellent special-teams play and immense improvement on the other side of the ball.
5. Credit must go to David Akers for once again proving why he's a class act on and off the field. His billboard on I-95 near the sports complex thanking Philadelphia fans was the act of a true gentleman. I wish him the best in San Francisco (but I wouldn't mind if he missed a few in week 4).
1. Kafka's performance provided clear evidence that, at this point, he is little more than a game manager. He did show some flashes of potential, but his all-around game will need considerable work before the Eagles anoint him the "Next One" and try to flip him for a Pro Bowl CB and a second round pick.
2. The new NFL rules have basically eliminated kick returns, which is unfortunate. It was an exciting part of the game, but player safety must come first. It's bad for viewers, but good for players.
3. The entire second team O-line for the Eagles looked dreadful. All should pitch in for Ronnie Brown's dinner.
1. Mike Kafka's interception.
2. Jorrick Calvin's attempts at playing CB.
3. Graig Cooper's pair of runs.
4. Andy Reid's lack of knowledge of the new rule changes. Dear Big Red: all scoring plays are now reviewed automatically. No need to find the challenge flag.