This is not a "glass half-full" article. There were problems exposed on the Eagles defense from the get-go.
But I'm talking about the defensive problems of the 1's in the first quarter. Overall, the Eagles displayed some very nice development among their defensive backups and new guys as the game plodded on.
I totally get how Tom Brady got into our defensive "1" squad's heads so completely in the inital minutes of the game. Brady basically pitched "backwards", to use an old baseball term.
He started out with the running play and stuck with it. Our guys' formations were off balance as they expected Brady to start out strong with a classic New England passing attack. Brady just kept challenging the Eagles defense to stop the run. Unexpected… But it was a classic throwback strategy— "establish the run until they prove they can stop it". And just as simple as that, Brady and the Pats kept running— which of course set up their passing game on the second and subsequent series of downs.
Plus, it took a few minutes of action before the Eagles adapted to the upbeat tempo of an actual game involving tackling. That was to be expected when you have had no camp tackling. But to be fair to Chip Kelly, the tackling and the tempo-adjustment caught up soon enough. I think he knew it would. Point to the Chippah…
There were some great plays made by Eagles individuals throughout the exhibition game. I take courage from that fact.
Brady drove his New England Patriots down the field in just three minutes and 12 seconds to open the scoring in Friday night’s preseason opener against Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field.
Michael Vick completed the same feat in just two minutes, 15 seconds.
With a couple of runs in-between – by Chris Polk, who may have unseated Bryce Brown for RB No. 2 – Vick completed a 22-yard pass over the middle to Jason Avant and finished the drive with a pretty 47-yard ball to a streaking DeSean Jackson down the sideline for a score.
He worked the no-huddle to perfection. That was nice! And more importantly, it was a perfect strike to Peanut with great protection from the offensive line.
Foles got his shot late in the first quarter. He was hurried by the Patriots' rush on his first pass attempt, and coughed up the ball which looked to me like an aborted forward pass—and sure enough, it was initially ruled an incompletion. But New England challenged and the officials determined it was a fumble based upon the "tuck rule"…
Knee-jerk reaction after that first Foles series was to proclaim Vick the starter. It won’t be that easy.
Foles found Celek on his first throw of the next series, then hit Brown out of the backfield for a first down. He followed with back-to-back first down throws, then scrambled for 10 yards to move the chains again. After an incompletion and a short run by Brown, Foles earned a first down on a pass to Avant. A TD run by Brown ended the drive.
Good for Shaggy.
Vick looked sharp, completing 4 of 5 passes for 94 yards. Foles lost that disputed fumble on his second play and then went 5 of 6 for 43 yards. Kelly has already said Foles will start next Thursday night against Carolina.
Meanwhile, the Patriots have no QB controversies. Tim Tebow made his New England debut after backup Ryan Mallett left with a head injury late in the second quarter. Tebow was 4 of 12 for 55 yards and ran for 31 on four carries.
As for Brady, the two-time NFL and Super Bowl MVP finished 7 of 8 for 65 yards and one TD.
LeGarrette Blount had a nifty, 51-yard TD run, reversing direction twice on the play. The former 1,000-yard rusher with Tampa Bay had 101 yards rushing on 11 carries in his first game for New England.
Stevan Ridley had 92 yards rushing for the Patriots, including a 62-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. He finished that drive with a 1-yard TD run.
The Chippah showed previews of his up-tempo Oregon offense all night long. But Kelly kept it vanilla for the most part. The Eagles showed Kelly's fast-paced style, but they're clearly saving special back-page plays for the regular season.
On Brady's second series of the game, Fletcher Cox did a nice job to pressure him into an incompletion. Brady then completed seven in a row, including a 13-yard TD toss to Shane Vereen for a 14-7 lead. The Eagles secondary looked befuddled.
Eagles rookie QB Matt Barkley played most of the 2nd and 3rd quarters and was 11 for 22 for 103 yards, including a 12-yard TD pass to Greg Salas. Barkley looked confident but his passing game was uneven. Some throws he made were incomplete due to receivers not being in the right place according to the play call. Others were just plain off line or thrown away intentionally. Overall, I thought Barkley showed a lot of moxie. He doesn't have the strongest arm, but neither does Drew Brees.
Vick's first two passes were perfect. He connected with Jason Avant on a 22-yard pass over the middle to convert a third-and-6. Vick then hit Jackson in stride down the right side over cornerback Aqib Talib to make it 7-7. That was extremely nice to witness…
It was kinda nice that Tim Tebow entered the game to cheers from Eagles fans, a sign of his popularity across the country…Or were those just mockingbird cheers? Maybe I'm just weird, but I found myself rooting for the guy to do well for himself. What's wrong with me?
I guess you have to admire the Chippah for introducing some bold new formations on the Eagles offense.
There was some read-option, although the only quarterback that tucked the ball and ran in the first half was Nick Foles…actually, Matt Barkley did so also late in the 3rd quarter. There was also a unique formation where Kelly had his wide receivers aligned behind a tight end on each side of the field in a staggered look. Wide receiver Greg Salas scored on a screen pass out of the formation late in the game. That was pretty entertaining.
Formation Totals for First Team Offense:
3 WRs, TE in slot, RB in backfield – 6
3 WRs, TE on line, RB in backfield – 6
2 WRs, 2 TEs on line, RB in backfield – 3
2 TEs, 2 staggered WRs, RB in backfield – 2
3 WRs, RB and TE in backfield – 2
2 WR, TE on line and in slot, RB in backfield – 1
2 WR, TE on line, TE and RB in backfield – 1
So we got a sample of new looks on offense which has got to be at best a hope for future success due to the elements of strategy and surprise— and at worst a nice counterpoint to the somewhat traditional alignments of the Andy Reid era.
As for the problems on defense?
"We had some breakdowns in gaps and we missed some tackles," defensive coordinator Billy Davis said. "The effort to the ball was there, the tackling wasn't where it needs to be."
Things improved for the Eagles defense on the Patriots' second possession, but not by much. They managed to force the Patriots into two third-down situations, but were unable to get off the field in either of them. A 23-yard pass from Brady to Kenbrell Thompkins put the Patriots into Eagles territory. Two plays later Brady found Shane Vereen in the back of the endzone for a 13-yard touchdown. Vereen was guarded tightly on the play by Mychal Kendricks, but Brady- as he has done many times before- put the ball where only Vereen could get it.
The defense allowed 160 yards on the Patriots first 16 plays- not exactly the kind of performance that will ease any concerns about this unit.
"It's good work for us defensively. Preseason games are where you get the work in," DeMeco Ryans said.
As ugly as things were for the defense on the Patriots first two drives, the worst moment of the night came towards the end of the second quarter. With just over four minutes to go, Blount took a handoff from Ryan Mallett and ran towards the left sideline. Eagles linebacker Emmanuel Acho did a good job getting to the corner, causing Blount to reverse fields. The Eagles appeared to be in good position to bring him down before any damage was done, but linebacker Brandon Graham ran right by him without even attempting to bring him down.
After much discussion about what kind of defensive alignment the Eagles would run, they showed a bit of both against the Patriots. They started in a 3-4, but switched to a 4-3 often- especially when Graham was on the field.
"We gave up a big play here and there," Ryans said. "If you take those off, we probably played OK."
There was also plenty of mixing and matching in the secondary, as Brandon Hughes and Brandon Boykin both saw time on the outside. The starting safeties on the night were Patrick Chung and Nate Allen, although Kenny Phillips took over for Allen at the start of the second.
Neither alignment was effective, however, as the Eagles first two units allowed the Patriots to gain 167 yards on the ground and 177 through the air in the first half.
"We have a bunch of different talents, we just have to find the right group and do what they do best," Davis said. "This is what the preseason is about. See who we are and where we are at. We have a ways to go right now.
There were some positives to take on the night. Second-year defensive end Vinny Curry had a strong game, getting two quarterback hurries and a sack.
"I'm way more confident in myself," Curry said on the difference between this year and last year. "I've brought it right from the beginning and I've been working hard, so I'm glad I got to see it start to pay off tonight."
Jake Knott, a rookie linebacker from Iowa State, also had some strong moments with a pass deflection to go along with half of a sack.
It certainly was not the start the Eagles wanted to see out of their defense, but if there is any silver lining, it is that the Patriots will make plenty of defenses look bad this year.
"We can do better, but I think this is something to build off," Ryans said.
NOTES: Injured Eagles were long snapper Jon Dorenbos (head), LB Casey Matthews (knee), LB Chris McCoy (knee) and LB Jamar Chaney (shoulder). … Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski was 1 for 3, missing from 44 and 53 yards.
And for those of you wondering if Dennis Dixon or G.J. Kinne would ever get to enter the "open" QB competition, why yes they did— Dixon and Kinne got some reps in the final act :
Regarding Momah— I thought he looked overmatched out there physically. He can beat you position-wise but he has a lot of trouble with a contested reception. Maybe there's still time to work on that?
Damaris Johnson had a very nice punt return.
Safety Earl Wolff had some solid tackling efforts. CB Curtis Marsh showed some decent coverage technique. DT Bennie Logan posted a QB hit.
This team intriques me. I want to see more.