For their preseason Week 2 matchup, the Philadelphia Eagles traveled to Foxborough, MA to take an a depleted New England Patriots outfit. Without Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Devin McCourty and various other key players starting, this game was even less relevant than a usual preseason matchup.
Even so, any competitive action is a chance to see what our Birds are made out of, and here are five things I took away from their 27-17 win on Monday Night Football.
1. The Backup QB Spot is Crucial
Another game, another Michael Vick injury. This time, it was a rib injury as the result of a strong pocket hit by Jermaine Cunningham. The image of Vick grimacing in pain on the sidelines is becoming far too common for Eagles fans, but luckily the X-rays he received turned up negative and Vick will be okay to practice and possibly even play in the remaining two preseason games.
Regardless, however, of whether Vick suffers an injury where he needs to miss multiple regular season games, the backup QB spot in Philadelphia is a crucial one for the 2012-13 NFL season. With such an injury-prone starter, the Eagles need to make sure that whoever is tasked to be the second-string can pull their weight in this league, and steer this team to the playoffs without the talented-yet-frail Vick.
There are a few possible candidates for this position, and the next point clarifies this key position battle . . .
2. Nick Foles Looks Set to Be Backup QB
After two fantastic preseason performances, Nick Foles looks every bit like a solid starter in the league.
He has shown outstanding arm strength, rifling two 40-plus-yard TDs in the 1st game against Pittsburgh. Then, against New England, the 23-year old hooked up for two short TDs to Clay Harbor, one on a drive that included a 40-yard toss to DeSean Jackson.
He’s also surprised many with some great displays of footwork, intelligent decision-making, accurate passing and maturity: All positive signs that show this 3rd-round pick from Arizona could not only be the team’s backup in 2012, but the team’s quarterback of the future.
Challenging Foles for the 2nd spot are Mike Kafka and Trent Edwards. Let’s compare statistics for each of these players in preseason so far:
|N. Foles||24-38 (63.2)||361||4-1||118.4|
|T. Edwards||18-31 (58.1)||165||1-0||83.4|
|M. Kafka||5-9 (55.6)||31||0-1||23.1|
Kafka played very little against Pittsburgh before going down with an injury, but even in the battle with Edwards, a former starting-QB for the Buffalo Bills, Foles has played with more confidence and precision. This is rare for a 3rd-round rookie project, and at this moment in time, Foles looks like the most likely candidate for the backup QB role and possibly the future starter in Philadelphia. Let’s just hope his excellent performance carries over into the regular season when it matters most.
3. Mat McBriar Simply Outclasses Chas Henry
Mat McBriar, a nine-year veteran in the NFL, was brought into the franchise to challenge, and possibly replace, Chas Henry as the team’s starting punter. Against the Pats, both players were given a shot to show their punting abilities. For better or for worse, McBriar was simply the better kicker on Monday.
He had four punts, averaging 43.5 yards per punt and booming his longest kick to 56 yards. Henry, meanwhile, had two punts, averaging just 36 yards per punt, with a long of 41.
McBriar had punted better than Henry in training camp and the first Eagles preseason game vs the Steelers, so this performance only strengthens fans’ belief that he is the favorite to be the team’s starter next season.
4. The New Linebacking Corps Has Coverage Issues
On the whole, the Eagles first-team defense played creditably against a weak Patriots offense. They got to the quarterback well and the secondary made a lot of plays; one, however, recurring issue of the Eagles’ defense so far has been the linebacker play, especially in coverage.
With two new starters in DeMeco Ryans and rookie Mychal Kendricks, it is expected that the LBs need time to adjust to a new system, playbook and team. Two weeks out, however, from the season starting, there was a conspicuous lack of adequacy in coverage.
Often timese, the Patriots offense came out in a no-back formation with more receivers and tight ends than Eagles defensive backs. This forced Ryans and Kendricks up into coverage on 4th/5th-string wideouts for the Patriots, but these matchups often proved troublesome for the Eagles linebackers; there were never huge gains, but the short, seven-yard completions can add up during a drive and they did for New England. The Patriots’ QBs felt comfortable throwing in the ‘Box’ area just below the safeties, which gave easy yardage away.
While they did struggle in coverage, it’s hard not to applause the corps’ run-stopping proficiency; they didn’t allow a single run longer than seven yards and all three starters looked speedy and explosive when they attacked the runner behind the line of scrimmage.
5. Andy Reid is Already Feeling the Pressure
An unsuccessful season this year could prove the end of Andy Reid’s job as the Eagles head man, and he showed that the pressure was getting to him against New England. After a Patriots TD drive in the 2nd quarter, Reid was shown yelling at DT Cullen Jenkins on the sidelines when Jenkins stood up and starting jawing face-to-face with his coach.
This was obviously a sign of frustration for Reid, motivated by weak short-distance coverage and a lackluster pass rush in the drive that led up to his outburst. However, with this only being preseason, it is a strange sight to see Reid—a normally relaxed coach—so fired up; this could indicate a motivated, determined coach or one that may crumble under the pressure of his last chance.
Let’s hope the former describes Reid, otherwise this year’s football season could end like the last 13 for Eagles fans: ring-less.
Feel free to comment with your thoughts on the team and be sure to share this post around to fellow Eagles fans!