Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Observation deck: Eagles-Patriots
By Dan Graziano
The story of the Philadelphia Eagles' 27-17 preseason victory over the Patriots on "Monday Night Football" was one of quarterbacks. Eagles starter Michael Vick was knocked out of the game by an injury for the second time in two weeks, taking a shot to the ribs that required X-rays (which were negative) and raising old red flags about his fragility and the manner in which his style of play contributes to that. That injury, combined with Mike Kafka's absence due to his own injury, pushed rookie Nick Foles into significant playing time, and Foles looked very good.
Foles was 18-for-28 for 217 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. It was his second impressive performance of the preseason. And while it's important to note that he has not played against first-team defenses, it's also worth raising the question of whether Foles could beat out Kafka for the No. 2 quarterback spot behind Vick. He's a rookie, and he'd likely make more mistakes than Kafka would if pressed into fill-in duty. But in practices and games he has shown a stronger arm and better touch on deep throws than Kafka has, and that matters in Philadelphia's speed-based offense. That difference alone could set Foles apart if he continues to impress and Kafka can't get on the field, and Foles showed impressive poise Monday night, along with the ability to handle many different aspects of the playbook.
I don't personally believe the Eagles can contend this year if Vick has to miss a significant period of time. But if he does need to sit out here and there due to injury, the Eagles and their fans have at least seen something from Foles that would make them feel a little bit better if they had to go with a rookie.
Here are some other things I noticed/saw/thought about the Eagles on Monday:
1. What was Andy Reid yelling about? I am certain that, if the Eagles have a great season, the head coach's first-half sideline shouting match with Cullen Jenkins and the defense will be looked back upon as a brilliant bit of motivation and leadership. I am equally sure that, if the Eagles have a poor season, that exchange will be regarded as a sign of insurmountable discord. Of greater likelihood than either of those is that it was an emotional outburst by a coach who was getting sick of dumb third-down penalties. And if you're worried about whatever happened there causing lasting damage to coach-player relationships, Reid's track record more than earns him the benefit of the doubt.
2. That said, penalties are unforced errors and a worthy subject of coaching scorn, even in the preseason. I've written many times here that preseason games are poor predictors of regular-season performance, because we don't know which teams are game-planning for these games and which are not. But penalties have little or nothing to do with whether the opponent is scheming to beat you. They're about discipline, attention and focus. The Eagles had 16 of them on Monday, for a total of 131 yards, and I would not be looking forward to my next practice right now if I were an Eagles player.
3. Mychal Kendricks was a defensive star in this game. He showed speed and instincts closing on running back Shane Vereen on a screen pass early in the game, and he got himself into the backfield to disrupt a couple of running plays. The Eagles' big linebacker addition was veteran middleman DeMeco Ryans, but Kendricks looks as though he could be an asset on the outside. The Eagles' defensive scheme is going to make its linebackers look bad at times. Even at its best, it relies on aggressiveness by the linemen up front. Because of they, they're likely going to get a lot of sacks and pressure a lot of quarterbacks. But an offshoot of that aggressiveness is that sometimes over-pursuit will open them up to the possibility of a big play. That puts a lot of responsibility on the linebackers to limit those plays, and when they don't, it's going to look ugly. The Eagles seem willing to accept that risk in exchange for the long-term reward their pressure schemes bring them. And they appear better equipped this year to limit damage at the second level.
4. Don't forget Brandon Boykin. The Eagles' fourth-round pick is more than holding his own in his fight with veteran Joselio Hanson for the role of nickel cornerback. He also showed explosiveness on a kickoff return and helped cause a turnover with his speed as a gunner on the punt coverage team. Hanson looked good in his turn at cornerback, too, but what Boykin brings on special teams should keep him on a roster and, at the very least, a persistent threat to Hanson's spot.
5. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie looked very active and very good before leaving the game with a shoulder injury. Reid said Rodgers-Cromartie wanted to go back in and didn't sound overly concerned.
6. King Dunlap played the whole first half at left tackle, and Demetress Bell was flagged for a couple of penalties during the second half. At this point, it would not be a surprise if the Eagles opened the season with Dunlap as the starting left tackle. It also wouldn't be a surprise if Bell worked to learn the schemes in a backup role and threatened to take the job back from Dunlap as the season went along, the way Danny Watkins did last year at right guard. Howard Mudd's schemes aren't easy for everyone to get right away.
7. The Eagles have some tough roster decisions at defensive line, but Phillip Hunt is going to be impossible to cut. Say whatever you want to say about his size, but they don't have anyone faster among their pass-rushers (which is saying something), and he's just made too many plays to overlook.
8. Punter note! Mat McBriar averaged 49.8 yards on his four punts. Chas Henry dropped both of his inside the 20 and one inside the 10. I don't think it's a real competition if McBriar proves himself healthy, but it's nice to see that Henry won't go down without a fight.