Preseason game number one is in the books. It was good to see some football for a change - even if it was mediocre, meaningless football. We got to see some good and some bad from each group on the field; the offense, defense and special teams each had their moments. Lets take a look.
The first unit to take the field (as in every game) was the special teams. David Akers blasted his kick almost out of the end zone. It was good to see. Unfortunately for a unit that supposedly got a major overhaul during the offseason, this group was not much improved. In fact, according to the Eagles gamebook (link - 13 page PDF), we gave up 11 yards of field position to the Steelers over the course of the game. Both teams had 12 drives - including Pittsburg's kneel to end the game. On average, those drives started for the Eagles on the 25 while the Steelers were getting the ball up around the 36. Field position translates to points. Last year the Eagles averaged 37 yards per drive. A 37 yard drive from the 25 stalls with a punt on the 38 yard line, whereas that same drive nets a fieldgoal if it's started on the 36. I'll grant that the special teams unit that took the field Friday will not be the same as the one that will take the field September 7, however I'd really like to see some improvement on both coverage and returns before we play the Rams.
Special teams standout:
Lorenzo Booker provided the only noteworthy highlight of the special teams on a play where he bobbled the kickoff, recovered his mistake and took off for the better part of a 30 yard return. At the end of the run, he lost his footing otherwise the gain could have been much larger.
Special teams goat:
Both Rocky Boiman and Jamal Jones were penalized on separate instances to help Pittsburg obtain it's field position advantage. Given the mediocrity of our special teams the last several years, we simply can not afford silly penalties on special teams.
It's hard to say much about the Birds Defense as a whole. The Steelers were truly vanilla on offense. Big Ben threw 2 passes and Charlie Batch went down with a broken collarbone just inside of seven minutes to go in the second half. Of the Steeler's 52 offensive plays, 35 were rushing attempts where they averaged 3.4 yards per carry. That is probably something to be pleased by even though the first Steeler drive was disheartening. Jim Johnson's defense is more about stopping the pass than the run so facing a team that had more than twice as many runs compared to passes lets us know that maybe we can stop the run if we have to. Rashard Mendenhall's last run prior to Roethlisberger's TD was stretched out wide by the D-line and linebackers enabling Sheldon to get a 1 yard stuff.
Once the first team D left the game, we got to see some good play by the younger players. Trevor Laws recorded a sack and Nick Graham had excellent coverage on a deep ball. Akeem Jordan and Joe Mays were all over the place. And what can you say about Jerome McDougle? The Eagles D is deep. Perhaps they'll average under 17 points a game again this coming season.
Jerome McDougle was a terror in the Steeler's backfield in the fourth quarter. I'd really like to see him get some reps against stiffer competition (with the second team) on Thursday. He's one of our bigger Defensive Ends and might just be stout at the point of attack on running downs. Could he give Darren Howard a run for the Nickel D-Tackle position? Thursday night, I'll try to see if he lines up inside at any point.
Lito Sheppard. That was a bad Friday night for you. You allowed a 19 yard completion to Hines Ward and got flagged for a facemask on the second play from scrimage. If you're auditioning for a role on another team, you're really not making a good case for yourself. In fact based on how you played, Lito, you would be third on my depth chart behind Sheldon - no slash.
Where the Steelers were unbalanced in favor of the run 2-1, the Eagles threw the ball 2.5 times as often as they ran it. With Don under center that seemed to work out just fine. All three of his incompletions came in the redzone. A tough catch for Avant was out of bounds, Lorenzo Booker tried to bring in a McNabb pass with 1 hand and Don threw a third pass out of bounds rather than risk a sack or pick. DMac was ripping his passes and seeing the field. There were a couple of throws into tight coverage that Donovan wasn't seeming to make last year and when he was under pressure he was mobile and aware - LJ Smith's reception stands out as an example.
Kevin Kolb's stint under center was marred by penalties, but he threw the ball well and seemed to make good decisions. He was mobile enough to buy time with his feet and seemed to get rid of the ball quickly nullifying any pass rush by the Steelers.
The offensive line looked good for the most part even though it gave up 3 sacks - against a 3-4 defense like the Steelers there will be blown assignments. Max Jean-Gilles looked good. When Buck ran behind him, it seemed good for a 4 yard gain by default. King Dunlap is absolutely huge and Winston Justice seems more comfortable in the Right Tackle position. Regarding Dunlap, can the QB even see around him?
Donovan McNabb without a doubt is my standout on offense. He was zipping his passes and looking like the "05" from "'04".
Desean Jackson should also get a nod with his 5 catches. He impressed me by being able to go across the middle and take a hit. I'm stoked to see what this offense can do if it stays healthy.
Nick Cole - what happened with that snap man? Were you on a silent count? Did the voices in your head shout "hut-HUT"? Not an auspicious outing for you, sir. I'm not liking your chances to make the final roster. Sorry.
Overall, the Eagles looked good. Several calls seemed to get made because this was a preseason game. The blitz on Ben Roethlisberger's TD, and the over emphasis on the pass both come to mind. The Eagles are a pass heavy offense, but this seemed to be unusually pass happy for even Andy Reid. Perhaps precisely because we throw the ball so much during the regular season, Andy wants to emphasize that aspect of the game during the preseason.
On Thursday night, I'd like to see better execution from Kevin Kolb, Jerome McDougle taking some snaps with the second team defense and the continued health of the starters. It looks like Fox will be broadcasting the game out here so I will give it a good watch and report what I see.