NFC East: philip hunt

The Philadelphia Eagles on Monday put defensive tackle Mike Patterson on the reserve/non-football illness list as he continues his recovery from offseason brain surgery. That delays their decision on Patterson until at least Week 7 of the regular season and answers one of the questions regarding their numbers game at defensive line, where they may have too many quality players to keep. But it doesn't answer them all. As Bob Grotz writes here, there are still decisions to make in advance of Friday's roster cutdown deadline, and one of those decisions could end up being a trade or release of defensive end Darryl Tapp:
"There's going to be a job somewhere," Tapp said with a grin. "We're all focused on getting better right here."

Tapp is one of six defensive ends with a strong case to make the Eagles' roster. Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry are locks, and Philip Hunt has played too well in preseason to cut. They also have a glut of defensive tackles, even if you don't count Patterson. Cullen Jenkins, Fletcher Cox and Derek Landri are all pretty sure things, and Cedric Thornton has outplayed Antonio Dixon so far in camp. Based on performance, Dixon could be the most likely defensive lineman cut, but he does still have potential to be a prolific run-stuffer even if he doesn't contribute what the others contribute to the pass rush.

So that's 11 guys, and they can't keep more than 10 and probably have to get to nine. Jenkins' ability to play end as well as tackle means they could ditch or trade Tapp if they wanted to, and they'd get some cap relief from his $2.6 million salary, which obviously matters. I would think they could find a market for him if they decide he's not going to make their team.

Observation deck: Steelers-Eagles

August, 9, 2012
8/09/12
11:40
PM ET

The most important thing that happened during a 24-23 victory by the Philadelphia Eagles over the Pittsburgh Steelers in their preseason opener was the result of an X-ray. Starting quarterback Michael Vick left the game in the second quarter after banging his left thumb on the helmet of teammate Jason Kelce while throwing a pass. Vick, who throws left-handed, was in obvious pain on the sideline and spent the rest of the second quarter icing the thumb.

The Eagles announced at halftime that an X-ray taken on the thumb was negative, and cameras caught Vick on the sideline during the fourth quarter gripping a ball with his left hand. Coach Andy Reid said after the game that Vick had a thumb "contusion" and that the issue was a nerve on the top of his thumb that made it numb for a while, but that he was fine by the end of the game. So it appears the Eagles survived a scare, but the scare was a jarring reminder of Vick's importance to the Eagles' hopes and the low point of a very poor first-half performance by the team as a whole.

We make no broad conclusions based on the first preseason game (or any preseason game) -- only observations. The Eagles were playing without three of their starters on the defensive line, and starting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin injured his hamstring in pregame warm-ups. And of course, the Eagles have had a rough week following the death of Reid's oldest son on Sunday morning. All of that matters as we assess what happened -- good and bad -- in this game. So here goes.

1. They need to stretch more. Maclin strained his hamstring before warm-ups even started, Reid said. And defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins strained his during the first quarter. Reid said he didn't think Jenkins' injury was too serious. He sounded less happy about Maclin's. Starting defensive end Jason Babin is already out with a strained calf. Muscle pulls are an August bane for a lot of teams, but this has something of an epidemic feeling in Philly, no?

2. They need to tackle better. I'm sure they will, but after such a poor tackling 2011, this was not the way the Eagles wanted to look in the first half of their 2012 preseason. Missed tackles by everyone from Jaiquawn Jarrett to DeMeco Ryans were a problem as the Steelers marched down the field against them in the first half. The length of the Steelers' drives was the reason Vick was even in the game in the second quarter. The offense got to run only three plays in the first.

3. They're not kidding about that defensive line depth. I thought 2010 first-round pick Brandon Graham played like a star. Which, of course, is exactly what he is supposed to be. Finally healthy after a year and a half's worth of knee problems, Graham should be a significant addition to the pass rush. But overall, backup lineman Derek Landri, Darryl Tapp, Phillip Hunt, et al looked very good, especially on the pass rush. And assuming Jenkins, Babin and Trent Cole can all get back healthy, the Eagles' plans to rotate eight defensive linemen and "throw fastballs at the offensive line" has a good chance to work. They still need to at least pay some attention to the run and toughen up in the middle, but a lot of that is the responsibility of the linebackers in this defense.

4. Damaris Johnson is a factor. He was the starting wide receiver in place of Maclin, which was something of a surprise. But he's been practicing well and is obviously a help in the return game. He had a long punt return wiped out by a penalty.

5. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie needs to find his checkbook. Called for a penalty for launching himself into a receiver, Rodgers-Cromartie can expect a well-deserved fine. Stupid penalty that would have been costly had it been a real game. That play is on every instructional video the league shows players to tell them what not to do.

6. Vick versus the blitz. Vick didn't do much while in the game, but the one play that stands out for me was a negative one. The Steelers showed a blitz look but didn't blitz, and it confused Vick, who was surprised not to find anyone open and took a sack as he tried to leave the pocket. Reading defenses and identifying coverages and blitz schemes has long been a problem for Vick, who says he's working on it and still has a month left before the real games start.

7. Oh yeah. Nick Foles. Everybody on Twitter was all fired up about Foles and his two long touchdown passes. Foles makes a remarkable impression. He's a giant (6-foot-6) with a great big arm. Everything physical about him shouts, "star quarterback." But it's important to remember that he's a rookie who doesn't yet know the offense and still needs to refine his footwork and other mechanics. The Eagles drafted Foles because of his physical tools -- his arm in particular. But he's no threat right now to Mike Kafka as the backup. Unfortunately for Kafka, whose struggles to throw the deep ball are a particularly bad deficiency on the Eagles' speed-based offense, Foles profiles as the better player down the road. But not yet. No matter how good he looked Thursday night, Foles is still the No. 3.

8. The winning kick. No, the game doesn't count. But Alex Henery's 51-yard field goal with 12 seconds left that set the final score is a nice confidence booster for the Eagles' second-year kicker. Also take note that it was second-year punter Chas Henry who held on that kick. Henry also unleashed a 54-yard punt earlier in the game and is trying to hold off a serious challenge from former Cowboys punter Mat McBriar.

OK, that's more than enough off the first preseason game. In conclusion: No, they didn't look good, but it probably doesn't matter, and the most important thing is that Vick appears to have dodged a serious injury. On to preseason Week 2 for the Eagles, whose priority right now is to get everyone healthy.
Another week, another NFL Tuesday here at ESPN.com. That means you can look forward to Power Rankings, Stock Watch and, if you're into this kind of thing, the weekly NFC East chat at noon ET. It's a busy day, but that's the way we like it. Best way to start is by loading up on your links.

New York Giants

Mark Viera writes that the win that saved the Giants' season failed to conceal the flaws that could do it in. Giants coach Tom Coughlin calls his team's coverage problems "a tremendous, grave concern," and honestly, if they don't lock some things down this week against the banged-up Redskins offense, you have to wonder if they can stop anyone. It's one thing when the Saints, Packers and Cowboys are throwing against you at will. The Giants need to muscle up this week and play like a playoff team on defense.

And that might not be easy, since Justin Tuck is dealing with a toe injury that could keep him out of that game, and it appears as though Osi Umenyiora will miss another game as well with his ankle injury. The story of this Giants season has been one of overcoming injury. They have more of it to do if they're going to finish this thing off.

Dallas Cowboys

Todd Archer reported Monday that the Cowboys would likely sign veteran running back Sammy Morris for depth now that DeMarco Murray is out for the year with his ankle injury. It's important that they have someone, because Felix Jones isn't likely to hold up under a full starter's workload and they'll need to be able to spell him from time to time to keep him from breaking down. Make no mistake: Morris isn't going to come in and get a bunch of carries. The Cowboys' run game now goes as Jones goes. But they absolutely need to make sure he doesn't get overworked to the point of a breakdown.

Calvin Watkins is discovering the Playoff Machine, and while he didn't spend as much time on it Monday as I did (and it's hard to blame him for that), he writes that the important thing for the Cowboys and their fans to remember is that, in spite of everything that's happened, the Cowboys still control their own playoff destiny. If they win their final three games, the way they did two years ago, they will be division champions.

Philadelphia Eagles

Bob Grotz writes that, with Michael Vick and Jeremy Maclin banged-up, the Eagles' defense is going to have to carry them down this stretch as long as they have a flicker of a chance at the playoffs. With guys like Philip Hunt and Casey Matthews improving and defensive coordinator Juan Castillo expanding the playbook, the Eagles feel like they're finally playing defense the way they envisioned playing it all along.

And John Smallwood says that Eagles fans who want a coaching change should be rooting for the team to lose games. I could do this job a hundred more years and it'll never make sense to me -- the idea of watching your team and hoping it loses. I think it's twisted, and defeats the purpose of being a fan in the first place. If you're an Eagles fan right now, you mean to tell me you're not dreaming about what could happen if your team won its last three games, two or three other miracles happened and you found yourself in the playoffs after all they've put you through?

Washington Redskins

Remember a couple of weeks ago when DeAngelo Hall was the NFC Defensive Player of the Week? No? Neither does Mike Shanahan, who was disappointed in Hall for his play and his behavior during Sunday's loss to the Patriots. The Redskins are working hard to finish out this season with pride, even as they keep losing games and players, and Shanahan would like Hall to be on the same page as everyone else.

Rick Maese takes a look at the question of why every December feels like a long one for the Redskins lately. Interesting Shanahan quote in that story about the importance of roster depth for surviving the season. The Redskins didn't have enough of it this year (though the personnel losses they've suffered would have challenged even the deepest teams), and it will be a big part of the team's focus in the coming offseason.

The chat will roll at noon ET, and I'd love for you to drop by.

Observation deck: Eagles-Browns

August, 25, 2011
8/25/11
10:41
PM ET


The plan was for the Philadelphia Eagles' starters to play three quarters of Thursday night's preseason game against the Browns. But Michael Vick took such a beating in the first half, and it was raining so hard at halftime, that it just didn't make any sense to run him back out there. And while it's easy to look at the big picture and say the Eagles looked a lot better in this 24-14 exhibition victory than they did last week against the Steelers, the fact is the offensive line's play in the first half had to be extremely disconcerting to their fans and their coaches.

The issues Thursday were at and to the right of center. Rookie Jason Kelce got the start with the first team at center in place of veteran Jamaal Jackson, and he did little to make you think Jackson's job is or should be in jeopardy. Kelce had a holding penalty and a bad exchange with Vick, and he and fellow rookie Danny Watkins were repeatedly shredded by rookie Phil Taylor and the Cleveland defensive line. As a result, Vick was under pressure throughout the first quarter and didn't have time to find his wide receivers downfield.

Running back LeSean McCoy continued to look excellent as a runner and as a great check-down option for a harried Vick in the passing game. And if the line is going to be this shaky all season, McCoy could catch 100 balls. But the line has to get better, or it could sink this promising Eagles season.

Center can be fixed, of course, because they can just put Jackson back in there until Kelce is ready. And King Dunlap is only a fill-in starter at right tackle until Winston Justice and/or Ryan Harris are healthy. But Watkins was the first-round pick, and he's going to start. And he's going to have to block better and communicate better with whoever is out there to his right and left, or Vick is going to be knocked around a lot.

Now, as we keep saying, it's only preseason, and the Eagles still have more than two weeks of practice time in which to fix these problems. I am by no means saying they cannot or will not fix their issues. But while the result of this game doesn't matter any more than the result of last week's game did, there are some specific issues that came up, good and bad, and the poor play of the right side of the offensive line was the one that stood out the most.

Some others:

1. Better work by the linebackers this week. The Eagles' defense this season will be based on aggressive upfield pursuit by the defensive line, which means the linebackers will have to be more effective and responsible in coverage. We saw that Thursday night, especially from Jamar Chaney and rookie middle linebacker Casey Matthews. Last week was rough on Matthews, but the Eagles seem to have done a good thing for him this week, replacing him with Brian Rolle and/or Brandon Hughes on passing downs and allowing him to focus on playing the run more. Matthews' first-quarter highlight was a big stop on Montario Hardesty up the middle, and in general the linebackers in this game seemed to be in the right place and for the right amount of time much more reliably than they were against the Steelers.

2. Mike Patterson helps. Back in action less than a month after suffering a seizure on the practice field, Patterson was a big addition to the defensive tackle rotation. He picked up an early sack, drawing a nice ovation from the pre-rainstorm crowd at Lincoln Financial Field, and along with Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri and Anthony Hargrove, he helped deliver somewhat consistent pressure up the middle as the game went along. If Antonio Dixon makes it back from his injury, the Eagles are going to have a very deep, very talented defensive line rotation that will allow them to keep everyone as fresh and aggressive as Juan Castillo and Jim Washburn want them to be throughout the games.

3. Vick was better but tough to evaluate. He didn't throw three interceptions, as he did last week, and in general he did a better job of identifying and reacting to the blitz. His inability to get the ball to his receivers wasn't his fault, as discussed above, but he did a good job of finding McCoy and, every now and then, taking off running when all else had failed. We're not likely to see him in the final preseason game, so this was his last warm-up before the regular season. But he'll surely hope Jeremy Maclin is back and fully healthy by then, since that will help matters all around.

4. The cornerbacks all did nice things. Nnamdi Asomugha was his swarming, suffocating self, taking receivers out of the game. Asante Samuel came up with an interception. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie blocked a kick. As they are on the defensive line, the Eagles are deep in the secondary, especially if Jarrad Page and Kurt Coleman can continue to make the contributions they're making at safety. In general, the defense was much more intense and directed this week. Again, we don't know what we're looking at in the preseason. The Eagles might have planned for this game, and the Browns might not have. But from a confidence standpoint, the Eagles had a lot more about which to feel good on defense than they did after Ben Roethlisberger took them apart seven nights earlier.

5. The Eagles are deep at running back, too. Ronnie Brown continues to look like a one-year steal, and Dion Lewis like a guy who could make it not matter if Brown leaves after one year. If McCoy is going to be leaned on heavily, the Eagles can feel good about their ability to give him breaks and keep him fresh.

I also thought both rookie kickers looked good and that in general most of the individual evaluations off this game had to be position. But the offensive line play in the first half was so alarming that it had to be the story of the night, and all eyes will be on the right side of that line once the games start for real.

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