Saturday, November 28, 2015

Eagles-Panthers: What did we learn?

I’ll skip the obvious: Michael Vick was excellent for the second preseason game and has a decided edge on Nick Foles in the Eagles quarterback competition. There are already several Inquirer stories on this subject. So I’ll focus on the initial non-quarterback observations – through the first half – after the Eagles’ 14-9 win over the Panthers:

Eagles-Panthers: What did we learn?

Damaris Johnson. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Damaris Johnson. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

I’ll skip the obvious: Michael Vick was excellent for the second preseason game and has a decided edge on Nick Foles in the Eagles quarterback competition. There are already several Inquirer stories on this subject. So I’ll focus on the initial non-quarterback observations – through the first half – after the Eagles’ 14-9 win over the Panthers:

-- I thought the first team defense looked better than last week. They really only had one place to go, though, and that was up. Cam Newton was inconsistent, too, although some of that had to do with the pass rush. Bill Davis’ defense is far from where the coordinator wants it to be, but there was improvement against the Panthers.

-- Mychal Kendricks may have had the best performance out of the starting defenders. He flashed speed whenever Davis sent him on blitzes, which seemed fairly often. He got into the backfield on a few occasions. He’s just got to start finishing. Kendricks also had a strong open field tackle on Newton. After last week when the team-wide tackling was shaky, there weren’t many misses against the Panthers.

-- As dire as the Eagles’ safety situation looks – and there is still genuine concern at one spot – Patrick Chung eased some concerns Thursday night. He made a number of tackles against the run and showed a nose for the ball. Its way early to made bold pronouncements about how Chung will fare this season, but he should have one of the starting safety spots sewed up.

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-- Cary Williams played in his first game as an Eagle and to no surprise got into a scuffle early on. Williams made waves earlier this week when he said that the Eagles defense wasn’t feared around the league and that he was trying to bring tenacity to the unit. I don’t think mixing it up with Panthers receiver Steve Smith was what he had in mind. It looked like Smith slammed Williams to the ground first. As for his defense, Williams seemed to be playing soft a lot against Smith, who is still a threat. I’m not sure if he was told to play off or not, but the cushion allowed Newton and Smith to complete a number of passes.

-- I can’t figure out if Bradley Fletcher is playing well at the other corner spot or not. A lot of passes have been completed in his general area, but the coverage has never been blatantly poor. It did look like he blew the zone coverage on one long pass. I’ll have to look at the playback tomorrow to see what went wrong there.

-- The starting defensive line had a better showing. Cedric Thornton stood out the most. He forced Newton out of the pocket and dropped a running back behind the line when he read a fake screen. Fletcher Cox looked better than he did last week. There weren’t any eye-popping plays, but he didn’t get bowled over either.

-- I didn’t watch much of the second team defense (I was writing my column for the newspaper), but the few times I looked up, Vinny Curry was once again making a mark.

-- On offense, Chris Polk bounced back after a subpar first game. He ran five times for 24 yards, but … he fumbled as the Eagles were driving. Not good. Bryce Brown didn’t play because of a quadriceps injury and I still believe he has the nod as the backup, but Polk could make headway next week. He’s just got to secure the ball.

-- LeSean McCoy doesn’t appear to have missed a beat. His 21-yard run in the first quarter in which he cut on a dime was spellbinding. He finished with 47 yards on eight carries. He could be scary good in this offense. Both McCoy and Chip Kelly said that he needs to play more this preseason. I don’t know.

-- Matt Barkley came out and looked more poised than he did early on last week. He was late on a few throws and is likely the third string QB heading into the season, but he completed 8 of 14 passes for 71 yards. Not bad for the rookie.

-- The Eagles may not need to expend DeSean Jackson in the punt game. Damaris Johnson had another strong return with a dazzling move during an 18-yarder. He also wasn’t shy about contact after a few catches.

-- Kelly had four tight ends on the field at the same on several plays. I’ll have to go back and see what kind of production the Eagles got on those plays, but it may suggest that he will carry four on the 53-man roster – good news for Clay Harbor. Rookie tight end Zach Ertz had two nice catches for 36 yards. He dropped a pass last week, so there’s that.

-- The starting offensive line looked great on first impression. I’ll have to re-watch the game to get a real feel. Lane Johnson did whiff on the play in which Vick was sacked. He had been solid up until that point. Pass protection will be the one area he’ll have to work on most.

-- Kicker Alex Henery was wide right on a 44-yard field goal try. The snap looked good from James Winchester, who was filling in for the concussion Jon Dorenbos. Not a huge concern, but bears watching.

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Birds' Eye View is the Inquirer's blog covering all things Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL.

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