Thursday, August 11, 2011
Observation deck: Eagles-Ravens
By Dan Graziano
Thoughts from the Eagles 13-6 win over the Baltimore Ravens in a preseason game on Thursday.
After all of that hype, the free-agency period that made them the focus of the NFL world and a high-energy training camp fueled by the highest of expectations, the Philadelphia Eagles played their first preseason game Thursday night. And while it's important not to read too much, if anything, into preseason game performance, there wasn't anything not to like.
Michael Vick looked fantastic on his one series, in which he engineered a touchdown drive without his top two receivers. The new right side of the offensive line held up fine. The defensive line looked aggressive and quick and deep. The safeties got a pair of interceptions. Even the rookie kicker and punter looked good. If you came in as an Eagles fan looking for reasons to feel good, you found them. If you came in as an angry doubter looking for places to poke holes, you'll have to wait until next week. The Eagles enjoyed themselves a great deal in their exhibition victory over the Ravens, and here are a couple of specific things I noticed:
1. The new defensive game plan. The Eagles' defense, with Juan Castillo as the coordinator and Jim Washburn as the defensive line coach, will key off of that line. Washburn is coaching his linemen to push into the backfield and put pressure on quarterbacks and ballcarriers, and he appears to have enough depth at the end and tackle spots to maintain the required energy all game. Trent Cole looks as if he could thrive in this scheme, and they got contributions from guys like Darryl Tapp, Derek Landri and Keenan Clayton as Castillo and Washburn rotated linemen in and out all night. "Wash, he wants us to get off and attack every play," Cole said. "No matter what, it's all out. You see how we rotate in different lines, it's keeping everybody fresh. It's awesome to have that now. We've got a great group of d-lineman that can all play; they're all playing at the same level. We're going to keep this thing going." Pressure by the guys up front seemed to lead to both interceptions.
2. The new offensive line game plan. New offensive line coach Howard Mudd is teaching his linemen to push upfield as well. When Castillo was the O-line coach, the linemen were taught to hold their ground. Under Mudd, they're taught to pursue a piece of ground somewhere in front of them and hold that -- pushing upfield aggressively to create room for the backs behind them. We saw that in the first quarter, when the starting line was in there against Haloti Ngata and an imposing Baltimore front. And even after the starters left, rookie right guard Danny Watkins and new right tackle Ryan Harris stayed in a bit longer as they're getting up to speed. Watkins seemed to allow a defender through on the play that resulted in Vick's rollout and 42-yard completion to Riley Cooper, but the Eagles ran behind him with fullback Owen Schmitt to pick up a first down on a 3rd-and-2 play just before that.
3. Vick is working on staying composed. His arm looks great, especially considering that he's throwing to backup receivers because DeSean Jackson just showed up the other day and Jeremy Maclin is sick. But Vick's assignment this preseason is to work on blitz recognition, and he did a fine job with that as the Ravens helped him out by throwing a few blitzes at him. He stayed in the pocket, kept his eyes downfield and didn't seem to want to take off and run instead of throw. Just one series, but Vick looks to be in control.
4. The backups can play a little. Vince Young does not know the offense yet, which is why we saw a lot of Ronnie Brown runs once the starters were out of the game. Young did pick up a first down by scrambling away from pressure and completing a pass to Chad Hall, which just shows you that he's capable of helping out even while he is still learning the offense. And Brown looks as though his power running style makes him a perfect change-of-pace off of starter LeSean McCoy.
5. Give the linebackers an "incomplete." We didn't see enough out of Casey Matthews to make any judgments one way or the other about his ability to handle the middle linebacker spot. It appeared as though that Ray Rice catch-and-run up the left side on Baltimore's first possession might have had something to do with a missed assignment by a linebacker, but Reid said after the game that he'd have to look at the tape to evaluate the linebackers. Maybe they really could be an afterthought with the loaded line and secondary.
6. Mike Kafka looked good after his early interception. Rookie running back Dion Lewis had his moments, too.
7. Hugh Douglas! Loved his work as an Eagles sideline analyst. Perchance a star is born?