As is the case with almost all preseason games, there was some good news and some bads news in the Eagles 24-23 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night.
The good news? The Eagles have 3 more games to fix this team.
The bad news? It sure looks like a lot needs fixed.
The Eagles start to the 2012 season could not have gone worse for the starters, as the they looked lost, they looked soft, and they looked over matched. Looking lost is to be somewhat expected as it is the first preseason game of the year, but the issues with tackling and looking over powered are not things that have to do with it not being the regular season. Those are problems that need to be addressed and are legitimate concerns.
But for as much bad as there was in the 1st half, there was a lot to like in the 2nd half.
Here is what I liked and what I didn't in the Eagles first preseason game.
What I Liked:
Phillip Hunt: The Eagles are the deepest they have been in some time on the defensive line, which is the only reason why someone like Phillip Hunt is even on the bubble. He likely will make the team, especially if he keeps making plays like he did in the 1st quarter. Hunt absolutely blew by his man to get to Ben Roethlisberger, and stripped the ball from him when he did. Hunt struck again when Byron Leftwich came into the game with another strip-sack. Hunt stood out more than anyone else on the defensive line.
Damaris Johnson: Johnson showed on Thursday night why he had such an amazing college career. Everytime he touches the ball, it feels like he is ready to make something happen. In the first half, Johnson took a punt back 55 yards as he did a nice job following the blocks and made some people miss. The play was called back because of a flag, but the play still showed how explosive Johnson can be in the punt return game. On offense, Johnson's long touchdown catch in the 2nd half may have been an easy play, but he still made it and pulled away from the Steelers defenders. Overall, Johnson greatly improved his chances of making the team.
Defensive Line: It wasn't just Phillip Hunt that got pressure on the Steelers. The entire defensive line had a good night as they had both Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich running out of the pocket the entire night. The constant pressure forced the Steelers to continually just dump it off. The Eagles had 4 sacks before the half was even over. Yes it was against a banged up Steelers offensive line, but it was a good sign that the pressure the Eagles were able to generate without blitzing last year will continue. The defensive line also looked strong against the run in the redzone, as Fletcher Cox showed he has enough size to plug up the hole even as he learns the ropes as a rookie.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: It was an illegal hit that DRC landed on Byron Leftwich towards the end of the 1st quarter, but with it being the preseason, it was good to see the Eagles corner get physical and not shy away from contact. Plus it was really the only time anyone from the 1st team defense showed they knew how to hit someone.
Nick Foles: Maybe it had something to do with how bad Mike Kafka looked, but Nick Foles looked surprisingly effective in there during the 3rd quarter. It was against 3rd stringers, but Foles showed flashes of what made the Eagles take him. Foles has a great arm, and it showed when he hit Johnson deep down the field while on the run. He was a little late to get it to him, but Foles still had enough strength to get it there. It was a throw that Kafka likely would have had trouble making. Foles showed off his arm later in the quarter when he hit Mardy Gilyard deep down the left sideline for a 44 yard touchdown pass. He put the ball right where it had to be, and really couldn't have thrown it any better. Foles by no means is ready to go in there and play against a 1st string NFL defense, but later in the season once he has more time to learn the offense he could end up being a better option than Kafka.
Brandon Boykin: It didn't take long for Brandon Boykin to show the Eagles he is the right man for the kick returner job this year, as he took his first return 46 yards and got the fans on their feet. The run was set up by nice blocking, but Boykin showed an explosiveness that Dion Lewis did not last year. The 46 yard return was more than 10 yards longer than any kick return Lewis had last year. Combined with Johnson, their is legitimate reason for Eagles fans to be excited about the special teams this year.
Bryce Brown: It's easy to see why many people think that Bryce Brown is the better long term option than Dion Lewis at running back. Brown has shown through out camp that he has the ability to make a big play, and that showed again against the Steelers. Brown took a Nick Foles hand off 33 yards in the 3rd quarter, and showed great speed and strength in doing so. Barring a dramatic change in both of players performance, it looks like Brown will make this team over Chris Polk.
What I Didn't Like:
Tackling: There is no Asante Samuel on this team to blame it on now. It's only the 1st preseason game, but it's clear that this Eagles team is just a bad tackling team. It's as simple and obvious as that. Juan Castillo can implement the best defense in the world, but it won't matter if the players can't execute it. The Eagles missed multiple tackles in the first half and it lead to the Steelers extending drives and putting points on the board. It's easy to write it off as "only the first preseason game", this tackling was a problem for this team last year and it looks like it carried over. The scariest part about the problem? It's not really clear how you fix it. The Eagles can hope that it was just a case of the players still getting used to hitting again, but if not, this could end being the biggest flaw on the team this year.
Getting Off The Field: A big problem for the Eagles defense last season was finishing not only the game, but finishing off drives. The Eagles played good defense for the first 2 plays off the game, but allowed David Johnson of the Steelers to get open in the flat and convert the 3rd and 5 play. Later in the drive the Steelers went for it on 4th and 1 from the Eagles 44 yard line, and they once again converted it. No defense is really built to stay on the field for a long time, but the Eagles defense especially is not as they are an undersized unit. The longer they stay on the field, they wear down, and that is where blown 4th quarter leads happen.
Michael Vick: We don't know if Vick would have had to leave the game if this was a regular season contest, but it isn't a good sign that before the end of the 1st quarter of the season Vick already is banged up. The fact that it was his throwing hand is ever worse. The injury was a harsh reminder that when Vick is not in the safe confides of Lehigh University, he is one play away from ending the Eagles season. What has to be even more concerning for the Eagles is that Vick keeps getting hurt in the pocket.
Jaiquawn Jarrett: To say it was a rough night for the Jaiquawn Jarrett is an understatement. Wasn't tackling supposed to be what the former Temple Owl does best? Jarrett has been laying down some big hits in camp, but whiffed on his first chance against the Steelers. With the Eagles facing 3rd down, Roethlisberger completed the ball along the sideline, but Jarrett was in position to make the tackle. He missed, and the Steelers stayed on the field. Jarrett looked lost on the Steelers first touchdown as both Brian Rolle and Nnamdi Asomugha expected him to step up and cover Emmanuel Sanders. Jarrett didn't, and he was wide open in the endzone. It's hard to imagine Jarrett not making this team, but given how lost he looks at time in a defense he has been playing in for over a year, you never know.
Maclin Out, Johnson In: Anybody who wants the Eagles to add a big wide out (Plaxico Burress anyone), could not have been happy with seeing Damaris Johnson in there with the first unit. Yes it was because Jeremy Maclin was out, but with Johnson in his spot, the Eagles had 2 wide out's under 5'10 starting. It was surprising to not see Marvin McNutt go in there for Maclin, as he is both taller and higher on the depth chart. With Maclin out the Eagles struggled to get anything going against the bigger, more physical Steelers defense.
Follow Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks