Monthly Archives: August 2011

Defensive Line Shines in Season Debut

All of the talk this offseason has been about the Eagles improved secondary, and the embarrassment of riches they have at the cornerback position. But if the defensive line can play like they did last night on a consistent basis, it may not matter who is lining up at cornerback for the Eagles.

The Eagles defensive line looked absolutely dominant against the Baltimore Ravens in the first preseason game of the season last night, 13-6 win for the Eagles. Right from the start, it was clear that the upgrade from Rory Seagrest to Jim Washburn might prove to be the best addition the team made.

On the Ravens first possession, the Eagles front four were in the Ravens back field on every play. After letting up a big play on a blown assignment in the secondary, the Eagles defensive line pushed the offense back behind big plays from Trent Cole and Jason Babin. On one play, Babin beat his man and got to Flacco, forcing him to Coles side- who finished the play off with a sack.

While the sack went down as Coles, the Pro-Bowl defensive end said it really belongs to the whole team.

“It was a lot of effort put in by a lot of guys on the d-line. There was a lot of guys that got back there with me.  A lot of guys pressured that guy to move like that,” said Cole. “That’s what we want, a lot of pressure back there. Whoever makes the play, makes the play. It’s a team effort. The d-line did a great job of getting pressure on the quarterback, getting him to take off up the field. The secondary did a heck of job covering, linebackers as well too. We couldn’t get that sack without a team effort.”

The Eagles got more pressure from the edges last night then it seems like they did all last season, as even the second team was able to get after the quarterback. Darryl Tapp, sporting #55, looked as fast as a linebacker out their, and finished the night with 2 sacks.

In the third quarter, Jarrad Page was the beneficiary of more pressure from the defensive line. Keenan Clayton rushed past the Ravens offensive line like they weren’t even their, causing Ravens quarterback Tyrod Taylor to throw the ball right into Page’s lap in the corner of the end zone.

The Eagles still have a long way to go until the regular season, but it is clear that top to bottom, this line is significantly better then the line last season.

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Eagles vs Ravens Instant Analysis

The Eagles looked every bit the part of a Super Bowl contender in the brief period their first unit was on the field tonight in their win against the Ravens.

Here is some instant analysis from tonights performance- both what went well, and what the team has to work on.

GOOD:

Front Four- From the very first time the Eagles defense took the field, it was obvious that the front four were going to be better this year. Eagles defensive line coach Jim Washburn has been riding his players hard during camp, and it paid off. The front four looked great, as they continually got in the back field each time the Ravens snapped the ball. On one play, new Eagle Jason Babin got pressure on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, and Trent Cole finished off the play. The sack came on a 3rd down, getting the Eagles off the field. Getting off the field was a problem for the defense last year. But the new front four, coupled with good coverage by the secondary, should go a long way in fixing that problem.

Kick Offs- The NFL got what they wanted when they changed the kick off spot to 35- they eliminated the return game. Both of the first kicks by the Ravens and Eagles traveled out of the end zone. Why is this a good thing? Because it has been years since the Eagles had a good kick returner- and they have been just as bad stopping it.

Wide Receivers- For all of the talk about the unit being depleted, they sure didn’t look it.  Jason Avant, Chad Hall, and Riley Cooper all made tough catches against the Ravens. Avant’s first catch of the game showed why he has been opening eyes at training camp. He catches everything thrown he way. offense not the same without Jackson and Maclin, but looked ok.

Micheal Vick: The play that best summarizes Michael Vick’s maturity as a player was his long completion to Riley Cooper. Vick could have ran, but waited for Cooper to get open and threw a razor sharp pass on the money. After the play, Vick went up to Cooper and showed him a better way to run the route, and to cut inside next time. The sequence showed what a leader Vick has become, and why if he stays healthy, he will be the NFL MVP this season.

Jaiquawn Jarrett: Jarrett has had a quite camp, but it didn’t take long for him to make some noise against the Ravens. Jarrett made a great play when he read the eyes of Ravens Quarterback Tyrod Taylor and got low to pick off the ball. Jarrett also got over to the sideline and was ready to lay a big hit on a Raven receiver until the ball went out of bounds. Jarrett showed on that play why he was a high draft pick- he may not look great in practice, but when the lights come on, he can make plays.

Vince Young: He was not perfect, but Young showed why if Vick goes down for any amount of time, he will be the starting quarterback. Young led his team on a 10 minute drive that resulted in a field goal on his first series in at quarterback, and did so by making things happen on broken down plays. Young eluded two Raven players on a third down completion to Chad Hall that went for 32 yards. Young also scrambled for a first down on a play where the Ravens collapsed the pocket on him. Young showed why the Eagles signed him- when you throw technique out the window, Young simply gets it done.

Ronnie Brown and Dion Lewis- Ronnie Brown looked fast in his first action as an Eagle. He showed the  good moves. threw his body into a raven on one run on the sideline. great stutter step on 3rd down rush in the beginning of the second quarter on McClain. Lewis, easily the smaller player on the team, played big in his first NFL action. Lewis did not shy away from contact on his first run, and showed some of the moves that made him a 5th round pick. Lewis also turned a screen pass into a big play, as it took 2 Ravens to bring him down.

BAD:

Kelce- Rookie Jason Kelce did not have a good game after opening so many eyes at Lehigh. Kelce got beat badly by a member of the Ravens on a play late in the first quarter, allowing the pocket to collapse on Vince Young. Young was able to scramble and get a  first down, but it doesn’t change that fact that Kelce looked over matched on the play. Kelce may very well turn into a great center, and a Jeff Saturday clone like Offensive Line coach Howard Mudd sees him. But in his first NFL action, Kelce did not look like a player who was ready to challenge Jackson for a starting job.

Reid Challenge of Avant Touchdown Catch- Andy Reid was in midseason form on the first Eagles drive of the season, as he pulled out the red flag on a play that was clearly an incompletion to Avant in the end zone. You have to wonder if these challenges are Reid, or if he is getting bad advice from people upstairs. In addition to it being a bad challenge, why wouldn’t Reid want to see his team get some more reps on the goal line?

Mike Kafka- Andy Reid says he likes Kakfa, but Kakfa did not look sharp. His interception late in the second quarter was both a bad throw and a bad read, as Kafka did not see the Ravens safety sitting their waiting for the ball. Kafka also looked slow after following Michael Vick and Vince Young. If the Eagles have to put Kafka in for any amount of time this season, they are in trouble.

Kurt Coleman- Coleman made a rookie mistake on the first play of the game when he didn’t turn his head around on the first completetion of the game by Joe Flacco. Coleman could have made a play on the ball if he turned around, as it hit him in the helmet before the catch was made. Although he’s only in his second year, Coleman is a veteran in the safety unit, and needs to make that play.

How to Judge Casey Matthews

The Eagles and Ravens will play a game tonight, but barring any injury, no one tomorrow will be talking about the score.

The hot topic tomorrow will be how Casey Matthews, the rookie middle linebacker making his first start, looked against another team. Grading a middle linebacker is a hard thing for fans to do. Unlike a kicker or receiver, it is hard to tell if a linebacker was responsible for any mishap that may happen on defense.

All Eyes will be on Matthews tonight

But what can we expect, and look for, from Matthews tonight? Here are some things the coaches will be looking at.

Play Calling: Physically, the adjustment from college football to the NFL is hard on every player.  But for certain positions, like quarterback and safety, the mental aspect is just as important. Middle Linebacker is also one of those positions, especially now that they are responsible for making the calls. Their is a big difference between calling the plays in the quite confines of Lehigh University and the packed, loud environment of Lincoln Financial Field. The coaches will keep a close eye on how Matthews does getting the play to his teammates, and adjusting to anything he sees once the defense is lined up. Matthews must also demand his respect of his teammates, which unlike last year, are filled with Pro-Bowl players.

Tackling: At 6’2 & 232 pounds, Matthews is small compared to other middle linebackers in the league. One issue the Eagles linebackers have had in the past few years is being able to shed blocks and get to the ball. Ernie Sims, who did not play the middle, is a prime example of someone who was unable to get off a block and make a play. Matthews needs to show tonight that despite his small stature, he is able to get to the ball and finish the play. That also means tackling, as Matthews will have to show he can still bring people down at this level. Matthews has done that in practice, but tonight will be his first true test in that area.

Coverage: Matthews is not known for his speed, but has had a decent camp in coverage. In one-on-one drills, Matthew has done a good job staying with running backs and tight ends. Matthews will not find himself lined up with a tight end often during a game, as Jamaar Chaney should get that responsibility. But Matthews will have to drop back in zone coverage at time, and if he is a liability in the middle of the field, the Eagles cannot afford to keep him in their.

Play making: At the end of the day, Matthews will be able to keep his job if he does one thing: make plays. The Eagles have not had a play making linebacker since Jeremiah Trotter- the first time around. Matthews may not be the biggest or fastest, but he knows the game and is able to make plays. Matthews finished with 3 sacks and 3 interceptions last season with Oregon. Tonight, Matthews may not be able to make as many plays as he will later in the year with experience, but it will be important for Matthews to get around the ball tonight. If Matthews can show on film to the coaches that he is making correct reads, reacting to it, and trying to make a play, it will go a long way in him keeping his starting job.

Eagles vs Ravens Preview: Position by Position

At some points during this offseason, it appeared that this day might never come.

But tonight, the 2012 Eagles season officially kicks off. Football is back.

The Eagles game against the Ravens tonight is not viewed by many as the most anticipated preseason game for no reason. Their are plenty of questions surrounding this team, and some of them will begin to be answered tonight.

If you have not been keeping up with camp, here’s a little bit about what you should be looking for from each position in tonights game.

Eagles Offense: 

Vick will be doing a lot of watching tonight

Quarterback: For Michael Vick, the mission plan for tonights game is simple: don’t get hurt. The Ravens are a team that likes to blitz, and while it is the preseason, they should bring the blitz on a play or two. It will be interesting to see how Vick does recognizing those blitzes. Vince Young will take the field after Vick, but don’t expect a solid performance out of him. For Young, it will be important to look at what he is able to do when the play breaks down, and also how his throws look. He has had problems in camp throwing an accurate, tightly spiraled ball. It will be interesting to see how Mike Kafka looks, as Reid has spoken highly of him so far. Jerrod Johnson, the rookie quarterback out of Texas A&M, will be playing cleanup and if the game is close, could have the ability to drive his team down the field. Johnson is a big guy, and Eagles fans should enjoy seeing the potential he has displayed at camp.

Wide Receivers: The last time the Eagles offense took the field for a highly anticipated preseason game, Donovan McNabb hit Terrell Owens for an 81 yard touchdown on the first play of the game. While this Eagles offense will have the ability this season to hit long plays with little problem, that will not be the case tonight. With both DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin out, the Eagles will field a wide receiver unit of Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Andy Hall and Sinorce Moss. Other then Moss, none of those players have the speed or playmaking ability to take one to the house. Even Moss, the quickest of the group, lacks elite NFL speed. The offense tonight will be very vanilla and slow moving, with crossing patterns and 5-7 yard outs.  One thing the Eagles have been working on in camp a lot has been bubble screens to their wide outs. It would not be surprising to see them try to get Moss out in space with a screen, as he has had some big plays at camp out of that formation. Johnny Lee Higgins is also a player to keep an eye out for, as he more then any other player in this unit is fighting for a job.

Running Backs: LeSean McCoy is having a great training camp, but with only around 20 offensive plays to be ran, their will likely not be many running plays for McCoy. Look for a 2-3 carries and a catch or two from McCoy, and then he will hit the sideline. Ronnie Brown should carry the load for the second quarter, and it will be interesting to see what he has left. With Brown coming into camp late, he has not been in many of the 11 on 11 live hitting sessions, making it hard to judge his play. Big things to look for in Brown’s play will be his ability to pick up the blitz, and see what kind of burst he has. The real battle at running back is between Eldra Buckley, Dion Lewis, Graig Cooper and Derrick Locke, who are all battling for one spot. Buckely and Lewis both have the advantage over Cooper and Locke, as Buckley is an experienced player and a great special teams player. Lewis was drafted high by the Birds, and they are hoping he can be a change of pace back for them. But Cooper and Locke have both shined in camp. Cooper especially has taken advantage of his time at Lehigh, as he has looked very confident running the ball. Both need to have good games tonight, but if Locke does not, he could be gone. For all of the running backs that take the field, the key will be to see how they do picking up the blitz. Excelling in that can keep a running back, especially under Andy Reid, on the team.

Ronnie Brown is still adjusting to a new offense

Tight Ends: Brent Celek has struggled through camp so far. Where the Eagles line him up, and how often then send him out on a route, will tell you a lot about how they see him being used this year. Celek has the number one tight end position locked up, but if the Eagles send out Clay Harbor out on passing plays more then Celek, it could tip their hand that they view Celek more as blocker at this point. Back up tight ends Donald Lee and Cornelius Ingraham are fighting for the 3rd tight end spot. Lee is a seasoned vet, but Ingraham has stayed healthy so far and has more upside then Lee.

Offensive Line: This offensive line has a good opportunity tonight to face a good Baltimore Ravens defense- especially one that runs a 3-4, a defensive scheme that the Eagles have struggles against in the pass. Andy Reid said yesterday that Jamaal Jackson will be the starting center, but don’t be surprised to see Jason Kelce in their on a fair amount of the first offense plays. The Eagles want to see what they have in Kelce, and they won’t do that with him sitting on the bench. First round pick Danny Watkins will play tonight, despite some speculation he might not due to his holdout that caused him to miss time. It will be important for Watkins to show he has an understanding of the offensive line scheme, in terms of picking up his man and adjusting to any audibles. Finally, new RT Ryan Harris has been very impressive in camp, and may already have the starting right tackle position locked down. A good performance tonight would go a long way in doing that.

Defense

Defensive Line: Defensive Line coach Jim Washburn has been riding his players hard in practice, and tonight they will finally get a chance to show if they have been listening. Veteran DE’s Trent Cole and Juqua Parker more then likely won’t see much playing time, but this is the first chance for Jason Babin to show he is worth the big contract he signed. Babin has had big preseason games in the past, but has not had a great camp so far. Although Parker is listed as the starting left defensive end, look for Babin to get most of the snaps there tonight. Two players that are fighting for jobs tonight are Daniel Teo’Neisham and Anthony Hargrove. Hargrove has sky rocketed up the depth chart due to injuries and solid play, but still is not a lock to make this team. Teo’Neisham on the other hand, needs to show at some point he can be what the Eagles thought he could when they made him their 3rd round draft choice. A bad performance from Teo’Neisham could all but seal his fate as a roster causality.

Linebackers: Linebacker will perhaps be the most watched position tonight, and for good reason. The Eagles decision to start rookie Casey Matthews at middle linebacker has fans worried. Matthews is the kind of player that will look better in a game then practice, as he uses his instincts to get around the ball and make plays. When watching Matthews, look to see if he is caught out of position or unable to shed blocks. If he is getting around the ball, it is a good sign that he will soon be able to start making plays once he gets more comfortable out their. Also keep an eye on Jamaar Chaney, who was moved to the SAM linebacker position after playing the middle last year.

Coleman leads a young group of safeties

Safeties: Tonights game is a good chance for Eagles safety Jaiquawn Jarrett to show he was worthy of the 2nd round pick the Eagles used on him. Like Matthews, he is a player that will shine more in a game then practice, as a big part of his game is laying big hits- something he really couldn’t do it camp. Jarrett likely won’t see the field much in the first quarter, but should play a lot in the second and third. Kurt Coleman is talked about like a vet on this unit due to how young it is, but really is still just a 7th round pick that started a handful of games last year. He had trouble in pass protection towards the end of last season, so it is important for him to show he has made strides in that area tonight.

Cornerbacks: In many ways, the starting cornerbacks tonight will be viewed more for how they line up then how they play. Will Asomugha really line up on the inside when they go into nickel? Or will Joselio Hanson, who has surprisingly seen a fair share of plays at the nickel in camp, line up in his usual spot- putting Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the bench. It will also be interesting to see what kind of coverage Juan Castillo has his corners play- will Nnamdi press up on the line? After the starters are gone, Trevard Lindley and Curtis Marsh are going to be battling for the 4th cornerback spot. Marsh, viewed as a project coming into camp, has shown why he was a third round pick. He is more of a playmaker then Lindley, and a better athlete. Lindley, on the other hand, is a cover corner who has done a good job this camp of knocking the ball down when it comes his way.

Special teams: More then on offense or defense, special teams is where jobs will be won or lost tonight. Players like Eldra Buckley, or may not be as talented a runner as Graig Cooper, will earn a spot on this roster by continuing to be arguably the Eagles best special teams player. A player making a big play on special teams tonight could go a long way in keeping him on this roster. Wide Receiver Johnny Lee Higgins is slated to return kick offs, and Sinorce Moss/Chad Hall should handle punt return duties. All of those players are bubble players on the roster, so a fumble or bad call letting a punt go by could cost them a job.

Eagles sign WR Steve Smith

Steve Smith, the former New York Giant receiver, is now a Philadelphia Eagle.

The Eagles have confirmed that they have signed Smith to a one year deal. The deal is believed to be worth $4 million, with 2 of it guaranteed.

On his conference call Wednesday night, Smith said that if everything goes well, he’d love to make this more then a one year gig.

Smith had been in talks to return to the Giants as recent as yesterday, but it appears he has decided to join their rival instead.

Steve Smith

Smith played in 9 games in 2010, finishing the season with 529 yards and 3 touchdowns. It was the first season Smith missed a game, as he played in all 16 games the two previous years. Smith’s best year was in 2009, when he finished with 107 receptions for over 1200 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Smith missed the last 7 games of last season when he suffered a season ending knee injury against the Minnesota Vikings. Smith underwent micro fracture knee surgery. It is unknown what condition he is in, but some believe he could miss as much as the first 6 games of the season.

If healthy, Smith would immediately become the 4th wide receiver on this team. Smith is one of the best in the league at working the inside of the field. He would give Vick a great option across the middle when the blitz is coming.

Here is what Andy Reid had to say about the signing in a statement.

“Like I’ve said many times before, Howie Roseman and I are always keeping our eyes open for good football players and players that we think can help our football team win,” said head coach Andy Reid. “And Steve Smith certainly fits that category. He’s a Pro Bowl quality receiver that we will work into our offense as soon as he is ready to go. We feel very good about our current group of receivers and Steve adds another dimension to that position. He’s played very well against us in the past few years and we’re happy to have him on board.”

One question this has to raise is the status of Jeremy Maclin. Maclin’s health is still unknown. The team says he is still undergoing tests, which means that more then likely he is not suffering from mono. The Eagles would not sign Smith if he would not be ready to go until the 7th week of the season.

However, when the team signed Nnamdi Asomugha, everyone expected Asante Samuel to be shown the door.

More then likely, this is just another move by the Eagles that fits the rest of their offseason moves- adding good players when they get the chance.

Packer’s Finley slams Eagles, Young

Vince Young has received some backlash from his “Dream Team” comment, as many felt it was to early to label this newly assembled group of players anything other then “a work in progress.”

But no one has come down on him harder then Green Bay Packers Tight End Jermichael Finley, who had this to say when asked about Young’s comment.

“That’s just talk. That’s on Paper. Vince Young is a back up. I don’t think he should be doing to much talking,” said Finley to WSSP in Milwaukee. “I ain’t worrying about all that. Like I said, you all can talk about the Eagles and the Saints all you want, that will come to a halt, I guarantee you.”

Vince Young's comment is still making headlines

Finley said what a lot of players around the NFL were likely thinking when they heard the comments, but for him to come out and blast Young like that was surprising. Once a star player at Texas and for some time in Tennessee, Finley really put Young in his place and served up a cold reminder of what he is now- a backup.

As for Finley’s “guarantee” that all the Eagles talk will come to a halt, he very well could be right. On paper, the Eagles and the Packers are equally as talented. The argument could even be made that the Eagles are more talented on paper. But on the field, the Eagles still have a long way to go.

Eagles owner Jeffery Lurie agreed with Finley in his ‘”State of the Union” address, when he said that the Packers are the “Dream Team.”

It will be interesting to see if Michael Vick has a comeback for this. He responded when Rob Ryan of the Cowboys said something about the team.

Finley’s comment should only add to the excitement when these two teams meet up this season- in the playoffs.

Eagles Starters to Play First Quarter

The Eagles spent this morning going through a simulated game that was closed to the public as they prepare to take on the Baltimore Ravens in their first preseason game of the season.

Andy Reid addressed the media afterwards, and said that his starters would play the first quarter. The 2nd team would take over from their until the half, and for the rest of the game it will be a combination of the third and fourth teams.

In addition to breaking down how he will divide his playing time, Reid said that Jamaal Jackson will start the game at center. Their had been some speculation over the last few days that rookie center Jason Kelce might take that role, but at least for the first game, it appears as if the job is still Jacksons. Reid did mention, however, that Kelce could see some time with the first unit. It would not be shocking to see that happen, as Howard Mudd is a big fan of Kelce, and would more then likely be interested in see him go up against the Baltimore Ravens defensive line.

Vince Young has struggled in camp so far

Vince Young will come in and quarterback the second unit. Young has had a rough training camp so far, both in learning the offense and mechanically. Multiple times Young has gone to the line only to be called back and talk with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Young has also had trouble making basic throws, as most of his balls have been overthrown or off target. This could have to do with him processing the offense while he is trying to play.

Jason Avant and Riley Cooper will be the starting recievers, while Chad Hall and Sinorce Moss will back them up. Moss has had a great camp, and it will be interesting to see if he can translate that into the game. Moss is fighting for a roster spot, and with Jeremy Maclin out, the Eagles will be interested in keeping as many playmakers as they can. Unlike Avant, Cooper and Hall, Moss has the speed to take one to the house.

On defense, Reid said that when the team is in nickel, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will play the outside. That means that Nnamdi Asomugha will man the middle, a role he has embraced. It will be interesting to see how much defensive coordinator Juan Castillo will show in terms of their plans for using the package for the regular season. With most preseason games, the gameplan is very vanilla. But with so many changes, and with Castillo new to calling the plays, it will be interesting to see how complicated the gameplan gets.

Speaking of Castillo, Reid said that tomorrows game will be the next step for Castillo. Castillo has been wearing the headset on the sideline for the last few practices, getting used to making the play calls. If the defense has problems getting a play in or seems confused, that could be coming from Castillo more then the inexperience of the defense playing together.

Either way, add up all of the plot lines for tomorrow night and you have one of the most anticipated preseason games in years.