It wasn’t pretty, but the Eagles beat the Jaguars, 31-24, to move to 2-1 on the preseason. The Birds won on the strength of their second team, though. The starters were sloppy on both sides of the ball, and special teams coughed up one of three turnovers on the night. Michael Vick regressed to the old Vick for one night. I’ll skip writing about the quarterback in this space, but you can read my column here.
Onto some observations from the first half, plus a little of the third quarter (I couldn’t watch much of the remaining third and fourth quarters because I had a newspaper deadline to meet):
-- Even though the Eagles’ starting offensive line worked together for the first time this preseason, it was mostly a rough outing for the unit. There were some clean pockets, and Vick didn’t help by holding onto the ball too long, but there was too much pressure, especially early on. Left tackle Jason Peters, left guard Evan Mathis and center Jason Kelce tipped their caps to the Jaguars. They said the Jacksonville defensive line gave some looks the Eagles hadn’t seen on tape. Kelce said it was the first time the Eagles faced a line that had the linemen slanted pre-snap and angled into the gaps. This caused some confusion he said in terms of assignments. I’ll watch the tape tomorrow to see exactly what he meant.
-- The Jaguars line also ran a few twists that seemed to confuse the line. Right guard Todd Herremans had a tough night. He missed most of practice last week with knee inflammation. Kelce said afterward that he was still a little banged up. Herremans wasn’t great in Game 1, but bounced back the following week. His health and play will be something to monitor once the season starts. Peters had some rust off the layoff, but he looked like he held his own, even in the up-tempo. Can’t make final judgements until I re-watch the game.
-- Switching over to the defense, it was an up-and-down affair. There were some ugly moments for Bill Davis’ unit. The most obvious was a Jordan Todman 63-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. It was the only play of the drive. I’ll have to slow down the tape to see what really happened, but there was a gap up front and when Todman reached the next level, safety Patrick Chung was blocked and rookie Earl Wolff came in on a bad angle and missed him. Wolff was splitting first-team repetitions with Nate Allen, and while Allen has done little to put his stamp on the job, I’m not sure if Wolff is ready. It was one play, but he seemed a little lost on a few others.
-- The Eagles remain weak at safety. Chung is competent. Allen sometimes seems like he’s just out there not trying to make a mistake. That’s a fairly general statement, but I’ve yet to see him make a standout play through three preseason games. It’s easy to get lost in centerfield, but he’s also required to play up near the box. Kenny Phillips warmed up, but did not play. He’s now missed two games in a row with a quadriceps injury. He could be cut by Tuesday.
-- On the positive side, Mychal Kendricks continues to be around the ball and make plays. The inside linebacker recorded a sack on a busted play, hit quarterback Chad Henne on another, defensed a pass and recorded three tackles. He’s not come close to his ceiling, but he does have great upside. He can be used in a variety of ways, especially in the pass rush.
-- Connor Barwin was the other standout on defense. The outside linebacker recorded the first team defense’s first turnover when he intercepted Henne. Barwin dropped, reacted to the ball, tipped it and with good body control, pulled in the first pick of his professional career. He came back later and sacked Henne when he was used as a Joker (standing up above the A gap).
-- Sticking with the defense, the run stopping was poor. The Jaguars gobbled up 121 yards on the ground in the first half, 202 overall. The Todman run accounted for half of the yards before the break, but there were too many open lanes for Jacksonville running backs. Maurice Jones-Drew wasn’t even the Jaguars’ second-best running back. Davis has some cleaning up to do in terms of his run D.
-- There were a few positives up front. Defensive end Fletcher Cox showed improvement for the second straight week. His tackle of Henne after the quarterback scrambled showed the quickness even at 310 pounds. Defensive end Cedric Thornton picked up his first sack of the preseason. It looks like he’ll start opposite Cox. I didn’t focus on the nose tackle position much, but Chris Brown of Smart Football tweeted that Isaac Sopoaga and Bennie Logan were getting pushed back considerably.
-- Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher started at cornerback again. I can’t see Brandon Boykin making a push into a starting spot outside. He still looks better in the slot, where he’ll likely play primarily. The Eagles are thin at cornerback, especially after Brandon Hughes (fractured hand) and Eddie Whitley (knee) suffered injuries. Curtis Marsh is already out with a broken hand.
-- Jumping back on offense, Bryce Brown has reverted to holding the football like a loaf of bread. His fumble before the goal line was egregious, but that wasn’t the only time he held the ball out. After last season when he fumbled several times, Brown simply can’t fumble. He’s a beast as a runner and is improving as a pass-catcher, but Chip Kelly can’t run him out there if he fumbles all the time.
-- Chris Polk continues to get tough yards running. He’s good insurance. Starter LeSean McCoy left after five carries for nine yards. No worries there.
-- A few quickies: Tight end Zach Ertz had his second drop of the preseason. … Brent Celek ran very hard after the catch and led the Eagles with four catches for 54 yards. Vick overthrew him twice, once when he beat a defender in the end zone. … Damaris Johnson is electrifying as a returner, but he can’t fumble that easily. Johnson had the ball squirt out on one punt return. He rebounded nicely with long punt and kick returns. … Jason Avant had a pretty cool one-handed catch after a ball was tipped at the line. … Kicker Alex Henery had a strong night. He connected on three of three field goals, including a 45-yarder, and booted the heck out of his kickoffs.