The Eagles won their preseason opener over the Steelers, 24-23, but it wasn’t necessarily a performance Andy Reid will want to bottle up and keep – especially from his starters. Here’s a compilation of some winners, losers and others from last night’s game after re-watching the first team tape. I included some obvious names among the reserves, but have yet to re-watch all of the final 2-1/2 quarters.
- The good thing about the 26 plays the Eagles defense allowed the Steelers in their first two drives was that it gave Mychal Kendricks, who also played in the nickel D, plenty of game action. The rookie linebacker played well. He made a few errors, but was consistently around the ball. His best sequence came on Pittsburgh’s second drive. Kendricks stuffed running back Chris Rainey for a one-yard loss, and then made the correct read on a screen pass to Jonathan Dwyer and dropped him for a two-yard loss. Earlier he was stiffed armed to the ground by tailback Isaac Redman and bit on a Ben Roethlisberger pump fake that set up a third-down conversion. But the rookie had a solid debut.
- It’s hard to see how Phillip Hunt can’t make the 53-man roster. The second-year defensive end finished last season on a high note – recording two sacks in the final four games – and shot out of the gate this preseason. Hunt had two sacks, one time stripping the football from quarterback Byron Leftwich’s hands. The Steelers’ Mike Adams isn’t on anyone’s list of the top left tackles in the game, but Hunt’s first step should give plenty of tackles fits.
- With Jeremy Maclin sidelined before the game with a hamstring strain, rookie Damaris Johnson got the start in his place. He caught Michael Vick’s first pass for four yards, but his best moments came later. He flashed his impressive speed on a 40-yard punt return that was called back by an illegal block, and caught a long pass from Nick Foles in the third quarter and that he took all the way for a 70-yard touchdown. It was his double move, though, that left him virtually alone. Like Hunt, it’s hard to see how the Eagles can keep Johnson off the roster. He’s a much better tinker toy than Chad Hall, whose days in Philly appear numbered.
- Alex Henery’s game-winning 51-yard field goal was a beauty. He split the uprights and cleared the crossbar by at least five yards. Last season, Andy Reid was reluctant to give Henery many opportunities beyond 50 yards. But last night’s boot should be a confidence builder for the second-year kicker that missed a couple of late field goal attempts against the 49ers last season. Henery also had three touchbacks on kickoffs.
- It’s not saying much considering Vick’s small sample and Mike Kafka’s shaky outing, but Nick Foles had the best night among the quarterbacks. The rookie was 6 of 10 for 144 yards and two TDs, and would have had another completion had tight end Brett Brackett not dropped a gimme. Foles’ first TD pass to Johnson was an impressive one, because he smoothly moved to his right when he was flushed out the pocket, kept his eyes downfield and threw across his body 40-plus yards. His second TD pass – a 44-yarder to Mardy Gilyard – was even more impressive. He recognized the single coverage, threw a strike to the receiver’s back shoulder and Gilyard took care of the rest, controlling his body and crossing the plane for the score.
- It didn’t take watching the replay to come to the conclusion that Jaiquawn Jarrett had a rough night. The second-year safety was starting in place of the injured Nate Allen and he struggled mightily. Jarrett actually started a few games last season and was nowhere near as bad as he was Thursday night. It’s still early and I don’t want to bury the kid, but if he can’t get his act together there’s no way the Eagles can keep him on the roster, especially as the third safety. He totally whiffed on Emmanuel Sanders after the receiver caught a pass for a first down and picked up more yards. He took a bad angle on a Dwyer run up the middle and knocked his own man (Vinny Curry) down. Wasn’t Jarrett supposed to be Mr. Sure Tackler? And then he was late to recognize that Sanders was his man inside when Leftwich hit the receiver for an easy two-yard TD catch.
- Not a great debut for DeMeco Ryans, who many hoped would be the Eagles’ savior at middle linebacker. Ryans needs some time to get used to a different scheme, but he looked hesitant and, well, a little slow. The missed tackles weren’t a good sign either. There were actually two missed tackle attempts by Ryans on a Dywer 7-yard run during the Steelers’ second possession. Several players later, he and Derek Landri couldn’t wrap up Rainey, who scooted 14 yards on third and 13. On Pittsburgh’s first series, Ryans over-pursued on a 7-yard Redman carry.
- Mike Kafka did little to ease the concerns of many that think he isn’t the answer at backup quarterback. He completed only 5 of 9 passes for 31 yards and made a poor decision when, in a hurry, he threw a pass right into the arms of linebacker Al Woods. On a few throws he never looked away from his first receiver and forced passes. It’s too early to demote Kafka, despite the fact that fans are already in pitchfork-and-torch mode, but he needs to show something in ten days when the Eagles travel to New England for their second preseason game.
-- It’s probably not entirely fair to judge Demetress Bell on just six snaps, but he got beat pretty bad by linebacker Chris Carter on the play in which Vick bruised his thumb. Vick had to step up and after he released a pass to Clay Harbor, banged his hand on the helmet of center Jason Kelce. Again, we need to see more than six snaps before we can start worrying about Bell.
- At least Nnamdi Asomugha came to tackle. The cornerback wasn’t as sure-handed last season, but he made several nice stops, coming up to help out on the run. He got beat on an inside slant to Antonio Brown that picked up 14 yards, but Asomugha looked comfortable out there.
- Roethlisbeger picked on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie with a couple of short passes, but the cornerback did well any time the quarterback tried to go over top. He made a boneheaded decision, though, when he left the ground and delivered a high blow to Leftwich on a third and long play that kept the second drive alive. Dumb penalties hindered the Eagles defense early last season.
- The return game received a nice kickoff to the season – pun intended -- when Brandon Boykin raced 46 yards on his first return. The rookie took the correct path outside and turned on the gas. Most important, he looked very comfortable with the ball, unlike Dion Lewis, who was thrust into the kickoff return role last season. Boykin wasn’t as solid playing the nickel, at least based on first impressions. I recall a missed tackle on the Steelers’ final touchdown – a 57-yard pass. Joselio Hanson, meanwhile, looked sharp as the first team nickel and has the edge right now. I still think the competition is up in the air, though.
- I didn’t see much pressure from Brandon Graham when he lined up against the Steelers’ first team offensive line. He did record a sack of Leftwich against the second teamers with a bull rush.