Thursday, December 25, 2014

Eagles-Pats: What Did We Learn?

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It was a mixed bag, but the Eagles had comeback performances from Nick Foles and Jordan Matthews and solid outings once again by Zach Ertz and Mark Sanchez. The negatives? The defense had issues with penalties and on third down and Alex Henery missed his lone field goal attempt. Let’s roll the tape (without the help of tape):

Eagles-Pats: What Did We Learn?

Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It was a mixed bag, but the Eagles had comeback performances from Nick Foles and Jordan Matthews and solid outings once again by Zach Ertz and Mark Sanchez. The negatives? The defense had issues with penalties and on third down and Alex Henery missed his lone field goal attempt. Let’s roll the tape (without the help of tape):

1. Nick Foles rebounded from last week’s preseason opener in Chicago. He completed 8 of 10 passes for 81 yards and tossed a dime to Zach Ertz for a six-yard touchdown. Foles’ best throw was a 23-yard pass to Brent Celek down the seam. With starting receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper sidelined (Kelly said that he expected both to back by Sunday), five of his eight completions were to non-receivers. The offense has the ability to go in one direction when another is taken away, but Chip Kelly obviously would prefer to have all of his starting skill position players at his disposal. The backup receivers, particularly the outside ones, were not getting the job done. More on that later …

2. Jordan Matthews finished with nine catches for 104 yards. Not bad at all. He played a large chunk of the game, with both the first and second team offenses. Brad Smith started the game in the slot, but Matthews was on the field for almost the entirety of the first unit’s lone touchdown drive. He caught a 4-yard pass from Foles. He did most of his damage with Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley at the controls and against the Patriots’ backup defenses. But Matthews exorcised last week’s drops against the Bears (he didn’t have any), made varying types of catches and picked up some yards after the catch. The rookie looked like the receiver we saw through most of training camp.

3. Ifeanyi Momah and Jeff Maehl didn’t do themselves any favors. They’re on the roster bubble and both had fumbles against the Patriots. Momah had another pass bounce off his hands in the end zone, but Arrelious Benn was there for the deflection and the touchdown. Momah has improved in one year, but he’s still rusty and doesn’t have great upside when it comes to special teams. Maehl missed the Bears game with a foot injury and is probably still trying to get back into a groove, but he hasn’t made much of an impression this camp. Benn hasn’t stood out either, but he made his mark on Friday night. He had the touchdown, but, more important, blocked a punt. If Maclin, Cooper, Matthews and Josh Huff have the roster made and the Eagles plan on keeping six receivers, Benn and Smith could have the edge on Momah and Maehl.

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4. I wrote an entire column on the defense for the newspaper here, but it was another shaky outing for Bill Davis’ unit. The first and second teams allowed 21 points, 253 yards and 7 of 10 third down conversions in the first half. They committed eight first half penalties. Three were declined and one was offset. Most of the penalties occurred in the secondary with holding, interference or illegal use of the hands. The NFL is enforcing contact downfield, specifically beyond five yards and the Eagles are just going to have to adjust to the new restrictions. Kelly said as much after the game. If the players aren’t going to alter their games to the rules, they’re not going to play in this league for much longer. Cornerback Brandon Boykin was flagged for holding twice.

5. Curtis Marsh, bless his hustle, was picked on mercilessly by Patriots quarterbacks Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo and Ryan Mallet. It’s difficult to kill Marsh. He isn’t likely to make the roster, but his struggles were significant because they highlighted the Eagles’ lack of depth at cornerback. Cary Williams left with a hamstring injury after his 77-yard interception return for a touchdown. Nolan Carroll, who shined early in camp, has been out of the lineup for two weeks because of another hamstring injury. Boykin is the next corner up, but he goes inside to the slot in the nickel and Marsh was the next outside corner up. Roc Carmichael, who was toasted against the Bears, is after Marsh on the depth chart. Rookie Jaylen Watkins was sidelined with, yes, a hamstring injury. When the Eagles went with three corners after Boykin left with cramps, safety Davon Morgan was moved to cornerback. Howie Roseman is likely scouring the waiver wire for cornerbacks.

6. As poor as the first team defense looked, there is the disclaimer that Davis was obviously working on sub packages and seeing if certain reserves could perform against a first team offense. Vinny Curry has warranted more playing time and got it. He had some strong rushes and shot into the backfield on run plays, but he’s still playing mostly with the second unit. Kelly said there was an effort to get Curry some looks with the starters. As for whether it leads to more opportunities, Kelly said it will depend on the film. Najee Goode played a whole series in place of inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who has little to prove in the preseason at this point in his career. Goode said he also wore the headset that links to Davis, relayed the plays to the defense and set the front. Ryans is the starter, but Goode could be poised to spell Ryans for some snaps in the regular season. Beau Allen, Damion Square and Brandon Bair also took snaps with the first unit defensive line. Travis Long and top pick Marcus Smith were inserted at outside linebacker. Smith got little pressure. His pass rush is going to be a work in progress.

7. I wrote about Ertz and how the tight ends could be used more in the Patriots game and they were. Kelly used two tight end sets a number of times. Celek caught two passes for 45 yards. He took a big hit after one grab. Celek has been tough as nails his entire career. You can see why Kelly is reluctant to just hand Ertz the starting job. But the second-year tight end has taken a second-year leap. You can see it in so many ways – the way he runs his routes, the separation he gains, the way he gives quarterbacks a big target, his hands and body control on tightly-contested balls. Ertz’ touchdown may have come against old friend Patrick Chung, but it showcased his ability to out-muscle safeties. He made a leaping 20-yard catch on a toss by Sanchez.

8. Alex Henery was wide right on his lone field goal try from 47 yards. I asked Kelly after the game if the miss was indicative of his camp, and he said no, but he also said, “You got to make 47 yarders in this league.” He was then asked if he remained confident in Henery and gave the affirmative. The Eagles brought in rookie Carey Spear to “push” Henery, but it has been obvious since the spring that it was more of a charade. Spear doesn’t have anywhere near the ability to kick in the NFL and he hasn’t even been used in both preseason games. Three of Henery’s five kickoffs were touchbacks.

9. Mark Sanchez had his second straight solid outing. He completed 11 of 12 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns. His lone errant pass was an interception. It was a bad one. He zeroed in on tight end James Casey and the safety read his eyes and picked him off. Sanchez bounced back, though. He looks comfortable in this offense. Matt Barkley had a similar game, albeit against the Patriots’ deep reserves. He was 9 of 12 for 132 yards and a touchdown and interception. The quarterback order is essentially set for the season: Foles, Sanchez and Barkley. G.J. Kinne did not play.

10. A few quickies … With injuries to running backs Matthew Tucker and David Fluellen, backup Henry Josey played a ton of snaps. He ran well, picking up 56 yards on eight carries and caught one pass for a 27-yard touchdown. The Eagles were so depleted at running back that Damaris Johnson carried seven times. He managed only 14 yards. … Alejandro Villaneuva will have a hard time making the roster, but the defensive end had a moment he’ll tell his kids long about. He recorded his first NFL sack. I caught him reliving the moment with Jason Kelce in the tunnel after the game. … As for injuries, Huff’s shoulder seemed the most serious. He took a pop on a kick return. Kelly said he didn’t know the severity of the injury. Boykin left with cramps and said he was fine. Brandon Graham didn’t play on defense in the first half, but said that was because of his back. Then why did he play on special teams in the first and on defense in the second? He said that the coaches wanted him to warm his back up. Uh, ok. Graham recorded a sack when he was left unblocked.

 

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

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