Thursday, August 9, 2012

Ups and Downs: Eagles Preseason Game 1

Calm down, everyone, Mike Vick's thumb is NOT broken. But for the love of Ben Franklin, do you think he could go more than two preseason series without giving us an injury scare?

Doomsday scenario aside, I'd like to explore a couple of observations from Thursday night's preseason win against the Steelers. I'll do so with typical humor and sarcasm and my usual world-is-ending-pessimism, and if it goes well, maybe we'll continue to do it in the coming weeks.

Without further ado, your kudos and not-so-good-os.

Thumbs Up: Mychal Kendricks. Kendricks was all over the field tonight. His closing speed is breathtaking, and running backs will have real trouble turning the corner against him. He also did a nice job tackling tonight, regularly stopping the ball carrier in his tracks. I didn't notice him much in coverage, where his height could be a concern against taller tight ends, but he looked outstanding in his first game action.

Thumbs Down: Jaiquawn Jarrett. As good as Kendricks was, that's how bad Jarrett was. Jarrett's strength is supposed to be that he's a ferocious hitter, but unfortunately he's not very good at making contact with the ball carrier. On the Steelers' two biggest plays of the first half, Jarrett flat-out whiffed on open-field tackles. On the first, he was bailed out when the receiver's foot touched the sideline. On the second, he also managed to take Brian Rolle out of the play and the Steelers ended up on the one-yard line. Immediately thereafter, he blew the coverage on an easy touchdown pass for Roethlisberger that had Asomugha holding up his hands in disbelief and confusion. Between last season's poor performance, a lack of hype at training camp, and tonight's debacle, I'd say Jarrett is closer to being cut than he is to opening the season as the starting strong safety.

Thumbs Up: The defensive line. Tons of credit to go around here, and this is going to be an absolutely relentless group. Seven sacks, 6.5 of which belonged to linemen, and Jason Babin and Trent Cole were AWOL. Philip Hunt recorded two sacks and a forced fumble and played with great energy against the Steelers' second-string unit. Vinny Curry was held sack-less but made some outstanding run stops and finished with a team-high five tackles. Brandon Graham started against the Steelers regular offense and looked strong, registering a sack. Fletcher Cox didn't play quite as well, but had his name called on a few stops. This team will rotate eight defensive linemen with no problem and give opposing offenses fits.

Thumbs Down: Mike Vick. Ok, it's early. I'm not going to get into this, thought if you're a regular reader of this blog you know that I'm not the world's biggest Vick fan. He didn't look crisp. Lots of check-downs, not enough pocket awareness, and an immediate injury scare. It's early, I know, so it's not much to read into, but still. Not a confidence-builder. What odds would you have to get to bet on Vick starting 16 games this season? 30 to 1? 50 to 1?

Thumbs Up: Nick Foles. I was a vocal critic of the Nick Foles pick following the draft, but he played well enough tonight that Trent Edwards can probably kiss his roster spot goodbye. Foles is a big guy, and is a fairly immobile quarterback, but there were at least two plays tonight where he displayed great awareness to step away from the pressure and stay within the pocket to make a throw. His first touchdown was an easy pass to a wide-open Damaris Johnson, but on his second touchdown, he displayed some very nice touch in lofting the ball to Mardy Gilyard and allowing Gilyard to make an adjustment and a nice catch. I was much more impressed than I expected to be.

Thumbs Down: The replacement refs. It's tough to say whether I hated the replacement refs any more than I do the usual refs, but it wasn't a good game for the officials. The unnecessary roughness call against the Eagles in the first quarter was ridiculous. They completely blew the call on the Gilyard touchdown, when a cursory glance at the replay showed that he came nowhere close to stepping out of bounds (though, to their credit, the officials reversed the call on replay). They missed block-in-the-back calls on both the Eagles and the Steelers. It just seemed like a sloppy game.

Thumbs Up: The Eagles special teams. Ok, granted, it's an improvement to have anyone besides Dion Lewis returning kicks this year, but Brandon Boykin and Mardy Gilyard both showed some shifty moves on a couple of nice returns, and another long return was called back because of a questionable penalty. Chas Henry placed two of his four punts inside the Steelers' 20-yard line, and also boomed a 54-yard kick. Alex Henery placed a couple of kickoffs out of the back of the end zone and also, of course, nailed a 51-yard game-winner with 14 seconds left. For a guy who had leg strength issues last year, that's an encouraging sign.

It's easy to place too much emphasis on a preseason game, and particularly on the first one. But while some questions continued to nag today (Who plays strong safety? What happens when Vick gets hurt?), there were a lot of positive signs as well, particularly from the defense. New rookie defensive additions Cox, Kendricks, and Curry all flashed serious talent, which has to please Eagles followers (and Juan Castillo).

Til next week, kids. And hey, we don't have to watch the Phillies suck anymore! There's always 2013!

Oh, and by the way, this is Heckling Santa's HUNDREDTH POST! You all win absolutely nothing. But it's been fun nonetheless. Congratulations, us.

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